From the moment we shared the news with my mom (via Zoom -- thank you global pandemic), she wanted to know how soon she could come from Wisconsin to Virginia to meet her first precious grandchild. My husband and I were over the moon of course and wanted both our families to come meet our little guy as soon as possible. However, COVID-19 and a challenging relationship between our two sets of parents made this a little complicated, and extremely stressful.
We decided that my mom would come as soon as our son was born and would stay a couple of weeks (although at that time we didn’t define a specific date she would leave). We thought having my husband’s parents visiting at the same time would be too many cooks in the kitchen. We needed a few weeks to figure things out and get settled with this new tiny human in our lives before we started hosting multiple guests.
This greatly upset my in-laws as they, too, wanted to meet their grandson (though not the first grandchild for them) as soon as possible. Additionally, my dad also wanted to fly out from California to meet Levi.
We came up with a schedule that involved everyone coming to visit sometime in the first two months after baby was born. COVID vaccination status also was a contentious topic amidst all of this chaos, but, in the end, it was a battle that I lost with some of these visitors.
All of our visitors assured us that they just wanted to help and didn’t want to be a burden. While we greatly appreciated the intentions of all of our visitors, some were more practically useful than others.
I wanted to describe how helpful our most amazing guests were to give you a sense of how great it can be when people mean what they say by only wanting to help – no strings attached.
While their stay was the shortest of our various guests, these visitors were the most helpful primarily because they took charge of the decision making. As new parents, you’re barely holding it together in those early days. Even making mundane decisions such as, “what will we have for dinner tonight” can seem overwhelming, so I was happy to surrender that mental load. These guests communicated clearly ahead of time that their goal was to help us: babysit, spend time with us and the baby, and cook us all of the meals while they were there.
After an eventful cross-country flight and an unexpected late night, they got up the next morning and drove to the store and bought all the groceries they’d need to make meals for the next few days (which they had planned out in advance after checking for dietary restrictions and food preferences). This was huge! For four straight days, they asked us what times we’d like to have meals, and three delicious hot meals a day showed up on our kitchen table. Afterwards, they neatly packed up the leftovers and stored in the fridge and did all of the dishes.
They also babysat our eight-week-old for eight straight hours so we could attend a dear friend’s wedding (which had been postposed three times, again, thank you COVID). They even dealt with a massive blow-out in the process (the offended onesie was soaking in cold water and came out 100% clean in the wash the next day). It was so wonderful!
If I could send this kind of visitors to every new parent, I would! They were so helpful, and asked for nothing from us except to spend time getting to know their grandson. Not having to plan or make decisions about how we would accommodate these guests was such a gift!
So, what can we learn from them in terms of making the most of well-meaning friends and family members who want to lend a hand? Now that I’ve gone through new parenthood myself, here’s what I would do in the future.
1. Make a plan ahead of time. Be specific. Communicate the plan.
We kind of did this with our family, but not all of them wanted to go along with our plan…The most successful visitors were the ones who had a very clear idea of how they were going to help, and it aligned with what we needed. Super important!
2. Set expectations (if possible) before baby arrives.
This has become a hot topic in particular due to COVID. Do you expect visitors to be vaccinated? If not, would you like them to wear masks? Would you like them to get tested before visiting? Should they wash their hands when they arrive and (if you feel comfortable) before they hold the baby? Are there certain times of the day (i.e. in between naps or after feedings) when you would prefer visitors to stop by? How long would you like visits to be?
3. Don’t be afraid to ask people to wait to meet your little one.
Those first few weeks are very special and you also need that time to recover from birth. This time can also be stressful and leave you in a haze of sleep deprivation and second guessing every decision you’re making regarding your baby. Of course, everyone is eager to meet your precious bundle, but feel free to remind them that he’s mostly sleeping the first eight weeks anyway, and don’t they want to come when he’s a little more engaging and alert?
4. If someone says, “Please let me know what I can do to help,” actually take them up on it!
Most people who say that truly do want to help, they just might not know exactly what you need. Consider having a short list ready for them and give them a few options. Depending on how comfortable you feel with this individual, these tasks might include:
· Do a load of laundry
· Bring a meal/ snacks
· Bring by some groceries (provide a list)
· Do some light cleaning – be specific (i.e. do the dishes in the sink and sweep the kitchen.)
· If you have an older child, perhaps see if they’d like to take him/her to the park or play for an hour or two.
· Babysit so you can go out with your partner.
· Take the dog for a walk.
5. When someone offers to bring a meal:
We actually had more food than we knew what to do with those first few weeks, but then the meal trains end and you’re left to fend for yourself. This often coincides with the time you’re getting your feet under you with your baby, but they’re becoming more alert and you need to find ways to engage with him during the day. Or perhaps this is even the time when you’re preparing to return to work.
A friend (also a new mom) offered to bring us a meal while my mom was still doing all of the cooking for us during her visit. I expressed my deep gratitude for her generosity and asked if it would be ok for her to wait a few weeks until my mom went home. She happily obliged and it worked out great! Several friends also sent us Door Dash gift cards so we could order in food, so don’t be afraid to ask for that, too. It’s so easy for someone to send and it’s such a life saver.
Ultimately, we had an embarrassment of riches when it came to how many people in our lives wanted to bring us baby clothes and toys, cook us meals, stay with us and babysit, and just generally be helpful when we welcomed our first child into our lives. I remember in the weeks leading up to our son’s birth, having stressful conversations with my husband about how we would make it possible for all of the grandparents to come visit in a timely manner after he was born and then pausing to recognize what a wonderful problem we had.
Although there were aspects of this time period that seemed overwhelming, we felt incredibly thankful to have so many people who already loved our son dearly, before he was even born. I hope to implement some of these tips when it comes time for baby #2. I wish you the best!