Oh, Baby!: How To Support And Encourage Expectant or New Parents
I love children, but haven’t yet found a wonderful man to marry and start a family with. Consequently, I may be more interested in the children of others than many other single men and women. Nonetheless, I wanted to offer my insights about how to encourage those in your life who are expecting and new parents.
To begin with, I’ve found most women welcome kind inquiries while they are pregnant. This obviously does not mean asking them if they feel like a beached whale—even though they might near the end of their pregnancy—but instead asking if they are feeling healthy, tired, emotional, excited, and so forth. What can be specifically asked will depend upon the relationship you have with this person. For example, I asked the pregnant woman in my book club more general questions about how she was feeling compared to the questions I’ve asked my close college friend who is expecting her second child in July.
Inquiries typically differ if you are asking the expectant mother or father. Two years ago a businessman I frequently supported was expecting his first child, and I asked him questions such as how his wife was feeling and what they planned to name their baby girl. When I was finally able to meet the first daughter belonging to married friends of mine, I asked the man if he liked being a dad. In other words, I asked about his role as a father instead of necessarily addressing the emotions behind the experience. With his wife I was more forthcoming about asking about her struggle to juggle life as a mom, wife, sister, daughter, and so forth.
Another way I’ve found to encourage expecting parents is to send or give gifts in anticipation of their new arrival. In recent years I’ve usually resisting giving any clothing in the zero to three months, three to six months, six to nine months, and nine to twelve month range, as several parents have told me how they’d received so many outfits sized six to nine months they never use them all before their baby outgrows them. Therefore, if I give clothing to expecting parents, I try to ensure it is sized at least eighteen months or larger. Generally, however, I prefer to give those in my life who are expecting children’s books. If your friends and family who are expecting live far away from you, books can be sent relatively cheaply using the Media Mail option. Also, I know how important books were to me as a child, and this makes sharing books a joy. I’ve even held on to certain children’s books for years in anticipation of when a certain friend is expecting her first baby. Gently used children’s books can often be purchased for a fair price at thrift stores, library book sales, and garage sales. I always disinfect the outside of these books before sending them onward, a gesture which takes little time and helps the books appear more like new.
Once those in your life are new parents, it can be helpful to ask them how they are doing. Once again, the amount of detail in this question will depend on how well you know this person. In other words, I am much more likely to ask a first cousin about the highs and lows of having a newborn than I am someone I know more casually. At such moments I try to resist saying anything along the lines of, “I know what you are going through” because I clearly do not. Nonetheless, offering support and a listening ear can be an enormous help to new parents. If you are, like me, willing to hold babies, you can also free up a mother’s or father’s arms by holding her baby for a few minutes or longer. Over the years I’ve held many babies quite happily in order to give their parents a break.
Still another way to encourage these individuals is by sending emails, personal letters, and text messages letting them know you are thinking about them. Two years ago I sent quotes from Anne Lamott’s “Operating Instructions” to a friend who mentioned reading this book and loving it. Individualized messages and questions let a new mom or dad know you are trying to meet them where they are at instead of assuming their experience as a new parent must be identical to what your oldest cousin experienced when her first child was born.
Finally, offering thoughtful praise and encouragement to those who are expecting or new parents is invaluable. This can mean anything from praising your ultra-organized friend on how efficiently she has organized the baby’s room to offering compliments such as, “You are so patient with your new baby” and so forth. Praise should be sincere, however, and I’ve found more specific encouragement is often the best received.
I’m fortunate to have numerous friends and family members who are either expecting or have newborns at home. Learning to encourage and appreciate my friends and family while they take the giant leap and become parents has been one of the best things I’ve learned as an adult. By no means have I perfected this art, and therefore I hope to learn more about how to best interact with those with a “bun in the oven” or a new baby at home.