Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Yes, Thank You!

Welcome to the February Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting Essentials
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared the parenting essentials that they could not live without. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Being a parent is an awfully hard job sometimes. I think one of the biggest mistakes a new parent (especially a first-time parent) can make is to turn down help when they actually really need it. For some reason—pride? stubbornness? the high value placed on independence in our culture?—people are also reluctant to ask for help when they need it. Being Daniel's mother has taught me in a huge way that I can't do this alone. We all need a village. I cannot imagine parenting without lots of help.

After many months of accepting help, I have had time to think about how I wish I had done things differently, which things worked well, and what has helped the other new parents around me. Here are a few ideas from things I've learned in the process:

Before baby is born:
  • If you're having a baby shower, ask for at least one very practical gift. For example, have your relative pay for someone to professionally clean your house once every couple weeks for the first month or two. The last thing you want to be worrying about is needing to vacuum when you're trying to establish breastfeeding and bond with a new baby. Or, ask for gift cards to the grocery store. You will use them.
  • Have someone help you prepare the space where you will be spending most of your time after your baby is born (most likely, your bedroom). Make it feel restful. Put in dark curtains. Clear clutter and things that will cause you stress in the early postpartum period. It can be hard to nest and organize when you're largely pregnant, so ask for help from a friend or your partner to make your space peaceful.

In the first days and weeks:
  • Keep a pad of paper by your bed (or the place you feed your baby the most) and write down all the items you think of that you need from the store. When someone calls and asks if you need anything, always say YES! Read them items from the list. If you run out of things on your list, ask for a meal (you can always put it in the freezer). If your freezer and belly are full, ask them to come over and put a load of laundry in for you.
  • If you're going to have a lot of visitors, consider having a jar by the front door with slips of paper in it, each one containing a household task (laundry, dishes, take out the trash, feed your pets, make a meal for you and your partner). Anyone who wants to meet the baby in the first two weeks has to complete an item from the jar first. It's not selfish or rude. You deserve help. You don't have to entertain people. Your only job is to spend all your time getting to know your new family member.
  • If you're not open to visitors in those early days, let people know you're having a lying-in period, and that they're welcome to drop off meals (and to leave them on your porch in a cooler you've set out). Have a friend coordinate a meal drop-off schedule using one of the many free online meal-scheduling services. If someone really wants to come by and help, give them an outdoor task to do: refuel your car, mow your lawn, or walk your dog.
  • If you're having out-of-town visitors, consider asking them to come at different times instead of having a bunch of people around for the first couple of weeks. For our family, spacing out the visits from extended family members over the first few months of Daniel's life was one of the best things we did. It helped to have a little time between groups of people, too, so we could have a week or so with just the three of us. Then, just when things started to feel overwhelming again, more help would arrive, and it would feel like a relief instead of like we were hosting and needing to entertain people. I know it was hard for our family members to wait to meet Daniel, but it was so much more helpful to have them come at different times than it would've been to not have any family support in the later weeks.
As your baby gets older:
  • Remember that it might not get a whole lot easier for a while, but it does get different. This is not meant to be discouraging, just to remind you that every stage ends. Just when you think you can't do it anymore, something will shift. Surround yourself with people who can help you though these transitions. You can do this.
  • If you don't have family or many friends around (and even if you do!) find a local parenting or breastfeeding support group or La Leche League meeting to attend. Chances are, you'll find a great source of support and information, and probably even another mother who is in need of some extra help and friendship, too.
  • Consider offering to do babysitting exchange with a friend or two or organizing a childcare co-op, so you can get out with your partner when the two of you need time to recharge.
Always remember:
  • To let your partner know what you need. This applies to all areas of a relationship, not just parenting, but don't expect your partner to read your mind. Negotiate for each of you to have a night out away from the baby, if that's what feels relaxing to you. Or, ask your partner to take over all baby-related responsibilities for one or both of the weekend days, to give you a break.
  • That you're going to have days when it feels too hard. You are not alone. When you're at the end of your rope, reach out to someone you trust. If you feel like you might do something you'll regret because you're sleep-deprived and out of patience, call someone to relieve you. Ask them to come over and hold your baby while you take a shower or a nap. Ask them to come over and sit with you while you cry. These are incredibly emotional times. Between sleep deprivation and hormonal shifts, you're bound to have some tough days. Having a good support system in place will help to decrease your chances of getting postpartum depression. Be gentle with yourself. Be forgiving. Be kind.
  • To say thank you, then don't feel guilty. Know that you will pay it back by helping someone else when they need you. Then do.

