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Post-Baby, Postpartum Visiting Pitfalls

May20

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Dear Amy,

I really need advice from a sane, reasonable parent – I have no kids, none of my close friends have kids, and my dad is even more socially inept than I am. (Love my dad, but his advice leads to stories that are only funny after several years and a LOT of bourbon.)

I dated this guy in college and we broke up when I moved out of the country for work. He found a wonderful lady soon after and they’ve been together ever since. This guy and I have stayed pretty close friends and I’ve spent a couple of really good visits hanging out at their new house. I don’t know this lady super well, but she seems fabulous and makes my friend happier than I’ve ever seen him. Last week they had their first kid. Mom and baby are well and new daddy seems thrilled to pieces. My friend has asked me to drop everything and come out ASAP but I’m really worried about stepping on toes. She said it’s fine, but my feeling is she’s sleep-deprived and saying yes to be nice.

I guess my question is this: at what point would you, as a brand-new mom, have loved to have someone show up, make dinner, babysit or whatever, hang out, and actually enjoyed the experience?

Any guidance would be really appreciated. Thank you!

Best,
Something Clever Here

This. Is such a good question. Thank you for asking it. And for setting me loose on it with ALL MY MANY OPINIONS.

So yes, spread across my three brand-new-baby postpartum experiences, I indeed had some WONDERFUL experiences with friends and family coming to visit. I also had some of the…other kind. The not-so-enjoyable kind. The kind where you’re smiling so hard it hurts because you’re using every possible facial muscle to suppress your overwhelming urge to scream at someone to GET OUT OF MY HOUSE ALREADY.

Basically, there are two major pitfalls that an early postpartum houseguest can make, I think:

1) Acting like a houseguest and expecting to be entertained, served and generally fussed over.

2) Acting like a live-in housekeeper with zero boundaries, taking over EVERYTHING and not giving the new parents their space.

I feel like the first one should be fairly obvious, but judging from the number of ZOMG GOING TO MURDERIFY SOMEONE letters I have gotten from new moms about everyone from mother-in-laws to mothers to BFFs to their husband’s uncle’s roommate, I guess it isn’t obvious ENOUGH. I’m guessing YOU, the lovely OP, know this already, but for the sake of posterity: If you go to visit brand-new parents, please do not expect them to wait on you, cater to you, or entertain you.

Do not ask them to play tour guide or whine about their cable line-up or dinner options. You want to go see the city or eat out instead of ordering pizza for the third night in a row? Knock yourself out. Rent a car, fire up the GPS and ask your hosts if you can bring anything back for them from the store while you’re out. Clean up after yourself. Find your own damn towels. Make coffee in the morning; figure out where most of the dishes go so you can help unload the dishwasher. Offer to run a load of laundry, provided you can do it without asking a bajillion and one questions. Remember that someone needs to hold the baby so Mom can take a shower. Remember that while Mom might certainly be down with watching The Price Is Right with you, she might also want some time alone with her baby. When the conversation starts seeming a little forced or draggy, it might be a good time to head to your room with your iPad or go take a solo walk to Starbucks so she can have some downtime. But make sure she knows that you are ready and willing to lend a hand when/if she wants/needs one.

(For the record, I was never a big napper, even when totally sleep-deprived with a newborn. So sometimes it bugged me when people assumed that the ONLY thing I wanted to do all day was take naps, to the point where they were practically ordering me to. “I’ll take the baby for a walk, you nap!” “Why don’t you take a nap?” “The baby looks tired, let me take him and you take a nap!” Most of the time I just wanted to cuddle WITH my baby and watch TV, and not have anyone judging my programming choices, which were legitimately terrible.)

