Mother as Helper: The Value of Family Help

One blogger discovers, at 26 weeks, just how important it is to line up help from friends or family before you bring a new baby home, especially if it's your first.

Mother as Helper: The Value of Having Help Sunny studio/Shutterstock

My mom just came for a visit, and I feel like I've just been on vacation. When she's here, my mother does the bulk of what I normally do around the house (and then some)—she cooks; she cleans; she unloads the dishwasher, then loads it back up again; she does the laundry; she changes diapers; she gives the kids baths; she babysits; she tells me to put my feet up and then waits on me, too. We try to convince her to relax and take it easy, but she's not easily persuaded. Her visit has had me thinking a lot about what I now see as one of the biggest mistakes Will and I made when we had our first baby, and the lesson I've learned in hindsight.

When Julia was born, we had lined up my mother to stay with us for the first week or so with a new baby. But for whatever reason, when we finally did bring our new baby home, we were riding on some sort of adrenaline high and, after a few days, decided that we were ready to go it alone, rationalizing that if we had someone helping us do everything, we'd never learn to take care of the baby ourselves. And, I think we were also wanting a little bonding time for our new little family unit. So, my mom graciously left us to our own devices, promising to return in six weeks. In hindsight ... this was a big mistake on our part. Huge.

After my mother left, Will promptly went back to work. "But, I thought you were taking a week off?!" I remember asking in a panic. "But, I did," Will said, reminding me that we'd been in the hospital for three days (thanks to my 27-hour labor and two days of recovery time), and that he'd already been home for two additional work days. "Oh my God...I meant a week at home," I practically cried. Out of vacation time, Will went back to work, and I was left to figure out how to take care of the baby on my own—something I had zero experience doing.

I spent the next several weeks reeling. We all got sick with a stomach bug (hello, hospital germs!)—our newborn baby included. We fumbled around trying to figure out how to take a newborn's temperature rectally, stressed out about the baby's health, and generally exhausted ourselves trying to take care of a sick baby when we were feeling sick ourselves. We had naively (err, stupidly) just moved into a new rental property just two weeks before Julia arrived, and were living in a fairly new town where we didn't have a very big network yet. The house we moved into was a disaster. Everything that could have broken did: the stove didn't work; the fridge had to be replaced; the furnace blew up and the resulting black gunk had to be cleaned out of the chimney; the well broke, leaving us with no water to wash our hands or flush toilets. Gaggles of contractors, plumbers, Sears repairmen, painters and carpenters paraded in and out of the house every day, usually when I was sitting half exposed on the couch trying to figure out how to breastfeed, or when I was trying to get the baby to sleep. I was hormonal, exhausted, nervous, and very unsure of what I was doing. Ladders were propped against half the windows in the house, so I huddled in a back room trying to (painfully) nurse a baby, while my tears of frustration plunked down on her tiny little face.

When Charlie was born, I made sure not to repeat the same mistake twice. This time, my mom was here, in time to help take care of Julia while Will and I went to the hospital. We were able to leave for the hospital without a second thought as to whether Julia would be OK while we were gone—we knew she would be. We came home to a sparkling clean house; a sparkling clean daughter; groceries in the fridge; meals prepped and cooked; clean sheets on the beds; laundry washed, folded, and put away; cupboards organized; diaper changing stations stocked and at-the-ready, and so much more. My mother then proceeded to tirelessly cook, clean, and help take care of all of us for her entire visit. She did fun things with Julia so Will and I could focus on the baby. She stayed up and held the baby at all hours of the night, so Will and I could catch up on our sleep. I didn't need to feel self-conscious about being extra weepy, or walking around the house half naked—my mother has seen it all before, and then some.

I'm sure she left our house needing a vacation herself. But, she gave Will and me the gift of time to bond with our new baby, to recuperate from the labor and delivery, to settle into our new roles as parents to two children, and to spend time with Julia, without having to worry about anything else.

With this baby, you can bet that I will not be making the mistake of trying to do it on our own again. I'll be asking for all the help I can get. In fact, I may post a sign-up sheet. (Just kidding. Sort of.) If you're expecting your first baby, you're going to need this kind of help, too—trust me on this one. Don't make the same mistake I made.

Here's more on how to get through the challenging first few weeks with a new baby:

Start Early

Coming Home

Six-Week Survival Guide

Brave New Mom

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