Sometimes we know exactly what our girlfriends are going through, and we know exactly what to say. Sometimes we know what they are going through and have no clue how to help. And then there are times where we feel clueless all the way around.
New girlfriend guru STEPHANIE SPRENGER (we’re so glad to have you as part of the Girlfriendology family!) shares her story of being a new mom as well as great advice for being a friend to a new mom. What’s your best advice for supporting new moms?
When I was in my 20s, my two girlfriends and I got together every Wednesday night. We dubbed this ritual “Ladies Night” and took turns making dinner for each other, while the other two brought a hefty supply of wine and dessert. It was fantastic. We talked, we cried, we laughed, we even argued sometimes. It was a nurturing, uplifting tradition that always left the three of us feeling renewed and energized when we left to go home.
When I got pregnant, Ladies Night continued, albeit without the wine for me. In fact, the girls often brought special sparkly drink fixings for me to feel special. After the birth of my daughter, I was happy to realize that Ladies Night could continue, and I toted along my infant carrier whenever one of the other girls hosted. They happily passed my newborn around, or we chatted while she slept in her carseat.
As many moms know, the older your baby gets, the more complicated things can become. Newborns are often asleep more than they are awake, and they are extremely portable. Older babies are not always so compliant with mom’s social agenda.
One evening, I was hosting Ladies Night at my house while my husband worked late. My six month old and I had established a tentative bedtime schedule, and I was careful to keep our routine as consistent as possible. If there is one definitive rule of new parenthood, it is this: Do NOT mess with sleep. I was anxious about putting the baby down while we had company over, as older babies are often very social and are tuned into any differences in their environment. I put my daughter to sleep right on time, and returned downstairs triumphantly to watch American Idol and eat dessert with my friends.
About half an hour later she woke up crying. Frustrated, I went upstairs and spent about 20 minutes trying to nurse and rock her back to sleep, mindful all the while of my friends downstairs without me. My daughter was wired. She was wide awake, and when I brought her back downstairs she smiled and laughed. Within a few minutes she had become cranky and irritable, and I was at a loss as to how to handle the situation. I am not a laid back person, and all I could think about was the fact that if I didn’t get my baby back to sleep immediately, our night of sleep would be ruined. Flustered and upset, I told my friends they had better leave.
Exchanging glances with one another, they left my house quickly. The next day I received an email from one of my friends, a newlywed. She told me how upset she was about how I handled the situation and asked them to leave. In fact, the words she used were “shocked and saddened.” I still remember them vividly six years later. I felt like I had been slapped in the face. I felt judged, misunderstood, and attacked.
I realize that my friend probably had the best of intentions, but she had absolutely no idea what to say to me. How could she? Not being a mother yet, she didn’t understand my unimaginable preoccupation with sleep. She didn’t realize how anxious I was about making mistakes. She didn’t understand that my world absolutely revolved around my baby and our routine.
If you have friends who have babies, or are about to, there are a few things you can do to help them through their transition and protect the friendship.
Don’t try to understand what they’re going through, or pretend that you do. There is simply no way to imagine what it is like to be plunged into motherhood for the first time. The fact that you can’t grasp it doesn’t make you insensitive, stupid, or a bad friend. It makes you human. But try to remind yourself that things look different from the other side, and give your pal the benefit of the doubt if she is acting irrational, scattered, or self-absorbed. Please don’t judge or tell her how you would do things differently. It is so easy to imagine what kind of mother you will be—until you actually have kids.
Pamper her. The day after I gave birth to my daughter, a friend of mine came to visit us at the hospital. She climbed into my bed, sat down behind me, and gave me the best back massage I have ever had. Again, six years later, I remember this act of kindness clearly. Bring her dinner, even though she didn’t ask. Offer to take care of her baby while she takes a nap. She may not ask for your help, but she will be grateful for any act of love and support you are able to provide.
Listen, and try to mask your boredom. The life of a new mother is often terribly tedious, and characterized by an obsessive interest in baby’s sleeping, feeding, and diaper changes. One becomes almost zombie like during those first few months. I remember a classic scene in Sex and the City when Miranda is trying to pay attention to Carrie’s story but all she can think about is how the baby won’t latch on to her nipple. She is completely consumed by her concern for her nursing infant.
Be patient with us- we will come back to you. Sometimes you just need to give your friend some time to be focused on her boobs, her baby, or her sleeplessness. She will return to you, and one day, she will be able to listen with enthusiasm to your stories about your boss, your boyfriend, and your sex life.
STEPHANIE SPRENGER is the mother of two young girls. She is also a music therapist, teacher, writer, and blogger. She considers herself a warrior for Mommy rights, believing that mothers thrive when they honor themselves as individuals. You can find her blogging about the imperfect reality of surviving the daily grind with kids at: Mommy, for real.
Let’s make 2013 a special year – filled with friends and gratitude. Sounds like the winning combination for a wonderful new year!
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