Supporting mothers

Auntie MA couple days ago I picked up my oldest daughter Amanda and her two little ones (10 weeks and 16 months) and brought her and three other daughters on the trek to Boise to visit new-momma Erika and her two precious little ones. (It’s actually only a 40 minute drive, but any trip that involves toddlers and hungry nurslings always ends up feeling like a trek.)

When we got to Erika’s, new big brother Ranger greeted us with much happy squealing, and the baby-admiring commenced. Once we’d done a bit of baby snuggling and picture taking, Erika, who is a very smart momma indeed, confessed (only slightly sheepishly) that she had a list of things she was hoping we could help her with while we were there.

Auntie BWe all plunged in and made ourselves useful.  Some of the girls played with the little boys outside.  Others of us straightened the living room, did dishes, helped Erika put away her maternity clothes, tossed laundry in the wash, and warmed up dinner.  By the time we left, Erika’s world was a little more orderly, and we all had the fun of knowing we’d blessed her with our assistance.

On the drive home, I was thinking back to my own days of new motherhood. I’m pretty sure I was way too independent for my own good, and not near as good as Erika at asking for help. I can think of a few times I asked my momma for help, and of course lots of folks brought meals when new kiddos arrived.  But I’m sure that I plowed quietly through the fog of exhaustion lots of times when friends and family would have been happy to lend a hand.

I think sometimes we don’t ask for help because we don’t want to be a bother.  But mothering is such hard work.  We all could benefit from a bit more support.  And really, the helpers are just as blessed as the folks they are helping– it’s a good feeling to know that we made someone’s life a little easier.  I think  we mommas need to keep that side of the coin in mind, and not be so slow to ask for help.

The beauty of Erika’s list was that we could help her in exactly the way that most blessed her.  I’d not have thought to help her put away maternity clothes– I still needed mine for at least a couple weeks (months?) after birth! But it was one of the things she most wanted done. It’s also a really beautiful thing to be a part of a community of folks who take turns supporting each other. A couple months ago Amanda was the one whose house we were whirling through, setting things to right.  This week Amanda helped do the same thing for Erika.  And the grown girls have already told the younger ones that when it’s their turn to have babies, the kids that are now babies will be helping them. (That idea brought giggles to my little girls– it sounded so far away to them!)

What did people do for you that was most welcome?   I’d love to hear ideas for adoptive families too.   Casseroles are always welcome contributions to new families, as are offers to stop by the grocery store for a few items. There are lots of other things we could do to support the mommas around us. Some needs will be slightly different for adoptive moms than for moms of newborns.  For example, newborns don’t usually mind being passed around from person to person, but the last thing a toddler from an orphanage needs is to be passed from stranger to stranger.  But all moms need to be loved and supported during this time of huge adjustment in their lives.  Whether you’re an adoptive mom or a bio mom, I’d love to hear from you.  What ideas do you have that could bless a tired new momma?

And finally, I just have to share this picture of my girls with their precious ones.  They are such good mommas and I am so very proud of them!



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  1. I was really, really, bad about asking for help when we adopted (four times in 5.5 years). A few people brought us meals in the first two weeks, which was nice, but just because you adopt a toddler or older, doesn’t mean you aren’t in the same exhaustion/fog that mothers of newborns are in. We had jet lag. We had children who were not sleeping through the night for MONTHS. Their were issues in integrating the new member of the family into the existing order and dealing with conflicting personalities. And I should have asked for help with things like laundry, cleaning, more meals, and entertaining kids while I just took a much needed shower and nap.

    When my husband died last year, my aunt said to me, “Kimberlie, start writing your list right now of what you need done so that when people ask, you can look at it and give them something to do.” I did. I had one friend help me go through all the sympathy cards and write down who they were from, and if money was included, the amount. She told me that I didn’t need to write thank you’s that it wasn’t expected (huge relief). People came in and cleaned my house. The worked on art projects with the kids so I could take a nap. 6 months later when we moved to a new home, they were there packing things up for me. One friend flew down from Wisconsin just to help me sort through my husband’s things because she knew how hard it would be and she knew I was absolutely paralyzed by dread to get started. I could go on and on with the list, but I learned a huge lesson – people just want to help but they can’t if you don’t ask and you don’t give them something to do.

  2. I refused to ask for help when my baby was born, and I should have done more, especially when she was hospitalized at 10 days. Thankfully, my mom and grandmother stepped in and helped without me asking.

