I am a new mom, and I took the classes, read the blogs, and thought I prepared thoroughly—but I did not anticipate what feels like a barrage of questions from both strangers and loved ones that the simple act of holding a baby seems to invite. People generally mean well, but they often say lame things that lead to uncomfortable or awkward moments that don’t feel good for parents. With a touch more consideration and kindness, we can improve the experience of people with babies in public places who are often the target of (again, well-intentioned) conversation.
1. Is s/he a good baby?
All babies are good babies. There is no such thing as a bad baby (I am of the opinion that there is no such thing as a bad child, either, but that is likely for another conversation). It is a silly thing to ask because it suggests that you that some infants are inherently superior to others. I am constantly asked this question. It confuses my every time.
Perhaps you mean, “Do you have an easy baby?” by which you might mean, “Does your baby eat/sleep/poop/babble/smile/coo at a time that is convenient for you?” but that isn’t really pertinent to your life, and the advice you want to give that worked for your kid/cousin/friend/person who posted a blog you sometimes read is likely not pertinent. If we want advice, we will specifically ask for it, and if we do not, you do not need to offer.
2. Is s/he breastfeeding?
Now, if you are a close relative, best friend, or other intimately related caretaker of some kind, this question makes sense. It will inform how you support the mother and child. If you are not, it doesn’t really matter to you, and this can be a very emotionally loaded question—and the last thing any new parent needs is to have to think about your feelings as they process their own.
3. How do you like being a parent?
Don’t ask this, because there is only one acceptable answer and not all parents can honestly give it. Lots of parents aren’t fans of parenthood at every moment—and some are dealing with a whole host of issues that could be related to exhaustion, depression, financial stress, or a laundry list of other typical issues that arise for new parents. Again, creating a situation in which a parent needs to try to configure an honest but socially acceptable answer or feel like they need to lie to avoid judgment or avoid upsetting the question ask-er is less than ideal.
1. What are the baby’s newest skills?
This question allows parents to share whatever it is that their child has accomplished without needing to compare them to anyone or anything. No matter the child’s age or ability, their most recently developed ability is likely exciting to their caregivers.
2. I am always trying to think of great gifts to give people with babies! Can you suggest something that you are finding really great and useful?
This allows the parent to share a newly acquired bit of expertise—and in the vulnerable, confidence-shaking world of new parenthood, that can feel great! Additionally, this gives that parent a chance to think of someone else and try to be helpful, which can also feel great. Finally, it informs you, so you can be more supportive of others.
3. I would like to help. May I ____?
If you want to help a family with a baby, be specific in the way that you offer support and make it clear that you are offering because you want to, because lots of people make empty gestures and offers that they assume won’t be taken seriously.
So, if you are a stranger in the check out line, maybe you can offer to load the groceries from the cart to the counter, bring the cart back to the store so the parent can get the child in the car seat, or play peek-a-boo with the baby sitting in the cart while they focus on checking out.
If you are a friend, you can let them know when you are going to run errands and try to do one for them, sit at the house with the baby (specify if you prefer wake or nap times, either can be helpful), or help around the house (again, be specific—do you get satisfaction from organizing closets, are you oddly soothed by ironing, or are you an avid runner who can bring a dog along? We don’t want to bother anyone but if it feels like a win-win, it feels much better accepting the help).
If you are more peripherally connected—perhaps you go to the same congregation, you are a friend of a grandparent, or a workplace colleague—then offer to drop off dinner (in a container that doesn’t need to be returned), send a gift (when in doubt, Amazon gift cards are good for everyone), or simply offer words of encouragement.
No matter what your connection to the parents or the baby, kind words affirming their choices feel good. When you write a card, text, or leave a voicemail, tell them that they don’t need to worry about returning the call or writing a thank you note.
Remember that the parent’s job is to take care of the baby, so the best way you can help the baby is to help take care of the parent.