As a follow-up to 3 things you shouldn’t say to a new parent, here are the most helpful things I heard during the exhausting early days of parenthood. Readers, I’d love to find out what words you thought were most valuable at the beginning, too.
1. “I’m baking muffins and would like to bring you some. Is there a good time to stop by?”
The classic: “Would you like some food?” It doesn’t have to be homemade, and it definitely doesn’t have to be muffins, but you really can’t go wrong with food. (Muffins are a definitely a good choice: we had plenty of frozen meals laid by, but being able to grab a fresh banana-chocolate-chip muffin at 5 a.m. – off the platter brought over by friends the night before – was ah-maze-ing.)
It’s hard to find time to eat with a new baby, much less shop or cook. It can also be hard to find time to make yourself and the house vaguely presentable to guests, so don’t be offended if a friendly offer of food gets a “thanks, but not tonight” response.
If you’re a really close friend, a “Can I clean / do dishes / take out the trash / do some other useful chore that you probably don’t have time for?” is also a good option. But frankly, I’d feel weird about anyone who doesn’t live in my house cleaning my bathroom; you shouldn’t feel bad if you’d really rather not make the offer.
2. “It gets better.”
When a 10-week-old Little Boy grumped through a family visit, interested in neither food nor sleep nor snuggles nor toys, my grandmother assured me that he would get more sociable. “Babies become a lot more human at 3 months,” she said – and she was right.
I’ll freely admit that I have as yet no experience with the Terrible Twos or preschool or homework or the angst of teenagerhood. I know it’s not going to be a constant upward path of getting better every day. There will be teething and separation anxiety and illness and tantrums. But it’s not going to be the ’round-the-clock-feeding, constantly-fussy, no-sleep-for-a-week, bone-tired exhausting ordeal of early infancy. Little Boy is SO much more enjoyable than he was then. He sleeps. He laughs. He plays with toys. He greets me with a smile so big that I wonder how it fits on his face.
It really does get better.
3. “You’re doing a good job.”
New parents are often filled with worry about whether they’re doing things correctly. The internet is filled with scary articles about all the ways you could screw up your child for life. Here you are, entirely responsible for this tiny life form, and it feels like you’re just making it up as you go.
So hearing that you’re probably doing OK can be a huge relief. When my pediatrician said it, I could feel the anxiety leaving my body. The first time my mother said it, I almost cried with joy.
Don’t lie, of course – if you know some new parents whom you think are doing a horrible job, keep it to yourself. Bring them some food instead.