So, your friend has a newborn baby…

This year has been a year of new babies in my little world. Lots of dear friends and family, both near and far, have had babies or announced pregnancies. And of course the sublime Miss Pords entered our world.

Perhaps it is because I know more babies now so I’m on the look out, or perhaps it is because there are more people writing about it (or maybe a bit of both) but I have been seeing a lot of articles purporting to explain how to behave when your friend has a newborn baby.

And it’s driving me kind of crazy.

Parents of newborns are not a homogenous blob of brainless goop, unable to exercise autonomy or say what they mean.

Straight up I’d like to say that of course if your friend has a newborn baby and is withdrawing more than usual, or you suspect that they need help that they are not asking you for, they may need additional support. Depression and anxiety associated with the transition to new parenthood is quite common and early intervention is important. This post is by no means meant to make light of that scenario.

Nor is it meant to suggest that thinking of ways to make someone’s life easier is not a worthy pursuit. The thing is, when I’m reading these lists I often find myself thinking that if my friends started doing any of those things I’d find it more stressful than helpful. And I surely can’t be the only one.

From my massive personal sample size of two, I know for a fact that the experience of parenting a newborn baby is not always the same. And from just being a person who interacts with other people, I know that people’s personalities are not always the same. What might be just right for one person, might seem like the worst idea ever to someone else.

For example, I’ve read that parents of a newborn don’t want to leave their home to see you so you should always visit them there. Actually, when my babies were newborn I’d much rather have come to your place. You could have made me a tea and then held the baby while I drank it. Don’t worry, we wouldn’t have stayed long.

I’ve read that it’s the absolute pinnacle of friendship to leave frozen meals at the door and run. Quite frankly I would never have had the freezer space. Plus I always found that bit of time in the kitchen preparing a meal was a nice break in the day. And if you’d gone to the effort to come around, I’d definitely have felt bad if I thought you didn’t feel you could knock on the door. I’d have spent the next few days agonising over how to make it up to you and probably ended up inviting you over for an ill-advised dinner party. Now, if you told me you’d meet me at the park and you brought me a sandwich, then we’d be friends forever.

I’ve read that parents of newborns desperately want your help with all their housework, but are too tired or embarrassed to ask. I was raised in a household where a clean and tidy home was a priority. The consequence of this in my life has been that I don’t like people seeing my house when it is not in order. I can cope with a mess, but not if I have visitors. If you said you were coming over to see if you could help around the house, I would have spent the preceding hours in a whirlwind of stress, making sure you wouldn’t find too much to be done. I would have much preferred you to say that you’d love to get me out of my disaster zone of a house for a while and go for a walk with me. Fresh air and friendship – always a winning combination.

Now, here’s an idea. If you are close enough the parent of a newborn to be considering visiting them, don’t worry about my story, or any lists you find online. Your friend is the same person they were before. They may be tired and overwhelmed, but that doesn’t mean that they’re planting hidden messages in everything they say. It’s not your job to second guess them. Use what you know about them, plus a generous helping of common sense, to work out how to behave appropriately.

And if you don’t know enough about them to work it out, maybe leave visits until you’re personally invited. Send them a text, or a card if you want to let them know you’re happy for them and looking forward to meeting the new arrival.

Luckily for me, either my friends weren’t big consumers of these online manuals for behaviour, or they had the good sense to ignore them. Just as you, in turn, should ignore this and do whatever feels right for you.

Do you think people need guidelines for how to behave when their friend has a newborn baby? What would you put on the list?

My Random Musings

A letter to the guy who ran a red light

To the guy who ran a red light and nearly smashed into my double pram,

Re: Why I’m not hunting you down. (But I might next time).

I have a baby and a two year old. When I cross roads with them I’m conscious of the fact that I’m not just crossing the road. I’m also modelling how to cross a road. So I model caution. We always stop, look, and listen. When there are lights, I get my toddler to watch for the green and let me know when it is safe to cross. It annoys my husband when we’re stopped waiting for a light to change with no car in sight. But I figure if we wait now, the little people are more likely to wait when we’re not with them. (Not that they’ll be crossing roads on their own any time soon, but good habits start young!)

Today I was out for a walk with the kids in a double pram. We stopped at a light. We waited for a couple of minutes and then the light turned green for us to cross. My toddler shouted: “Green!” I went to step out but noticed your car just in time. You went straight through the red. You and your passenger glared at me as you drove passed. I was the woman giving you my fiercest looking shake of the head. That shake of the head will surely haunt your nightmares.

And maybe it should.

If I had stepped straight out with the green signal, you would have collected the pram. In an instant the two most precious little lives in my world might have been taken from me. It made me sick to the stomach to think about at the time. I wanted to hunt you down. I wanted to shake you until you realised what you had done and what might have been. To realise that you were a menace to society and shouldn’t be driving.

But as I walked on, I started to wonder if you frequently have near misses with double prams, or if maybe driving through that red light was the worst lapse of concentration you’ve ever had behind the wheel.

