Babies! We all love babies, right? Most people are generally positive when it comes to new life. Catholics even more so since we are called to protect and honor life from conception to natural death.
One area that I feel we’ve overlooked is the serving of the family when a new baby arrives. I’ve witnessed a unique and confusing thing as I’ve welcomed three (soon to be four) babies: the excitement and focus is overwhelmingly spent on the new child whether in utero or out. This is a really great thing! Of course we want to celebrate that new life to the fullest extent.
But it’s often easy to forget the life-source of that baby – the immediate family. Many times, once the baby arrives mom is overlooked and the excitement dwindles. A great way to serve the family is to keep the joy going and seek to find ways to serve them as they adjust to the new life.
After all, the best way to love a new baby is to support the immediate family that cares for that baby. Here are some ideas to get you started!
- Ask and listen. New parents might find they are better helped if you offer a gift card while a family of 7 might prefer help with laundry. If you’re able to, ask what kind of help they truly need and then find a way to do that in some small way. Sometimes when we think we’re helping, we’re actually causing more stress – every family is different and what really helps them will be different.
- Celebrate the mother. Whether this is her first or 10th child, the changes a mother goes through from conception to delivery are intense. It’s really truly out of this world what women’s bodies, minds, and hearts go through just to bring this life into the world. Too often the excitement surrounds the baby and the mother is left in the background. She’s adorned when she’s housing the baby in the womb, but after birth often expected to resume to normal functioning status. Expect that a mother will feel vulnerable in some form through the first 9 months of the baby’s life (sometimes longer) and serving her in that role is invaluable. Send her flowers, give her treats, call her and ask about her not just the baby, let her rest, and leave non-judgmental room for her flexing emotions as the hormones shift.
- Celebrate the father. Something that was so sad for me to witness after the birth of one of our boys was how hard my husband worked to take care of all of us on his own. He did everything I normally did, cared for all of us, still went to work, and lost sleep right along with us helping at every chance so I could rest and heal. Everyone we saw or spoke to would ask how the baby and I were doing but not a single friend or family member asked how he was doing. Though not physical, the transition still affects dads and we can help them know they aren’t alone. Call him up and take him out for a beer. Ask if he wants to get together for cigars to celebrate the new life. Drop off coffee for him early in the morning so he doesn’t have to make it at home. Let him know he’s appreciated and noticed.
- Offer to help with siblings. If the family already has children, trying to juggle birth recovery and a newborn can be exhausting. Usually if there’s no one else to help, it falls on the dad to endlessly entertain and care for the other children while also caring for his wife and the house. The other kids might feel left out, forgotten, or just plain bored. If you have the time, ask to pick up the other kids and take them to a park to burn energy. Offer to drop off a movie and pizza some weekend. Bring bags of activities for younger kids. Anything that will help siblings feel thought of and loved while also helping the parents get a little break.
- Let mama decide. The bonding hormones between mother and baby are strong after birth – it’s biological and natural, meant to increase the odds of survival. Some moms experience it for several months and do not feel comfortable letting others hold the baby or being away from baby for long times. Be sure to respect whatever mama decides when it comes to visitors, holding the baby, helping with certain chores, or bringing children to visit. And remember, even if it’s different than how you do things, part of loving that new family is avoiding idle chatter and opinions about how they may parent differently than you.
- Stock the freezer. I love bringing freezer meals (and cookies!) to families before baby arrives. It’s helpful because sometimes third trimester is really difficult and it’s hard to ask for a meal even if you really need the help. Other times, meal trains go unnoticed or unplanned and the first couple weeks are a blur of takeout and junk food just to survive. I love knowing at least they have a few things ready to heat up those first few days after birth when cooking is the last thing on their mind but the most important need. (Note: with any meal, be sure to double check food restrictions and preferences and honor them. If you can’t honor them, a grocery store gift card can be thoughtful!)
- Check in around 6-8 weeks after the birth. This is usually the hardest adjustment time all around. Babies are usually most colicky around this age, the excitement of the new birth has worn off a bit, and everyone is going back to normal even though things don’t feel like normal. Some moms are even still recovering at this point (my c-section took me 3 full months to recover from!). If working, the mother may be struggling to pump and adjust the baby to a bottle. From my own experience and listening to friends, the 6-8 week mark just seems to be the hardest in a lot of ways. A great way to serve might be to drop a gift card in the mail for takeout or a month supply of diapers and wipes to their doorstep. Check in on the other kids and see if the family needs anything. Just knowing others are still praying and thinking of you during the time of adjustment can make a world of difference.
What would you add to this list? Is there anything you’ve done or experienced that has really impacted how you welcome a new child into the family?