5 helpful things to say to a new mother

When I was a new parent, you could guarantee I’d take most things the wrong way. But some people knew that, thankfully. Here’s how to help a thin-skinned parent

What to say to a new mother

You can hardly say anything right. But some things are open to misinterpretation. Laura Eades 2014

I’ll never forget the kindness of a friend who filled out my child benefit forms for me (I was too tired to face them); my brother and his wife doing fifteen-minute magic on my kitchen, or the relief of friends who just looked around and spotted what was needed.

I’m grateful to my parents and parents-in-law for holding back judgement on our parenting methods.

This time round, I owe my sanity and healing to a friend who came and stayed, cooked, cleaned, gave me adult conversation and entertained my toddler.

I’m contrite that the eye of pretty much anyone who was watching me be a new parent felt critical even when it wasn’t. I was tired and oversensitive and prone to mad interpretations.

Situation: Baby is crying

Do say: nothing!

It’s the hardest and most helpful thing to say of all. No suggestions. No noises of sympathy for the baby. Just smile sympathetically to the parent, and if you know her well put a calming hand on her back.

Don’t say: “Aw. Maybe you should feed her?”

Literally, people who speak to me while my child is crying at their own risk. Even if they are saying something helpful or nice. I can only shout back like an angry tantrumming child. Definitely don’t say “Is he due for a feed?” unless you wanna hear “Well fuck me thanks for your clever advice I’d never thought of FEEDING her maybe I’ll try that some time!!”

Situation: Baby is feeding

Do say: “How do you like your tea?”

Then sit near her (not miles away like she’s doing something that should take place in a toilet cubicle). And hold the saucer with a large slice of cake on it, cut into pieces you can handle with one hand, within easy reach.

Don’t say: “Are you sure he’s getting any?”

Situation: Baby is a few weeks old

Do say: “I cooked one for the freezer! Now, what can I do? I’ve got my rubber gloves on and now I want to use them!”

Unstacking washing or hanging it up, emptying dishwasher, bundling up a bin to go out, wiping sticky spots off the floor, or wet-wiping bathroom surfaces… it only takes a tick but you can guarantee that a new mother doesn’t have free hands very often.

Don’t say: “Are you doing plenty of baking?” So, you’re in a routine then?” (Ask me in six months) “Can we stay over?” “What are your plans for Christmas?” (If the question has the word ‘plan’ in it, the answer contains one thought only: ‘sleep’)

Situation: You see mother/father/baby for the first time

Do say: “Hello you! How great to see you so very alive and well! You look really good together! You look really arrived! Your skin/hair/eyes look so shiny! That colour really suits you! How do you manage to look so serene and rosy-cheeked? He’s smiling with his eyes. Can I hold the baby please?”

This is one of those situations where you’re doing a big favour by picking out the positives. Tell the girl she’s in good shape even if she doesn’t look like she would strike a flawless outline in a bikini. Trust me, bigging her up will have a magical effect on her unconscious mind. If she demurs, just say she’ll snap back into shape before she knows it. Tell Dad he looks like a natural.

Look for the twinkling life in the baby even if it’s funny/big/small/gogglyeyed, because it helps remind a woman who’s been kept up all night by the little blighter that the baby really is a gem.

Don’t say: “She’s very serious/sensitive/[any other character judgements]” “God aren’t babies weird!!” “Hey new Dad, you wanna play this computer game I found?”

Situation: Child named weird name

Do say: “Breezeblock! Yes! Hello Breeze! You are unique! How bold and brilliant!”

Overcome yourself. Just say you like it. Come on. You’ll be proud of it once you’re used to it.

What did you expect? We may be lofty, egotistical, borderline pretentious, crazy, bohemian, dangerous, barely fit to be parents. But we only get one chance at naming our offspring, and for us, they are anything but mediocre.

Don’t say: Nothing. (It’s conspicuous).

“Is that a real name?”

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