STEP 1: Don’t ask “How is the baby sleeping?” or any variation thereof.
They say there are no stupid questions, only stupid people. Guess what, my friend? This question (and any of its sub-varients, like “is he a good sleeper?” “is she sleeping through the night?” or the thinly-veiled-you-are-a-terrible-parents remarks like, “oh, my baby sleeps great!” “she woke up once last night, woe is me” “he is probably just having a short-term regression,” etc.) is very stupid, and asking it (or stating any variation of the sentiment) makes you a huge jerkface.
Babies don’t sleep. “Sleeping like a baby” means that you are getting bounced on a yoga ball while patted on the back and shushed and fed, usually all by the same individual, while a toddler lights the house on fire and / or runs into the street naked. Newborns eat every 1-4 hours. Someone is feeding them. If it’s not you, guess what, you don’t get to have opinions or inquiries about it. If the baby DOES sleep, you’ll hear about it in celebratory Facebook posts.
Don’t be a jerkface.
STEP 2: Make her a damn sandwich.
When my mom was visiting immediately postpartum, do you know what she did? She went to the store and bought a loaf of bread, some hummus, my favorite lunch meat (HAM), sliced cheese, and lettuce. Then she came to my house, put it all together, and handed me the sandwich on a plate with a side of apple slices and a glass of black cherry bubble water.
After she left, the one time I asked my Dear Husband to make me a sandwich, he put a piece of cheese between two pieces of hard-ass-crusty French bread, wrapped it in wax paper, and sent it to me via toddler. So, not only did I get it delivered with a bite taken out of the cheese, I had to unwrap it from crinkly wax paper (which woke up the baby), I could barely eat it because the crust was so hard, and I got crumbs all over the bed and floor.
Later, when he was going to the store, he said “Can I get you anything?” (You know, since I basically live my life pinned under a newborn while wearing pajamas for the third day in a row and covered in various forms of bodily fluids, all of which makes it challenging to leave the house for groceries.) I said, “Can you please get some sandwich fixings?” (Thinking maybe just a loaf of bread and ham – I didn’t need to get all greedy about the lettuce.) Then he said, like I didn’t just push our second kid out of my body after carrying it around for 9 months and puking my guts out sometimes and still managing to keep a toddler alive during that time, “I don’t like sandwiches.”
When they said “Never stop dating your wife,” I’m pretty sure they were talking about sandwiches.
Don’t be a jerkface. Make the damn sandwich.
STEP 3: Bring her a damn beverage.
If she is feeding or otherwise pinned under a sleeping / crying / whatevering baby, bring her a drink. Pour a glass of water, add some ice cubes (or not), smack a lid on it and straw in it and put it in her hand OR on a VERY nearby surface that she can access while pinned. Or bring her an iced coffee, prepared how she likes it, or iced tea, or an open can of something, or an open bottle of wine. Airplane serving size is easiest to balance with a baby.
Every time you take a leisurely, unimpeded visit to cabinet for a glass and then to the sink or fridge for a beverage for yourself, you had better be getting a second one for the stuck mom.
Don’t be a jerkface. Keep her hydrated.
STEP 4: Don’t ask “What do you want me to do?” or any variation thereof.
I already told you what to do. See Step 2 and Step 3 above. Did you already ply her with food and drink? Well then, change the baby’s diaper and hold the baby while she goes to the bathroom or sleeeeeeeeps. And I do mean HOLD THE BABY, don’t just plop the WIDE AWAKE baby in the bassinet WITH A POOPY DIAPER while you go take a nap. This means that she has to get the baby, change the baby, cheer the baby up after the traumatic experience of getting a diaper change, and now she’s forced to hold the baby in her lap while nursing and angrily writing blog posts with one hand about being a newborn’s mom. True story, real time facts, this is happening right now.
Perhaps the great KatyKatiKate put it best:
I’m not trying to be a hater, but you need to understand that she is one person doing literally everything, not just in her life, but in the kids’ lives, and probably much of what’s in your life, too.
And when you tap her on the shoulder and ask, “Hey, what can I do to help?”
This is what happens in Mom Brain: She suddenly sees another person who is her responsibility. Another board lights up. Another thing beeps.
Don’t be a jerkface. Take the initiative.
STEP 5: Complain out.
I’ll add more about the cis-hetero-priviledge in this post in a minute, after I finish burping a baby.
I know, I know, I used a lot of gendered terminology in this post, but it is pretty autobiographical, which is why. I think all these things apply no matter what your family configuration is, as long as there is someone around who can help / support you and wants to know how to do so better.
That being said, I also know that having hummus-laced sandwiches is a delight not shared by everyone. I was briefly in a parenting group on Facebook, and a lady in a situation that sounded similar to my own at first glance posted about being pregnant with a breastfeeding two year old who refuses to sleep. The responses were more illuminating:
- Put her in the car to get her to go to sleep. – Poster does not have a car or access to one.
- Wean her. – Poster has to ride a bike an hour each way to the grocery store while pregnant with a two year old in winter and can only carry back limited groceries in a backpack. Weaning is actually the least parsimonious option available to her.
- Have Daddy take a turn at night. – Poster is parenting solo.
- Read [whatever specific book title about sleep training]. – Poster is a two hour bike ride from the library and doesn’t have money for books.
- Have a neighbor / friend / family member help out. – Poster is living in isolated rural community that she recently moved to with no help available.
- Get the two year old tired out with more outside time than TV time. – Poster can’t afford suitable winter clothing for the two year old.
So, obviously, “give her a damn sandwich” relies on there being someone available to pay for an acquire groceries, make the sandwich, and give it to me. I realize that this is a fantastic privilege, even if I am complaining about the quality of the sandwich. It’s meant as a tongue-in-cheek list of ideas to keep your spouse / partner / co-parent from wanting to scream at you in the early days of parenthood. Later days, you’re on your own.