Number two is harder to explain. You don’t mention sleeping arrangements, so I’m not sure if this is an overnight, multiple day sort of thing? If that’s the case, remember that there’s a fine line between being “helpful” and being “completely intrusive and take-over-y.” And it’s a line that can be PAINFULLY obvious to the newly postpartum (and only to the newly postpartum). My husband was never aware of this line. “But she’s just trying to be helpful!” he’d say. “BUT SHE’S FOLDING MY THONGS IN THE LIVING ROOM IN FRONT OF YOUR DAD ZOMG!” I would shriek back. “I CAN’T WALK INTO THE KITCHEN WITHOUT BEING INTERROGATED ABOUT WHETHER I’M HUNGRY OR NOT AND OFFERED HEALTHY VEGAN SNACKS THAT I DON’T WANT BECAUSE I WENT IN THERE FOR LEFTOVER PIZZA THAT I PLANNED TO EAT STRAIGHT FROM THE FRIDGE.”

So, basically, you’re there to help, but you are still in someone else’s home. Offering to do a load of baby clothes or towels is great. Don’t go into the master bedroom and start sorting the whites, you know? Know when to make yourself scarce instead of being right in the middle of everything all the time. Support without smothering, I guess.

If you have sleeping arrangements elsewhere, I think you can easily avoid overstaying your welcome and ABSOLUTELY, I’d be thrilled if someone showed up with dinner (homemade or Indian takeout, I ain’t gonna be picky). Offer to babysit, but don’t push or be surprised if they turn you down — lots of couples just aren’t comfortable with leaving a newborn behind for any length of time, with anyone. Your friend sounds like he mostly just wants to show you his baby because he wants EVERYONE to see his baby. I know this feeling! I also felt compelled to inflict my baby on the entire world. Luckily I had a website to help with that.

The only possible additional hiccup is that yes, you ARE an ex-girlfriend. Let us not pretend that in the postpartum mind, his wife/girlfriend might be thinking, “The HELL? You’re inviting your EX-GIRLFRIEND to come stay with us five minutes after I had your BABY?” Perhaps you should contact her directly and privately — email? — and say you’d like to touch base/chat about the invite and make sure that she wouldn’t find it intrusive and maybe set up some expectations that you are aware of both of the pitfalls we’ve discussed here. Give her the opportunity to say “no” in a safe way, basically, in case she was only trying to be nice.

“I’m soooo happy for you guys and of course I’m dying — dying! — to see your beautiful, best-ever baby, but the last thing I’d want to do is intrude. I know Ex-Boyfriend invited me but he’s not the one who just gave birth, so is a visit really something you’re up to right now? I’d totally be down with coming and helping out — making dinner, babysitting if you want a break, etc. — and I would NOT expect you to entertain me! But I completely understand if it’s just too soon for you right now. Say the word and I’ll tell Ex-B that the timing isn’t great for me right now, no worries. And we can just Skype for now so I can see the baby doing amazing things, like yawning and sleeping and stuff.”

If she personally extends the invitation, go for it. Bring a Miracle Blanket, a bottle of wine, earplugs and a return ticket home for a specific date. You’ll be fine!

Amazon Mom

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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19 Responses to “Post-Baby, Postpartum Visiting Pitfalls”

  1. Leigh May 20 at 6:20 pm Reply Reply

    Everything she said!
    My third comes in August and I have experience with awesome postpartum visitors and ones who fall short.

    The best, don’t seem to take up any space. They just magically ask if X sounds good for dinner and then it turns up on the table. They ask where the broom is and suddenly all my floors are very clean. They chat when I am chatty, retreat when I need time and when I need a nap (I am a napper) and baby does not agree, they take them and take natural light photos.

  2. Katie May 20 at 6:40 pm Reply Reply

    I did not want anyone but my husband and my kid in my house when we got home. But I’d just had a c-section that I neither planned for nor especially wanted after 20 hours of labor that pretty much sucked.

    Is there any way you can stay somewhere other than their house? Is there anything else you can do/see while in his town so you’re not spending all day every day there? 

    Also do all that laundry/dishes/food-providing stuff. That stuff is great. :)

  3. Cara May 20 at 7:01 pm Reply Reply

    I think Amy covered it, buti just wanted to say kudos to you for being thoughtful enough to ask the questions.

