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Food goes a long way. (Image: Tina Tiller)
Food goes a long way. (Image: Tina Tiller)

SocietyApril 2, 2024

How you – yes, you! – can be a godsend to a new parent

Food goes a long way. (Image: Tina Tiller)
Food goes a long way. (Image: Tina Tiller)

Everyone can help lighten the load for a struggling new mum or dad. Here’s how.

As I recently detailed in personal terms, being a new parent is hard. Brutally, brutally hard. “What if I just sent my baby down a river in a Moses basket?” hard. A million exhausted parents will warn you that “nothing can prepare you for how hard it is”, and even that won’t prepare you for how hard it is.

Much of the problem needs to be worked out on a systemic level, involving policies like paid parental leave and more flexible working arrangements for new parents. But the proverbial village matters a lot too. No matter who you are, you can help lighten the load for a new parent in your life. Here’s how: 

Drop off food

If you make a killer lasagne or casserole, that’s perfect. If you can’t cook or you have no time, a meal delivery service, ready-made lamb ragu from Farro or a Pak n Save chicken korma is perfect too. If you have a bag of feijoas from your tree, drop it round to the feijoa-loving new mum or dad you know. Baked goods and snacks are great, because breastfeeding women are constantly ravenous. One of the best food drop-offs I received as a new mother was a huge tub of peanut butter and massive tin of Milo from my sister, who knew it was what I was craving post-birth. 

If you’re not sure about dietary stuff, ask, but you also can’t really go too far wrong. If you bugger it up and drop off a beef bourguignon to a pair of vegetarian parents, they’ll just serve it up to one of their many visitors and be really grateful for the thought. It’s best not to linger too long at the house, especially in the early weeks, and might even pay to leave your offering at the door or in the mailbox, then text to say it’s there. 

Forgive a new parent for bailing on social engagements or not replying to texts

It’s really hard to concentrate on a text when your baby is grizzling or about to put toenail clippers in their mouth. It’s even harder to get out the door for a social engagement. New parents usually feel really guilty about all their unanswered texts and thwarted attempts at hanging out. Assure them they don’t need to, or at the very least, hold in your pass-agg comment about their flakiness. 

Clean their house 

Parents live in pigsties full of stray Duplo blocks, balled-up nappies and dirty dishes. It’s disgusting and they usually hate it, but it’s just how it is. For new parents you know really well, simply show up at their house and start cleaning it, no questions asked. For anyone else, do some seamless tidying while you’re already visiting: fold clean washing while you chat, retire to the kitchen to quietly sort the dishes, that kind of thing. 

Cold, hard cash is always useful for new parents.

Understand who you’re dealing with, and tweak your approach accordingly

As I sit here imagining the prospect of a friend showing up, mop in hand, to clean my house, a point occurs to me: some people are pathologically averse to asking for and accepting help. Like, they just can’t do it, and will feel insanely guilty about any support they do receive. The Venn diagram of people like this and parents who get postnatal depression has huuuuge overlap, and it’s why the “It’s OK to ask for help!” line can feel almost cruel to a suffering new mum or dad who won’t say so. 

There’s only so much you can do for a horse who won’t drink the water you’ve led it to, but if you know the new parent in your life is allergic to asking for anything, you might want to adjust your approach. Repeat your offers of help, insist that you mean them, and if it feels right in the circumstances, do stuff like cleaning and dropping off food without asking and in spite of “No, you don’t have to do that, really!” protest. 

Send money 

When my baby was born my aunty asked for my bank account and then deposited $100 the same day. It was simple, lovely and really helpful. New parents often end up being gifted 40 merino onesies and no muslin wraps, or vice versa, plus money is usually tight when you’ve just had a baby, so money and gift vouchers go a long way.

Don’t stress too much over getting your approach exactly right

I hope I didn’t alarm you with the thing about merino onesies. It’s actually fine to have 40 merino onesies; they’re indispensable in winter and stretch heaps. These are just suggestions on a list, they’re not commandments from heaven. Whatever you do will be lovely and fine. Just don’t get paralysed by indecision and self-doubt and do nothing. 

Text the new mum or dad a string of heart emojis

I just thought we needed an easy one here.

Always nice to receive.

Come over and hold the baby for a short while 

There’s so much stuff that’s near impossible to do while you’re looking after a baby: showering, drinking a cup of tea from start to finish while it’s still warm, scrolling on your phone without feeling guilty, taking a shit. If you can pop by to hold someone’s baby for 10 or 20 minutes – even if you’re “really bad with babies” and even if the baby screams the entire time – offer to do so. 

Childcare for big chunks of time can be a big ask and tends to require a degree of closeness, but anyone can hold a baby for the length of a couple of Bluey episodes, and even the most help-averse parent should be able to handle this too.

Remember the parents after six weeks 

The new baby grind doesn’t magically stop after six weeks, but that’s usually when the meals, gifts, supportive texts and offers of support start dropping off. You can do any of the things on this list for someone with a three-, six-, and nine-month-old baby… and beyond! 

Swallow your unsolicited advice 

This is a big one. Unsolicited advice is often the most reflexive and well-intentioned response to hearing someone is going through a hard time, but you have to understand that new parents receive an absolutely torrential and overwhelming amount of it. Just so, so much advice, sprayed at them like a firehose every day.

Other parents are often the worst offenders because they feel compelled to share the Good News about whatever One Weird Trick worked for them. “This milk-warming device SAVED my LIFE! You NEED to spend $200 on it!!!!!” Probably what they need more is the opportunity to vent and chat without intense product recommendations and pressure to figure out some mythical perfect approach to parenting, so try to give them that.

Swallow your stressful developmental comparisons

As above, but swap out “Oh, she’s still not walking yet? My baby walked when she was six months old. Have you checked everything is OK?” Pure, unnecessary anxiety fuel. 

Open the door for parents you see struggling to get a baby, bags and stroller through it

An incredibly easy one almost everyone can do……………. but not everyone does. C’mon!!

Let frazzled mums jump the line at the supermarket 

I can’t stress enough how much you should simply let a frazzled mum behind you in the supermarket line jump ahead of you. 

Text them another string of heart emojis

OK I’m done.

Keep going!