I don't know what I would've done without all the help I've received in the past eight plus months. I've written before about my village, but I don't feel like I could ever say "thank you" enough to the people who have reached out and helped me during the difficult times. I'm a very lucky person to have such wonderful friends and family who are so willing to help. I have to say thanks again:

Thank you to each of our family members who has flown all the way out here to help us (multiple times) since Daniel was born. The meals, house cleaning, baby soothing, company, and conversations were so appreciated.

Thanks to my friends who came over when Daniel was crying for hours on end, and held him or took him for walks when I couldn't do any more. You are some amazing women who have helped me pull through some of my darkest moments.

Thanks to the facilitators of the new parents' support group that I attend. Week after week, the two of you provide a safe space where we can come and share our joys, our sorrows, our hilarious moments. You and the other parents who attend the group have always been incredibly compassionate to me and full of kind words and helpful new ideas.

Thank you to the online natural parenting community. Reading your blogs and the comments you leave on mine have helped me to know that this parenting thing is universally difficult, and rewarding, powerful and wonderful. Your commitments to parenting your children gently and intuitively are inspirational and motivational to me.

Thank you, finally, to my biggest helper, supporter, and partner in this parenting journey, Jaymz. I'm so happy we met and decided to spend our lives together. I'm glad we chose to become parents together. I appreciate everything you do for me, and I'm glad we're on this wild ride together. I love you.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Not Without Him — The love Starr at Taking Time shares with her husband is the foundation of her parenting.
  • I Cannot Imagine Parenting Without B(.)(.)bs — From an uneducated dreamer to a breastfeeding mother of a toddler, nursing has forever changed Kristy at Strings to Things's relationship with her daughter and her outlook on life.
  • Raising a Child in the Internet Village — When Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction has a question or concern about parenting, she turns to the Internet. What did parents do before Google?
  • Partner in Crime and ParentingBethy at Bounce Me to the Moon can't imagine parenting without her husband's sense of humor - he brings her laughter and love every day.)
  • I Make MilkPatti at Jazzy Mama can't imagine trying to mother her babies without her breasts, but she could do it if she had to.
  • New Perspectives Bring New BeginningsMJ at Wander Wonder Discover, who is a former authoritarian mamma, has gained perspective via parenting.
  • Time Out!Mrs. Green at Little Green Blog explores how time apart can increase your capacity to give unconditionally.
  • Unimaginable Without HimKristina at heyred designs is celebrating her amazing partner, without whom none of her parenting experience would be possible.
  • My Parenting NecessityClaire at The Adventures of Lactating Girl needs "me time" in order to be the Mama she wants to be.
  • Babywearing As a Way of LifeDarcel at The Mahogany Way talks about the benefits of babywearing in everyday life.
  • Parenting Partnership — Sometimes Abbie at Farmer's Daughter doesn't appreciate her husband enough, but she definitely couldn't imagine parenting without his help.
  • Parenting EssentialsMomma Jorje loves her parenting products, but she needs you even more.
  • My Parenting Must-Have: SupportJoella at Fine and Fair wrote a letter to her daughter about the role that support from friends and family plays in her mothering.
  • It's More Than Just Hair — Think doing hair is full of fluff? Too girly? Useless? Karli from Curly Hairdo Ideas used to think so too.
  • The Minimalist Parent — The parents at Living Peacefully with Children embrace a minimalist perspective when it comes to baby gear. A good sling is all they need.
  • Without My BreastsCharise at I Thought I Knew Mama can't imagine parenting without her breasts; here's why.
  • Loves Books, Loves PeopleSeonaid at the Practical Dilettante discovers that the library is a perfect fit for her family's needs.
  • An Ode to the Maya WrapRevMama's next child might be named Maya, because of her fondness for the sling.
  • Avoiding the Padded RoomPecky at Benny and Bex is here to testify that it takes a village to raise a child.
  • My parenting essentials, from Tivo to battery-operated monstrositiesLauren at Hobo Mama presents a list of parenting essentials you didn't even know you needed (and probably don't…).
