With only a few weeks to go before my second baby arrives, it’s impossible to hide my ginormous baby bump and the discomforts that surround the last month of pregnancy, such as walking, sitting, standing, carrying my 2-year-old, and well, breathing! So now, more than ever, I hear the words from many friends and family that echo in my head with insincerity: “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help!”
I’m calling bullshit.
You see, I’ve been here before. When I was pregnant with my first child, I was astounded by these glorious words from close and distant friends alike. I found it beautiful that so many people wanted to provide support and relief during what I was sure would be a tremendous life transition ahead of me. Who knew that so many people cared? Who knew so many people would go out of their way?
Reality check: Most of them don’t.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first to tell you it takes a village to raise small children. It took me two years to find my village and get the balance and support I needed to maintain my sanity and be a functional mom. But a lot of those two years included filtering the bs-ers from the genuine helpers. It was deciphering people’s sincere offers to babysit, plan playdates, or provide an ear to listen when I was having a bad day, from just words to fill the dead air.
And it turns out, some of the offers were real. I made some great friends on this journey, in part because they offered and I accepted. But I also discovered that a lot of people didn’t have any interest in helping, and sometimes I learned it the hard way. There were friends who bailed on me when I needed to talk; playdates I was counting on to get me and my baby out of the house and talk to just one adult that day cancelled; family who said they wanted to see more of the baby, but when the opportunities presented themselves, they backed away. I’m not going to lie, it hurt. It felt like personal rejection but also a slight at my baby too. After all, we’re a package deal now.
So now I have a second baby ready to introduce himself to the world, and I cringe hearing the words from the same people who burned me the last round. I have also put my guard up for new, unvetted friends who offer to help. Can I trust them? Are they genuine?
So I ask this of you: Please, please don’t offer to help—not if you don’t mean it. Please don’t say it because you see how uncomfortable I look and you think it would sound nice, make you look pretty rad, and maybe help you erase some pent-up guilt. You’re doing me a disservice, and you’re doing yourself a disservice. You’re even making things worse, because when the time comes and I do reach out to you, you have to awkwardly back out, which is uncomfortable for you, unfortunate for me, and just plain awkward.
If you want to fill the conversation with empty words, may I suggest “best of luck” or “congratulations”? Those are both nice to hear and won’t elicit any obligations on your part. You can carry on with your day, and I with mine, and I won’t add you to my mental list of folks to call when I need real support.
I know now who my mommy tribe is for when times get tough, so I consider myself armed and ready for battle. PPD? Colic? Breastfeeding woes? I’ve got the right people on speed-dial. A lot of new mamas don’t know this yet and may have to learn the hard way. And let’s face it, reaching out for help is hard enough. Nobody wants to admit they are completely clueless about being a new mom, handling stress and sleeplessness, and learning how to read a baby’s cues. So when a new mama reaches out and admits they need some help, it’s a huge step—a milestone, really.
When a new mom turns to you when she feels like the world has collapsed and social services is just one cry away from knocking down her door, don’t be the asshole who decides now’s really not a convenient time to step outside your comfort zone.
It comes down to one simple question: Are you going to pick up the phone when that new mom calls? No? Then don’t offer to help.
Now repeat after me, “Congratulations! Best of luck!”