    Really, what a new mom REALLY needs is someone to help with the basics so she can focus on resting, feeding, and bonding with the little one. Someone to throw in a load of laundry, bring dinner (on disposeable dishes), drop of g/c for pizza takeout, and volunteer to help with other little ones. The problem is, I think, that many of us don’t feel comfortable asking for help with that. I was only comfortable with my mom helping me with dishes/housework, so I was so thankful for her doing that. It is also nice to have another pair of hands to hold the baby while you take a much-needed nap. Our baby wouldn’t sleep for the first few days unless she was being held, so it was a hard time.

  3. Jenn Hansen says:

    I have most appreciated help with the basics as well such as dishes, meals and laundry. With my third child a good friend who has children of similar ages as my older 2 came and picked up my girls for a few hours in the afternoon so that they could play with her children and the baby and I could rest at home. Those few hours of quiet were wonderfully recuperative for me and my girls had a great time playing with their friends so they didn’t feel neglected by mom because of this new baby in their home.

  4. I organised a bunch of ladies at church to create a rota for cooking for the new mums (and dads!)
    That meant that it was co-ordinated and the new mum did have to field a bunch of phone calls, just look at the rota to see what they were getting when!

  5. LOVE THIS POST! I would add “foster moms” to your list. We have done some of everything now … bio (3), domestic infant adoption (1), international adoption (1) and now med fragile foster placement. Average people have NO idea how that rocks your world. We picked up our new daughter in a parking lot with a bag of meds and hardly any other instructions. She had extensive special needs. Our church family held a shower for us a few weeks later and provided some awesome support with essentials like diapers, etc. Thankfully I had older kids that could help with meals, but it was still rough. Trying to find your way those first weeks before all the doctor appts started was intense. That being said …. if any of you know of a foster family receiving a new placement take them a meal, or maybe a load of paper products to make life a bit easier or a gas card for the MANY miles they’ll be putting on with appt’s and visits.

    Can’t wait to share this post, Mary! It’s wonderful!!

    • I second this! I think some people mistakenly think that, because we are foster parents, the normal hardship of a newborn in the NICU was just par for the course for us. Thankfully that was not the reaction of our closest friends. My family was placed with a newborn this summer. We spent five weeks shuffling back and forth from the NICU several times a day with our six-year-old son and four-month-old daughter. It was even harder when they transferred her to a hospital an hour away. By the time we finally brought her home we were already exhausted. Dealing with her feeding problems 24/7, pumping breast milk for her (thankfully our agency allowed this), and exclusively nursing our bio daughter was a full-time job alone. I never could have tackled the rest of my life without help. Praise God our church set up two weeks of meals for us. I felt guilty because I hadn’t just gone through labor, but it was such a blessing. It always feels easier asking family members for this kind of help, but all of ours live out of state and couldn’t visit. Church families are so important in these situations! Looking back I wish I had taken people up on their other offers for help with cleaning, getting groceries, etc.

  6. Kitchen clean up!!!! It’s one of those things that a mom, especially of many children, should be on her feet doing, in the first week at least, and something her family just doesn’t think of doing because someone, the magical night genie, a.k.a. mom, makes it all tidy in there when they are sleeping. People think to bring food, for a while, but at the end of the day, after every single baby, I have found myself standing in the kitchen washing dishes and tidying up instead of going to bed to snuggle with my baby. Just to have someone come over quietly, morning or night, and tidy that kitchen in the aftermath of many children getting themselves meals to “help mama rest”, and to know they are going to do ti so you can just relax and leave it alone, that would have been amazing for me.

    I loved not having to cook when people brought food after babies. They were always such lovely meals and desserts. One church we went to had a new baby brochure. The families that signed up to bring food to expectant mothers after the baby was born gave a menu choice of 2-3 things they could bring and the new mama chose the one that would be most liked by her family. Then the woman whose brain child this whole thing was, she was brilliant, scheduled the whole thing so that everyone had a day to bring a meal and the family didn’t have to do anything except open the door and let them in with dinner.

    And laundry! Laundry piles up so fast after a new baby. Help with laundry, just washing a new load, folding what’s clean, it’s such a help.

  7. Now that is an AWESOME picture! All the pictures are great, of course, but that last one is definitely one to be framed!

