When I gave birth to my first child, I resolved to care for him expertly, while simultaneously keeping the house in tip-top condition. Was I well-intentioned? Yes. Completely unrealistic? Without a doubt!
It took me until about three seconds post-delivery to realize the loftiness of my goals. Fortunately, my parents and in-laws were way ahead of me, having experienced the joys and challenges of infant care many times themselves. Families lucky enough to have grandparents willing and able to assist would be wise to ditch the do-it-yourself mentality and let others lend a hand. Keep reading for a list of 10 ways your baby's grandparents can positively impact the early weeks of his life.
Laundry, Laundry, Laundry
Infants are tiny, but what they lack in size, they make up for in messiness. Spit-up and diaper-related accidents cause newborns to plow through more clothes, sheets, towels and blankies per day than the rest of the family's dirty laundry combined.
Your in-laws have decades of laundry experience under their belts, so let 'em lend a hand to keep you and your family from wearing clothes that smell like old gym socks. You might also request nicely that some laundry be done every day to avoid intimidating pile-ups when you're back on dirty clothes duty.
Scrounging up Food
I carried my baby for nine months, labored for 10 hours and spent several days in the hospital adjusting to the many challenges of newborn care. Yet, five minutes after arriving home from the hospital, I was asked the following simple, yet ridiculous question: "What's for dinner?"
My response? "Beats me -- ask Grannie."
Enlist the help of any available grandparents to divert the food-related pressure from you and your husband for a few days, at least. Grandparents can easily handle the grocery shopping (using a senior citizen discount to boot!), or pick up a phone and order pizza. Enterprising grandmas might even elect to fix double portions of freezer-friendly meals, which can be defrosted and served in the weeks after all of your out-of-town help has departed.
Holly Harvey-Smith of Seattle jumped on the mass meal preparation bandwagon with gusto well before her daughter's birth."My stepmom and I made about three weeks' worth of dinners and froze them," said Holly. "It was a fun activity to do together before the baby came, and a huge help once she had arrived."
However you do it, enlisting grandparents in the meal prep process will make your life easier. When you're completely consumed with learning to nurse or bottle-feed your infant, the last thing you want to be saddled with is feeding other people.
Entertain Older Kids
My three-year-old was completely enamored of his baby brother. He talked to him, showed him his toys and sang songs to him. For about five minutes. Once the novelty wore off he turned his big blue eyes on me as if to say, "Entertain me now, woman."
Unfortunately, like most women post-childbirth, I simply wasn't well enough for a couple of weeks to move at the frenetic pace of your typical preschooler. Enter Grannie and PaPa, who jumped at the chance for a little one-on-one time with their eldest grandson. They hit the zoo, storytime at the local library and took walks around the neighborhood together. He felt utterly adored and managed to milk them for even more treats and presents than usual. Plus, it gave me some extra time to figure out my new infant's napping and feeding needs.
If you're a neat freak like me, you'll find it frustrating to sit idly by nursing and taking care of the infant while dust bunnies pile up in the corners. Sadly, until a riding vacuum cleaner becomes widely available, it will continue to be difficult for rocker-bound moms to tidy up.
Rather than stressing yourself out, pass the torch (or toilet brush) to Grandma. Chances are, she'll be more than happy to do a little light housekeeping if it makes you happy. Whatever you do, don't turn down your in-laws if they offer to hook you up with a cleaning service like mine did. I said "No, thanks," and doomed us to living in a messy, dusty home until I was motivated enough to handle it on my own again.
Tend to the Flock
I'm sure you'll still love your pets every bit as much as you did before your wee child entered the picture. Unfortunately, it's not humanly possible to devote as much time to Fido and Fluffy because you're preoccupied caring for an adorable, but very needy infant.
Take a moment to brief your in-laws on the daily feeding schedule your pets enjoy, as well as the location of any pet-related accessories, like the collar, leash, brush and doggie waste bags. If your in-laws are anything like mine, they'll relish the chance to spoil their granddog rotten, although you should stock up on treats. We go through an impressive amount of bones whenever Grandpa or Grannie come to visit, which is probably why they're our pup's favorite people.
Congratulations! You had a baby! Now, drink a ton of water!
New moms are supposed to down a massive amount of water every day in the weeks after childbirth to help stay hydrated, aid breast milk production and ease constipation. I can virtually guarantee that before leaving the hospital, your nurse will present you with a water jug the size of your newborn babe with stern instructions to "Drink up, missy."