  • Attachment Parenting Through Separation: It Makes It a Little BetterJessica at This Is Worthwhile talks about how she couldn't survive her separation without attachment parenting and the bond it's afforded her with her 3 year old son.
  • Parenting EssentialsDeb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares the principles she used to parent her children from infants to adults.
  • My Parenting Essentials — The things that are truly essential to Kim at In Desperate Need of Entertainment aren't things at all.
  • I'm No One Without My Sling — How baby carrying is essential to the parenting of Jessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama.
  • I Cannot Imagine Parenting Without...Isil at Smiling Like Sunshine talks about what she needs to raise her children.
  • February Carnival of Natural Parenting — Through her experiences over the last five and a half years, Casey at Love What Is has discovered her most important tool for parenting is using her instincts.
  • CNP: I Cannot Imagine Parenting Without __________.The Artsymama discloses the one thing that gave her back control of herself as a parent.
  • Laugh Until I Cry — Laughing with her sons keeps Acacia at Fingerpaint & Superheroes connected and grounded.
  • I Cannot Imagine Parenting WithoutLuschka at Diary of a First Child realizes what the one thing she can't imagine parenting without is, and it turns out it's not a thing after all.
  • It Takes Two — Here are a few of the reasons why Jenn at Adventures Down Under cannot imagine parenting without her fabulous husband.
  • Stopping to Listen — Though it wasn't easy at first, Knocked Up - Knocked Over cannot imagine parenting her daughter without listening first to what she is telling her.
  • The Essence of Parenting — There are many wonderful resources that make life easier for Michelle at the Parent Vortex to parent, but the essence is the relationship between parent and child.
  • What I Cannot Live WithoutSybil at Musings of a Milk Maker considers her computer to be a parenting lifeline.
  • True Blessings: White Noise and GrandparentsKat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment can't live without her white noise machine and the support of her parents.
  • The Necessities! — What "stuff" does a natural parent like Lily, aka Witch Mom really need? Not much, it turns out.
  • Mama Showed MeMama Mo at Attached at the Nip writes about how parenting wisdom is passed on by example.
  • Ode to the Loo — For Joni Rae at Tales of a Kitchen Witch, the bathroom is her safe place, where she can take a minute to calm down if she is feeling touched out.
  • Go, Mama. Go!Andrea!!! at Ella-Bean & Co. has been able to integrate her many roles through her get-up-and-go parenting essential, exercise!
  • My Other HalfBecky at Old New Legacy realizes what a relief it is to have her husband parent alongside her.
  • Grace, Love, and CoffeeMrsH at Fleeting Moments realizes that lifelines can take the form of the profound, or the mundane. Both are ok.
  • Supportive Spouse, Check! — There are so many parenting tools and gadgets that are superfluous, but the one essential, for Danielle at born.in.japan, has been her supportive spouse.
  • Why I'm a BabywearerMeredith at Becoming Mamas reflects on the ways babywearing has enhanced her mama baby relationship...and made life easier to boot.
  • It's Marvelous Out Here, Kiddo!Rachael at The Variegated Life can't imagine parenting in the big city without the marvels of Prospect Park to share with her Critter.
  • Yes, Thank YouAmy at Anktangle offers tips on how to ask for and accept help, an essential for successful parenting.
  • Parenting Essentials Checklist: Mom’s Inner Rebel and Her Kids’ VoicesOlivia at Write About Birth reflects on raising global citizens and saying no to societal norms.
  • Eco-Mama Online! — An Eco-Mama living in the mountains of a nature island, Terri at Child of the Nature Isle finds it essential to connect to nature and to connect online.
  • Sorry, We Just Sold the Last OneNev at The Adventures of Lime confesses she missed out the day they handed out patience.
  • LaughTashmica at The Mother Flippin' Blog reveals her super power, her talisman agains mean mommy.
  • My Priceless Parenting Resource — What do books, a magazine community, my mother and the local playgroup have in common? Lucy at Dreaming Aloud tells us...
  • The Gift of Shared TimeTree at Mom Grooves strives to experience the world from her daughter's perspective.
  • Follow the GigglesDionna at Code Name: Mama can’t live without the sound of her child’s giggles - come watch her video and you’ll agree!
  • Can I Mommy Without Boob?Emily at Crunchy(ish) Mama shares her fears about weaning and losing part of that the mother/child bond.


