What can I say to people who offer to help?

As a new parent, it’s easy to feel in over your head. You’re figuring out the needs of a brand new person who has no way of communicating his needs and desires. The new things in your life can make doing the boring, normal things feel overwhelming and too much.

The good news is that parents of new babies often have waves of friends and family members who all want to meet the newest addition to the family. Often, plenty of those friends and family members ask if there’s anything they can do to help.

Depending on your personality and needs as a family, those offers to help can be a life-saver, nice but unnecessary, or, in some cases, potentially helpful but never taken advantage of. So often, refusing help when it’s offered can feel like the right thing to do, but figuring out how to accept even the most sincere offer isn’t always easy.

Have some ideas prepared

Sometimes, when put on the spot, new parents find themselves blanking on what to say. Having a list prepared of things you might be comfortable accepting help with, that will take something off your plate, can be helpful.

Some new parents are uncomfortable asking for help with things like cleaning or laundry. If this is true for you, you could always ask someone to pick up a couple of things at the grocery store on the way over, or take the dog for a quick walk. These things can be helpful without feeling as difficult to ask for.

The recovery process from delivery or a C-section can make normal tasks, like lifting anything heavy or walking down stairs to do laundry, difficult or impossible. Making a list of those things can be helpful as well.

Stay flexible

Lists are great, but when it comes down to it, it can be hard to know what kind of help you’ll want until you get it. You may think you’ll want someone to look after the baby so you can get some sleep, only to find that you don’t want to let him out of your sight or even out of your arms when it’s time to hand him over to a trusted friend.

On the other hand, you may think you want someone to come over and help clean up so you can bond with your baby, only to find that what you really want is someone else to hold him so you can do something around the house that feels normal and familiar, or even just have a little time where you’re not touching anybody – even someone as adorable as your newborn.

Know when to politely decline

Just because someone offers, that doesn’t mean you must say yes. Yes, having help in these early weeks and months can mean a lot for many families, but for others, having the space and independence to get a head start figuring out their own routines is a better gift than getting too involved.

If that sounds like your family, and offers of help seem like a nice thought, but you really wouldn’t like a visiting friend to do anything besides sit there and talk to you about how cute your baby is – or about anything other than babies, it’s completely within your rights to say so.

Making up busywork so a friend can feel helpful isn’t fair or useful to either of you, and letting your best bud sort your dirty laundry isn’t necessary either, if that’s going to make you feel frustrated and uncomfortable. 

Consider enlisting outside help

Sometimes, getting family or friends involved just feels a little too personal. If this applies to you, consider hiring help – for example, a baby nurse or a housekeeper – to lighten your load and give you more time to focus on other things. Having someone come once a week, for example, can make a huge difference in your workload, which in turn will give you a little more energy for your time with Baby. 

Adjusting to parenting is hard. One way to help with the adjustment is to listen to what your family’s specific needs are, instead of what you think they should be, and to reach out to your family’s support network in whatever way you feel comfortable with. Being a new parent can feel isolating and strange, but it doesn’t need to be, and when your support network reaches out to you, it can make a big difference to reach back.
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