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?