Being a mother is hard. Not exactly the discovery of the year, right? Still, many new mothers are taken aback by just how depleted, overwhelmed, and lonely they can feel by the end of the day, especially during the newborn phase.
One of the best ways to push through the early days is to rely on a network of friends and family that are ready and willing to help—but what about when they don't know how to help?
All too often, well-intentioned friends, relatives, and neighbors aren't sure what to offer, and new moms don't know what to ask for. Many of those generic offers of assistance then fall through the cracks, because neither party is sure how to act on them.
Here's a better way to help a new mom: give her a highly specific suggestion of something you can do to help out. Then, don't take no for an answer—if she declines an offer, suggest something else. This list will help get you started:
1. Organize a meal train. The typical gesture of bringing over a meal is great, but facilitating dozens of meals is even better. Ask her if somebody has already volunteered to organize a meal train for her. If not, don't feel like you're overstepping or that you should wait for someone who's closer with her to set it up—just step up to the plate and do it. Online websites like MealTrain or Take Them a Meal let you create a calendar where all people have to do is click a few buttons and claim a day. Bonus: It also only takes a few clicks on your part, and more people will participate if there's something organized.
2. Help with the family pet. If you're already visiting and your friend has a pet, offer to take the dog out for a walk or to clean the cat's litter box—after all, a new Mama is already up to her ears in poop. Want to be even more helpful? Take the pet to your own home for a week or two so that she can have one less to-do on her list and can concentrate on baby instead.
3. Bring her a present. By now, she's gotten more onesies than she knows what to do with, and she has enough baby shampoo to last through her newborn's teenage years. Instead or in addition, bring Mom a small gift to remind her that she matters, too. Great possibilities include good chocolate, magazines, lotion, or just about anything else that's not baby-related.
4. Ask if she needs anything from the grocery store. Already heading there yourself? Call your mama pal and ask if you could pick anything up for her. If she says no, don't give up; she may just be so overwhelmed that thinking about cooking is too much for her at the moment. Offer to bring over a bag of healthy snacks that she can easily grab out of the cupboard and munch on when she's not up to making something.
5. Volunteer to do a specific household chore. I learned the importance of being specific from my sister-in-law, who offered to clean the house. I waved her off, telling her that I didn't mind the mess. She basically just ignored me and asked where I kept my laundry basket, and at that point I wasn't going to stop her. Specific offers—like loading or unloading the dishwasher, vacuuming, or washing and folding the laundry—help convince her that you're sincere and are easier for her to accept.
6. Babysit (or arrange a playdate) for older kids. If this isn't her first baby, she may be struggling with attending to her newborn while still giving her older child or children the attention they deserve. Offer to take them out to the park or for ice cream so that they can be the center of attention—and to give Mom a bit of a break.
7. Ask to hold the baby. Don't feel like you're intruding by asking; make the offer and let her say no if it's not a good time. More likely than not, she'll be thrilled to be able to use two hands and be unencumbered for a little while.
8. Text her. A lot. It's hard to get out with a newborn, so she may be feeling cut off or isolated. That being said, it can be almost impossible to talk on the phone with a newborn around. Strike a compromise and text her In between visits. Ask her how she's doing, send links to interesting articles, pass along cat memes, the works. And don't feel miffed if she doesn't respond in a timely manner...or at all.
9. Tell her that if she's feeling miserable, she's not a bad person. She's probably dealing with an influx of people who are telling her how adorable the baby is, how she should treasure these beautiful moments, and how fast the time will fly by. If you've been there before and you still remember that, actually, sometimes the minutes seemed to drag on and your baby cried so much that it made you cry, too, please tell her. It'll comfort her to realize that a wide range of emotions are normal and even expected.