Have a friend who had a baby and you're on the roster to drop off a meal? Here's everything they want you to know and do, but are too shy and polite to say and ask.
They are tired. Breastfeeding is still awkward and having people around makes it more awkward. The mother is recovering physically, either from a surgical birth, or from the equivalent of a triathlon where the prize was a grapefuit sized head flying out of her vagina. Either of these things makes you sore and tired. They would like to see you, but don't want to be tired out by a long visit. You are not going to stay longer than 15 minutes, no matter how polite the parents are in saying you can stay longer. If your visit/meal drop off scheduled for 5.30. BE ON TIME. Make plans for 6:15 so that you HAVE to leave.
Before you walk in the door, put your game face on. Set a timer, on your phone or watch for 15 minutes. When it goes off, get out of there! Remember that you are going to be a quiet, productive blessing. This visit is NOT about you. It is not about the parents hosting you and putting on a cup of tea so you can sit and visit and hold the baby. Think about how you would feel if you had either had surgery or ran a triathlon. What would you want people to do for you? This visit is about blessing the parents and making their life a little bit easier. Your prize is getting a quick peek at the cute new human.
Here's how to play out your 15 minute visit:
1. Bring a healthy meal. Include a salad or fresh vegetables. Only use disposable dishes. There is nothing more annoying than
a) having to wash more dishes when you have a new baby
b) having to try to return dishes to all sorts of random people when you have a new baby
2. In addition to your meal, bring cut up veggies and fruit, unsalted trail mix or nuts, or other such healthy snacks for daytime munching for mom to eat while she's nursing.
3. Go into the kitchen and spend 5 minutes clearing off a counter, washing a sink-full of dishes, loading the dishwasher etc. Don't ask permission, just do it. Then set the table for their dinner.
4. Before you leave your house, put some paper towels and some powdered bathroom cleaner like Commet or Ajax in a baggie. Stick it in your purse. While you are at the house, go and use the washroom...and while in there do a three minute bathroom shine-up, using your paper towels and cleaner.
5. Coo over the baby, but wash your hands before touching it.
6. If they want to eat right then, heat the food up and put it on the table, give everybody kisses and then leave.
7. Take the garbage out when you go.
In and out. This will be the best visit the parents will have had. They will love you and you will be awesome in their books forever. You can come back and have a longer visit when the parents have adjusted to their new normal.
Edited to add:
March 31, 2011
So this really crazy thing happened. A week ago, I had an idea to make a quick and easy list of suggestions for people visiting friends after they had a new baby. I was sitting on the couch and told my husband my idea and we brainstormed the list and I posted it on my blog and shared the link on my facebook. A few days later, I looked at my stats and noticed that my little post-partum list had 2,000 hits. Which totally blew me away, because my blog is small and humble and I threw my post together in only a few minutes. Anyways, it turns out that 2,000 hits isn't that many at all, because as I type this, I'm just a few hundred hits away from 20,000, which, wow! is quite a lot, and makes me sort of embarrassed and wish that I put a little more thought into how I worded this piece...but it is what it is and it obviously resonates with enough people that a couple of thousand of them felt compelled to share it on their facebook. (Thank you very much for sharing it, my new friends!)
Considering how many people are reading this, I'd like to add three things to this post. First of all, I'd like to say that what I really wanted to communicate is that post-partum visitors need to have an unselfish, service-oriented attitude when going to visit the parents and their new baby. Personally, I'd be thrilled if someone loaded my dishwasher or shined up my bathroom, and left after 15 minutes but many people have commented that this would make them really uncomfortable and others have said that they would want and need more visiting time. So, I'd like to add:
- Be sensitive to the needs of the new parents. Serve them, but don't embarrass or overwhelm them.
- Come back when the baby is a few weeks old for a longer visit and help where you are needed. A large number of people commented that they have a large influx of support in the first few weeks and then it totally dries up. I have also found this to be very true, and now, when my friends have babies, I tell them I will bring them a meal and come visit after the other parent has returned to work and the other friends have stopped bringing meals. Many mothers get quite lonely and feel very isolated after the first few weeks and all the visitors have stopped.
- Bringing a small gift for the older sibling(s). One person did this for my older son when my baby was born, and he was so thrilled. It was a very small and inexpensive gift, but it really made him feel special. It was also mentioned that taking the older siblings to the park or on an outing for an hour or two might be appreciated - both by the children and the parents!
- Leave off the perfume. New babies and mothers are very sensitive to scent, and if you are wearing perfume and hold the baby the baby absorbs that scent like a sponge. I personally hate it when someone holds my baby and he comes back drenched in their perfume, and I imagine that it must be very overwhelming for the baby to lose the scent of their mother because their nose is overwhelmed with the smell of a stranger .
- Someone suggested putting a list of chores that visitors can help with on the fridge. This is such a wonderful idea and really address the concern that some people had about the idea of other people cleaning their homes being uncomfortable or intrusive.
- If you do bring in a cleaning product, be sure that it isn't something that is going to cause allergies or break non-toxic rules the family might have. In the same vein of being environmentally friendly, you might want to pick up a thrift store dish for the meal that the family can either keep or donate as they wish, rather than disposable containers.