Wednesday, January 16, 2008

My Life in a Nutshell: Good Friends for New Moms

Yesterday I donated my spare time as well as some of my not-so-spare time. "How does one donate one's spare time?" you ask. Well, just one idea... ministering to the sick or homebound. In our case, a friend who had just had a baby and her three kids.

I packed up the kids, some frozen meals, some homebaked goodies, a present for the baby, a rice bag for my friend, and a bucket of cleaning products and headed to my friend's house. My kids played with her kids while we spent some quality time chatting. I offered to do some cleaning but she said she would rather have the company, so that's what we did. I made some lunch for the kids and everyone fell apart at naptime, so we called it a day. I had a great time visiting with her and, as she thawed some of the food I had brought for dinner, I knew she appreciated the visit.

Having three young children myself and eventual plans for more, I know just how important it is to be taken care of after a baby arrives. It is an extremely vulnerable and emotional time and certainly one of the biggest trials in my life. A woman who has just had a baby is not only physically recovering, but emotionally adjusting to her crazy new hormones, older siblings' reactions to the new baby, and all of the responsibilities that come with another child. And then her husband goes back to work. On top of that, many women (including myself) have to deal with some level of post-partum depression, a situation that can really drag down quality of life even if everything else is peaches'n'cream.

When you care about someone who has just had a baby, you want to help. But all the cute baby clothes and handmade quilts in the world will be a waste if you don't give what really counts: your empathy, your time, and your love. There are some basic things that can be done to help someone who has just had a baby. I would encourage any or all of these practical suggestions if you really want to make a difference:

  • Make meals. This is a biggie. This is something that will really be appreciated. You could drop off a fully cooked hot meal at dinner time, or make a meal that can be frozen and cooked whenever the family needs it. There are a lot of meals out there that freeze superbly, and little research will yield more than enough ideas.

  • Help with the housework. Another really important thing. Vacuum, clean bathrooms, mop the floor, wipe down the counters, put away toys, do the laundry, pick up some groceries... the possibilities are endless. About 7 months ago I came home from the hospital with a newborn and found the house a bit of a mess. I got bogged down just thinking about housework, and it really made my day when my mom brought dinner and cleaned my kitchen. It can do wonders for the morale.

  • Babysit the older siblings. Offer to watch the older siblings at your house or at their own home. Take them to a park, McDonalds, or just outside. This will give the new mom a chance to nap or just shower, or anything else that will leave her feeling like she's had a moment to herself. If your really brave, you could even mind the newborn while she naps.

  • Just visit. Being there for moral support is also important, and simply stopping by (with notice) can help meet someone's emotional needs. While you're there you could offer to do anything that might need to be done or give the mom some alone time if she needs a break. Having good company for an hour can turn a bad day around, so don't underestimate the value of "being there".

  • Make a phone call. Along the same lines, talking on the phone can be great way to check in with your friend and make her feel less isolated, a common feeling when you are stuck at home with lots of new responsibilities that can easily feel overwhelming.

As you spend time with the new mom, don't be afraid to make suggestions rather than just ask. I know from personal experience that it's really hard to ask for help when you need it the most. It's hard to admit that you need help dealing with your own kids or keeping up your own home, but it's a lot easier to accept when someone offers to watch your kids or wash your dishes. So instead of saying, "Call me if you need anything," I'd say, "I'll call tomorrow and see how things are going." I am also of the opinion that new moms need some uninterrupted time... something I think many new fathers don't really understand. If the older siblings will survive without their mother choosing their snack (or anything else), don't bother mom about it.

Most importantly, though, just make sure to be empathetic, understanding and a good listener. You never know when a hug might make all the difference to someone, so be sure to offer.

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