Maybe you’re usually an exemplary driver. Maybe you have kids and when you take them for walks you make sure they stop, look, and listen. Maybe you think that people who run red lights shouldn’t be behind the wheel.

I started to think about the fact that so many of our encounters with other people are only moments. We only catch a glimpse of what they are like as a driver, or as a parent, or as a person.

Most people don’t see us most of the time.

Most of the time I spend 29 hours a day (at least) chopping vegetables and preparing healthy food for my kids to snack on. But to the couple who saw me at the park last sunny Sunday afternoon, I am the mother who feeds her two year old ice cream.

Most of the time I’ll smile and have a chat with strangers. But to the woman at the shops who wanted to engage me in conversation when I’d had a terrible day and just wanted to run in and out with two sick children, I am the rude mother who doesn’t stop.

Of course, some things are more excusable than others. If I know I am already cranky, I probably shouldn’t attempt a shopping trip with a toddler and baby.

And if you know you are too tired, or otherwise distracted, to drive, you definitely shouldn’t be driving.

For all the many, many moments when I fall short of perfection and have to hope that people realise that they are only seeing a glimpse of me, I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt on this one. I’m not going to hunt you down.

But watch out Mister, because if I ever see you doing something like that again, I just might.

Yours in hope that I never see you again.



Toddler dinnertime: Resolution in Rhyme

I really don’t love cooking,
But I really do love you.
For you I would do anything,
Even learn to cook a stew.

In my head I keep a list
Of foods that you prefer.
I know you like to help,
So I always let you stir.

I cook for health and taste,
Put a rainbow on your plate.
I time it oh so carefully,
Not too early, not too late.

Finally the moment comes
To call you to your chair.
We start the meal with such high hopes
But soon there comes despair.

It makes your mama sad
To see salmon on the floor;
Mashed potato on the walls,
Peas rolling out the door.

I know that before bedtime
You just want to have more fun.
But you haven’t even had one bite,
When I hear you shout “All done!”

So I’ve decided in the future,
I’m going to save my time.
You can have a sandwich.
Mummy’s having wine.

Prose for Thought

Impostor Syndrome in Parents

If you are a parent, do you ever look at your kids and wonder how they got to be so awesome? It can’t be nature, because you’re not all that. It can’t be nurture, because you’re not doing that great a job. Must be sheer luck.

Impostor Syndrome

I teach at a university law school. Every time I start a semester with a new group of students I give them the same speech. Students often find it daunting to participate in group discussions in class, even when they have valuable contributions to make.

There are a few different reasons for this, but one of the main ones is that they suffer from impostor syndrome. They are afraid that any minute now someone is going to find out that there has been some huge mistake, that they’re not actually smart enough to be at law school, that they don’t deserve it. If they open their mouths in class someone is definitely going to realise it, report them, and they are going to be frog marched straight out of there. I tell them that this is ridiculous. Getting into law school requires brains and hard work. Staying in law school requires commitment and more hard work. If you’re in my class, you’ve earned your right to be there. No phonies here.

Except maybe me. I’m terrified that I’ll be found out. I might have graduated law school, completed a Masters degree and a PhD, worked in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors, and taught in a number of universities, but I certainly don’t belong up here at the front of the class.

Such is the nature of impostor syndrome. No matter what you have achieved or how hard you have worked to get where you are, you still somehow think you have fluked your way through life and ended up somewhere you really don’t belong.

Do you ever feel like an impostor?

Consider this. If someone says to you something along the lines of: “Your kids seem really happy, relaxed and friendly, you must be doing a great job.” Do you, a) accept the compliment and acknowledge your role in your kids undisputed greatness, or b) downplay either your role, or your kids undisputed greatness, or both? Things that have come out of my mouth in such situations include: “Yeah, they’re awesome kids but I don’t know how that happened. We must just be lucky” and “They’re not so sweet when they’re screaming in the middle of the night.” If I don’t make it clear that it’s not perfect, it’s going to be pretty obvious I’m just a massive phoney. The fraud squad will be hauling me away.

The thing is, when I make any sort of disparaging remark about my children I immediately regret it. After all, they are in actual fact indisputably great. But on the other hand I rarely regret downplaying my own role in their formation. I don’t want to claim too big a hand in their greatness. What if this woman at the park finds out that I let them watch tv, or eat foods containing sugar, or sometimes even watch tv while eating foods containing sugar. (Not the baby, obviously. But she’ll no doubt get there one day). Never mind the hours and hours spent playing with them, preparing their meals, talking to them, reading to them, and laughing with them every single day. Never mind the countless nights spent up consoling them, reassuring them, being there for them. Those bits don’t count.

Except of course, they do. All of these things are the things that make your little people who they are. Whether it’s agonising over a care provider for when you are at work. Or the hug you save up especially for them at pick up time. Or pushing them on the swing at the park. Or the special story at bedtime. The big and little things that you do every day. Just being you. In this scenario it’s not possible you’re an impostor. Don’t worry what the world thinks. Don’t worry what “they” might find out. To a certain little someone you are indisputably the absolute greatest.

Now if only I could take my own advice.

My Random Musings