[Ed. note: I first wrote a version of this post in 2007 when our firstborn was only a few months old. That's squishy little Mikko in the photo there.]
It inspired me to treat my own friends and family well when it's their turn to be overwhelmed by a newborn. So, I thought I should write these ideas down before memories of the sleep-deprived-fog days have disappeared into the ether.
These tips will help first-time parents for sure, as well as parents of a newborn who also have older children.
Please do leave your own suggestions in the comments.
- Having a baby is all about learning to get by with no hands. Be a pal and bring over foods that can be eaten (a) cold and (b) with one sporadically free hand. Ideas: cut-up veggies and dip, cut-up fruit such as melon or apples, pico de gallo and chips (for all of the above: mixed and single veggie & fruit containers and platters can be found pre-made at the supermarket in the produce section), cheese slices (gourmet or otherwise) and crackers, ready-made sandwiches and wraps, hummus and pita slices. Remember, think "Would this taste good at room temperature?" (which is what it will be by the time they finally get around to settling the baby long enough to eat it) and "Can they eat this without silverware?" (because juggling a newborn is hard enough without throwing cutlery into the mix).
- Depending on environmental convictions, you might also bring over some paper plates and plastic utensils (consider compostable options) to help with dish cleanup, or volunteer to wash a load of dishes for them.
- Along the same lines of having no time at all for anything, give the gift of having something done for them. Instead of loading them up with baby blankets and tiny clothes and stuffed animals (which I realize are fun to give, but that's why you can rely on plenty of others to fill the gap), offer them something that will be used immediately and will give them not only a service but, more importantly, time.
Here are some options:
- diaper service (if they're planning on or interested in cloth diapers)
- maid service (oh, the bliss of a clean house without lifting a finger)
- laundry service (some areas will have companies or individuals who will pick up, wash, dry, fold, and return regular laundry within a day or two)
- yard service (if they have a lawn or garden to care for — my poor neglected plants when I have a new baby!)
- grocery delivery (wrestling a newborn into and out of a car seat to run basic errands is not a joy for anyone)
- meal delivery (some areas will have ready-to-heat meals available for home delivery, often with organic and vegetarian options — or, of course, there's always pizza and Chinese food!)
- temporary employees if they have a home business to run
- babysitting or mother's helpers if they have older children to care for
- dog walking if appropriate
- On that topic, don't pester new parents for thank-you notes. I know the etiquette is to write one immediately upon receiving a gift, but just try — I challenge you — to write a note one handed. It seems like it should be possible, because you use only one hand to write, right? But your supporting hand is what holds that cute little notepaper in place so your scribbles don't pull it off the table. So I think there should be general thank-you note amnesty until the baby isn't breastfeeding every 10 minutes.
- New parents often feel isolated. This is especially true if they're ahead of friends in having kids, because single or non-child-bearing friends often have no idea what the rules are in getting together with families. But, really, bringing a newborn to someone's house or out to eat somewhere family-friendly isn't insurmountable — no babyproofing is needed, and if the baby's breastfeeding comfortably (a stage it might take a few weeks to get to), then there's not even much needed to bring besides oodles of diapers, a little blanket, and a change of clothes. So, my advice is to invite new parents over or out to eat. Don't be shy, and at the same time don't be insistent or offended if they say they're too tired or overwhelmed right now. Let them know that an open invitation stands, and continue to offer specific opportunities to get together. Offer to come to their place if inviting yourself over doesn't bother you, or if they have other young children who'd do better in their own home. If done in the right spirit, your reaching out will be greatly appreciated.
- Reach out to older siblings. If the parents in question have other kids, find ways to connect with the older siblings and offer the parents some relief from managing the competing needs of a newborn and sibs. A simple gift for the older kids when you bring over something for baby can mean so much, but even without something to open, you can offer time and attention to the older siblings. Ask the parents if you can bring the older kids out with you to the playground or watch them in the playroom while the parents and newborn get a nap or shower. If preferable to the parents, you could watch the newborn for a bit instead while they reconnect with their older children. Just ask — and ask again later on. This is a well-appreciated gift you can give more than once!
- Tell them their baby is adorable and that they look like naturals at this parenting thing. Saying a kind word is a huge boost and will stick with them for years!
What would make you happy when you have a new baby in the house? What are your go-to gifts for fellow parents?