Grandparents can make their mission to keep Mom hydrated simply by ensuring that her water jug is always full and close at hand. You can't truly appreciate how difficult it is to walk to the kitchen for a glass of water until you have an infant nearly asleep in your arms or are in the midst of a marathon feeding session.
Early Morning Baby Duty
Getting hours of consecutive sleep is a luxury we all tend to take for granted until baby makes his debut. During those first few precious weeks, sleep will seem about as attainable as getting East and West coast rappers to hold hands and sing "We Are the World."
You can take a little bit of the edge off by enlisting your parents or in-laws to help with feedings (unless you're exclusively breastfeeding), or otherwise keep the baby occupied when you need some extra shut-eye. Lauryn Gorli of Atlanta reaped the benefits of such an arrangement.
"My mom spent two weeks with me, and then my mom-in-law came right after and stayed for a week," said Lauryn. "Both helped with the late night and early morning feedings so I could rest."
An extra hour of sleep in the morning goes a long way toward lessening baby-induced fatigue. Try not to worry about missing out on quality time with your little one. There'll be plenty of opportunities for you to get up at 4 a.m. once your in-laws have gone back home.
Lawn and Household Maintenance
Weeds and grass grow no matter what, so don't expect a reprieve in the months following your child's birth. Some grandfathers are a little lost when it comes to pampering newborns, but I guarantee that your dad or father-in-law knows how plenty about landscaping. Point him in the direction of your garage once the grass starts to become offensive to passersby.
I'll never forget the look of sheer exuberance on my husband's face when he arrived home from work one Friday to see my father putting away the lawnmower. Being relieved of his most hated and time-consuming duty was the best gift possible for this exhausted dad. Plus, it freed up a ton of time for him to spend with his new baby.
The same concept goes for other household maintenance issues. Need a filter changed? Ask Grandpa to hit the local hardware store for a replacement. Does the baby swing require assembly? Hand him a screwdriver and the manual. You get the picture.
It's inevitable that something will be forgotten during regular grocery trips, no matter how thorough the list was.
Send the in-laws out on runs to the drugstore for necessities like diapers, formula, pain medications, energy drinks, stretch mark cream, a new metabolism, brownie mix and so on.
While they're at it, have them grab an extra gallon of ice cream. You've had a physically and emotionally trying week, so indulge yourself before the pressure to lose the baby weight really ramps up.
Breaking research indicates that -- gasp -- parenting books alone can't teach you everything you need to know about raising a child. In fact, your parents often are the best resource you can turn to since they possess the know-how and life experience to handle tricky situations. I know this goes against the grain of everything you thought when you were younger, but nothing brings reality into sharp focus like becoming a parent yourself.
Grandma might be a little bit rusty in her baby-care skills, but her instincts are typically right on the money, plus, she has years of invaluable experience to work from. Ask for her words of wisdom on every topic from diapering to feeding, and cherish every golden tidbit of advice she doles out. Sure, some things will have changed (babies don't sleep on their stomachs anymore due to risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), but many of the basics are the same over time. Clearly, your mother and mother-in-law must have done something right if they were able to turn out two such fine specimens of humanity as you and your partner, right?
Are we in a golden age of paternity leave? Find out why this employee perk is becoming more common at HowStuffWorks Now.
- 10 Mommy and Me Activities to Try
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- 5 Things You Need to Know: Bonding With Grandparents
- 5 Things to Know About Adjusting to Parenthood
- 5 Ways to Talk to Other Adults While on Maternity Leave
- 5 Ways to Catch Some Extra ZZZs on Maternity Leave
- Fact or Fiction: Maternity Leave
- Are you doing too much while on maternity leave?
- Brown, Teri. "New Baby? Get Help!" Babyzone. (Jan. 10, 20110).http://www.babyzone.com/baby/newborns/article/new-baby-help-after-having-baby
- Gorli, Lauryn. Personal interview conducted by Alia Hoyt via e-mail. (Jan. 9, 2011).
- Harvey-Smith, Holly. Personal interview conducted by Alia Hoyt via e-mail. (Jan. 9, 2011).
- Johnston, Danielle. "Surviving Your Mom's First Postpartum Visit." American Baby. January 2005. (Jan. 10, 2011). http://www.parents.com/baby/new-parent/motherhood/surviving-moms-first-visit/?page=1
- Presta, Brooklyn. "Nutrition Tips for Breastfeeding Moms." Parents. 2011. (Jan. 9, 2011).http://www.parents.com/baby/breastfeeding/basics/nutrition-tips-for-breastfeeding-moms/?page=4
- "What is Postpartum Depression?" Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Aug. 10, 2010. (Jan. 9, 2011).http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_depression_postpartum