  4. Kat May 20 at 7:05 pm Reply Reply

    Stay at a hotel!! Do what Amy says above, but stay at a hotel. We had a screamy newborn who would not sleep at all at night for the first little bit and I would have been such a wreck if I knew our bundle of awesome was keeping someone else up. Plus I wouldn’t want someone else to have to witness what we did to get him to sleep (we literally jogged around the house. JOGGED! Because walking wasn’t jiggly enough? Who knows! But it worked, and we did that for a solid week until he chilled out and was ready to sleep while snuggled in someone’s arms…seated). So, check in with her, do come if she wants you to but stay at a hotel to give the new parents a break from company while still being helpful during the day, as needed.

  5. SCH May 20 at 8:06 pm Reply Reply

    Clever person here! Thank you _SO MUCH_ for your advice! Tickets are booked and hilarity is bound to ensue!

    Babies are just … such a zero divide that I don’t even know where to start, but combined with the former boyfriend angle it was like vapor lock. I’m definitely going to turn down Ex-B’s invitation to stay at their house and get a hotel based on this here conversation. Mama has insisted -explicitly- that a visit is fine and they live pretty close to where I grew up so I’ve got plenty of backup activities planned and have to be on a return flight in three days anyway.

    Also already called Mama’s favorite fancypants no-takeout restaurant and talked them into letting me pick up a dinner, so I’ll at least get to see the kid for as long as it takes to snarf some food :)

    Thanks again!

    • Myriam May 21 at 9:56 am Reply Reply

      You indeed are a good friend! I’ll make one more recommandation, and you’ll be good to go! Bring something to entertain yourself for an hour or two while you are at their house. The baby might be sleeping, or cluster-feeding, and the mom might indeed fell like taking a nap (and daddy too), and they might not want you to vaccum while they are sleeping! That way, you won’t be looking at the wall for 2 hours. Have agood trip!

    • Myriam May 21 at 10:03 am Reply Reply

      Oh, one more! Plan on going for lunch rather than dinner… my daughter was cluster-feeding at night, and I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the witching hour? Depending on how old they are, between 5 and 7PM, babies often go crazy for no reason, so you might have more time to spend with the baby and talk to your friend earlier during the day!

  6. KimC May 20 at 9:08 pm Reply Reply

    The first three weeks of newborn time, especially the FIRST newborn ever, were pretty much get-the-hell-out-of-my-house time for us.  I guess, if someone had showed up, swept my floors and washed my dishes (but never ever stepped foot in my bathroom, gah) I would have been fab.  And my husband probably would have been grateful for the food, if someone had done that.  But yeah, boobs were everywhere, kid was colicky-and-so-freaking-beautiful-how-dare-you-ask-me-if-she-is-a-good-baby-of-course-she-is-RAWR, I was not a good hostess. So yeah.  Def stay at a hotel, be a magical helpful friend and tell everyone how perfect and beautiful the kidlet is.

    • allison May 21 at 12:16 pm Reply Reply

      “between 5 and 7pm, babies often go crazy for no reason” HAHAHA YES. Witching hour(s)….I do not miss that at all. I know it passes relatively fast but holy effin’ HELL does it seem like the end of days when you’re going through it.

    • -k- May 21 at 10:34 pm Reply Reply

      Yes YES YES this. Major. Huuuuuge.

      • -k- May 21 at 10:36 pm Reply Reply

        What is going on with the reply function? My emphatic agreement was re: the ‘go in the daytime instead of the evening’ part.

  7. Amanda May 21 at 1:47 am Reply Reply

    I’d like to commend this writer for her super awesome thoughtfulness in thinking to ask about this (and then the follow up comment, with the food… what I would have given to be your friend!). I would have loved so much for someone to bring food, anything that I wouldn’t have to think of myself, but mostly we got grandma coming for her baby holding time and taking over the couch to nap. Your friends are lucky people!