  1. Oh wow - the recommendation to prepare your space before baby? SO good. I am totally doing something to the bedroom and living room if we ever have a 2nd baby - I was so sick of looking at everything! Great tips Amy, thank you!!

  2. Wow these are fabulous tips and I'm bookmarking this page to send to any expectant Mama's so they can be well prepared. It's so important to say 'yes' to help!

    When I had my first baby my Mum who lives 4000 miles away was there for the birth. When I had my 2nd I asked her to come 3 weeks later so she could help me after my partner went back to work. I can totally agree with you that staggering the help is so much better than have everyone arrive all at once then leave you a few weeks later wondering what happened!

    I am so grateful for all the people that have been there for me in these past few years. We are now far away from baby showers but still if someone wants to pay a professional cleaner to come and sort out my house I'll shout a big YES to that one!

  3. I'm a two-time new Mama and wish I had read this post before bringing home both my babies! Most important advice - "you are not alone". I think all new Mamas need to hear this one - I know I did.

  4. What a wonderful post - great information for new parents and new parents to-be! It's so important to remember that it's alright to ask for help.
    Deb @ LivingMontessoriNow.com

  5. Good advice, Amy! I'll need to force myself to ask for help whenever we decide to have a second baby. I know that I'll be overwhelmed, and I'm the last person to ask for help!

  6. I really love your tips. This is not your fault at all, but reading this kind of depressed me. We lost a lot of our real-life community this past year and have been gun shy about replacing it. And when our families flew out when Mikko was born, most of them were more interested in sightseeing than, say, doing a load of laundry or dishes. It was kind of exhausting. But the good thing I've taken away from this is my need to ask for help when I need it, even though it feels really uncomfortable to me.

    P.S. I recognized your ASL sign when I saw the thumbnail on Facebook. Fun!

  7. I LOVE this post. Thank you so much for writing it because I feel like it was meant for me to see. My husband is always asking me why I don't accept help. I don't know why I have such a hard time asking for help... and you're right, even when babies get older, it doesn't mean you don't need help anymore. This reminds me that I need help right now and I think this time I will actually ask for it.

    I'm now following you on GFC and Twitter. ;-)

  8. What great tips! I have a really hard time asking for help, but have learned that I need to. It really does make things easier.

    Like Lauren said, in some ways I feel like our community has fallen apart in the last year. We don't have much family close, and the ones who are close are too busy or don't take the time to spend with us. We've lost friends, but luckily found some new ones. It's hard and I'm thankful for the support I've found online.

  9. Great advice! I would add only this: KNOW YOUR SUPPORTERS. Have an idea of what kind of help you want (supplies, physical labor, a hug, advice, cheerleading, support about quitting something, etc) and know who in your circle is going to be able to provide that kind of support. So often people provide the kind of help they *think* you want. Ask for exactly what you need and know which people are the best (or the worst) to ask for that form of support.

  10. Wonderful post! I really love the thank-yous at the end. And people cleaning your house during the postpartum period? Best advice I've seen in a while!

  11. well here's a post I wish I had read 10 years ago! I feel into the 'mustn't ask for help' myth and it was absolutely dreadful. Still, we're out the other side now and the sun shines brightly. Great post - thank you!

  12. that is so brilliant! It should be a magazine article, for sure.
    I also love your site name and how it got that way!
    I'm going to be following you. (sounds creepier than it is, doesn't it?)
    great post.

  13. Thanks everyone! I'm glad my post spoke to so many people.

    @Kristen & @Lauren: I'm so sorry that you both have experienced a loss of community over the past year. I hope for you both that you find a good, supportive network once again, and very soon.

    @teresa: Your comment made me LOL. I hadn't actually thought about the term "follow" on the internet in that way. Very funny. Thanks for reading!

  14. Next time I'm pregnant, I am going to print this out and...
    - send it to my inlaws, whom I was serving tea to 5 minutes after bringing Ella home after she was born. THAT'S not happening again!
    - post it on my front door
    - give it to fellow pregnant women (actually, I'll probably do that starting now).

    And your thank yous made me cry (in a good way!!)

  15. @Andrea!!!: Oh. My. Goodness. I cannot believe you were serving your in-laws tea immediately postpartum! I'm glad this post will serve you so well. =)

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