  8. Ally May 21 at 10:07 am Reply Reply

    I’m pregnant with #4 and I actually LOVE having guest who stay at the house. This is mainly because the biggest help is someone taking care of the bigger kids. It’s so nice to have people who will get up with them and get them breakfast.

    • IrishCream May 21 at 1:58 pm Reply Reply

      Agreed! With my first I didn’t really want any overnight guests (but endured them anyway). With my second, I was glad to have my sister and then my MIL stay over, they both focused on taking care of my toddler while I was stuck on the couch nursing the newborn.

      • Tasterspoon May 23 at 1:20 am Reply Reply

        Ditto. With #2 I was delighted to have visitors to entertain my firstborn. But with #1 I was annoyed by droppers-by – even (especially?) my parents, despite their efforts to be helpful. In my case I wanted to fully enjoy my husbands extremely brief and precious paternity leave and soak up being a little family before the world showed up on our doorstep. Second time around he didn’t get paternity leave so I was grateful for all help.

  9. cheryllookingforward May 21 at 1:15 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you for being the friend who will bring take out! The very best visitors I had showed up with a bucket of KFC. The very worst came with a grocery bag of ingredients, needed constant help to prepare the dinner and then left me with a kitchen full of dirty dishes. 

  10. Miriam May 22 at 11:54 am Reply Reply

    Sounds like the ex-boyfriend issue is well and past, but I think one should be careful not to be “bonding” with dad over the baby while the new bedraggled exhausted post-partum brand new emotional mom watches from the sidelines.

  11. Angie May 22 at 4:36 pm Reply Reply

    With my first son, everybody wanted to take him away from me so they could give me a break and “help”. But I didn’t want a break, I wanted my baby! I’m not a napper either and I remember my MIL ORDERING me to go take a nap. I just laid on the bed pissed off that she stole my newborn from me. The only time I was grateful for someone taking him from me was when we were on week 3 of the witching hour and my mom came over to find me crying, clearly overwhelmed and very close to having a nervous breakdown. She wisely took him from me and had my husband take me out of the house for dinner, where I must have horrified all the patrons and staff with my red eyes and puffy face. If you see a mom that obviously looks like she’s on the brink of collapse or an emotional breakdown, then yeah, kindly insist on taking the baby. But if she’s peacefully cuddling with baby watching trash TV, leave her be. When I had my 2nd baby, and my older son was 2.5, my Mom and my husband just wanted to have a good time with the older boy. They didn’t do laundry, housework or keep to his nap/meal schedule. I guess they thought we were on vacation? I was the one trying to keep up on all these things. 5:30pm would roll around and dinner wouldn’t be anywhere in sight, so there I was trying to get dinner together while taking care of the newborn that I just wanted to sit on the couch and cuddle with. So, yes, yes, yes to all of the advice everyone has given so far. Do the dishes, sweep, vacuum, offer to throw a load of laundry in, run to the supermarket, bring over some take-out. Help with all the basic, humdrum, every day responsibilities will make the new mom’s life easier and allow her to bask in her new baby. 

  12. Theresa May 23 at 5:20 pm Reply Reply

    I’m going to use this comment board as a forum to vent about my parents’ and MIL’s postpartum visit, thank you.

    1) Though I have no trouble whipping out the boob now after a year of nursing, nursing newborns is awkward and sometimes painful and I was not used to having my boob flopping everywhere. If mama needs to nurse. YOU leave the room, don’t make her try to find a private place.

    2) I second (third?) (fourth?) the recommendation that you DON’T insist she nap. I am a huge napper, but every time I left my precious babies (I had twins) with someone else, I would lie on edge listening as hard as I could and feeling guilt at every little cry. But then again, there were times I DI want to nap and that was great. Don’t try to overrule her if she says she’s got it. Even if she seems about to drop, she still may not WANT to nap, or she wants to believe she can handle everything and you should let her think that.

    My OCD insists I come up with a 3rd thing, but I can’t,

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