  8. I love having a big family with spread out ages. My teenage sisters were a huge help to me when I had little ones and now my teenage daughters are helping them with their babies and toddlers. Having someone who will give a lot of attention to the siblings of the newborn is a huge help. I also like to bring along something like muffins and fruit for an easy and healthy breakfast for a new mama.

  9. I wish I could be better at asking for help. When my first two were born, I was DYING at home by myself in a tiny town. But I guarantee you that I would be the first to offer help and people would have loved to help me the same way. Hmmmm…I need to work on that. 🙂
    That being said, I did receive lots of meals to help me through those first weeks of becoming a mom to a new baby.
    When we adopted our 4th, we had to move to a new home. Our daughter would not let us put her down, and certainly would not go to a stranger, even a grandma. BUT, my mom, grandma, and sister-in-law all drove 6 hours to come and help me pack my house and unpack the new house. I don’t know how we would have gotten any of it done without them. What help!!!

    Also, the piano in the background of that last photo is the same one we have in our home. My husband learned on it, and now our son is learning on it. 🙂

    Great post!

  10. The only child I’ve had a baby shower for was my oldest, and one of the things the organizers did was ask people to bring freezer meals in disposable or reusable-but-don’t-need-back containers. That was so handy. No worry about returning dishes. No pressure to eat it the same day. Only trouble was, not many people labeled their items so I could thank them properly!

    Another thing that is very handy is having someone around for the inevitable times when household staples are running low. It’s pretty easy to take one mobile kid in and out of a handful of stores, but a mobile kid and maybe a sibling or two plus a baby is very daunting. If someone hangs out with the kids at home, maybe feeds them a meal or two, and gives the mother a chance to feel she’s doing an adequate job of shopping with a nice sanity check on the side, that’s very valuable. (Sticking around to help put stuff away when the mother is tired is an excellent bonus.)

  11. I remember after one of my babies, a good friend brought me a GIANT deli tray and some bread. I mean, we ate off that for probably 3-4 meals. It was an enormous blessing–even more handy than a hot casserole meal!

  12. Lovely to hear of family supporting each other that way! I feel, sometimes, like I come from the family of the ‘lone tree’. They support in theory but, actual, real, practical and everyday support was never very available. That said, all our children were blessings, whether through adoption or birth, and our extended families did welcome them.

  13. I’m a mama of a 4 year old, 2 year and new little one due any day now! Helpful things: bringing meals (I’m blessed to part of a mom’s group that is wonderful about doing this! Even if you don’t cook you can bring a rotisserie chicken and some already washed and cut up fruit), bonus points if you bring disposable plates/utensils, helping clean the kitchen/wash dishes (my husband’s most hated chore!), spending one on one time with my older kids (OR offering to take care of the baby so that I can get one on one with them), holding down the fort in general while I catch a nap. Another helpful thing was when my mom friends would come over with a meal, they could bring along their child for mine to play with. Instant playdate for a child who might be getting bored of hanging around at home and then I got to chat with a friend which was always rejuvenating.

    I’ve found I’m better about asking my own mother for help but it’s harder for me to get specific with my mother in law. Since I’m a mom of all boys, I hope someday my daughter in laws will bless me by letting me help them when they have babies!

  14. A fresh salad can be great if the family has been living on defrosted/reheated meals for a few days.

    I would love someone to drop around a batch of lactation cookies for me to snack on!

    I have a friend who picks up a basket of laundry and returns it clean, dry and folded within a day or two.

    Remember that Mums of many need help too! I think some people assume that because I have done this a few times, by the time I get to baby number 7 it is easy. I appreciate a meal being dropped off or a genuine offer of help even more now because I am juggling the needs of all the kids!

    If a baby has spent some time in NICU, the family will still need help when the baby arrives home even if the baby is a few months old by that time. When our bub came home after 8 weeks in various hospitals etc. we were exhausted and were dealing with the big feelings our older 5 were having as well pretty much making a hospital at home with frequent meds, tube feeding pumping milk, medical appointments etc. but most people who had helped while she was in hospital with meals etc. stopped because they thought everything was OK now she was home and we felt guilty about asking for more help after they’d already done so much. Even if a child does not have the challenges our bubba came home with, the parents are still adjusting to having their baby at home with all the challenges and adjustments of bringing home a new baby with the exhaustion that follows a hospital stay.

    When our kiddo was in hospital we had more people dropping around, trying to be helpful, than ever before which was wonderful. However, at one point, my darling hubby had the kitchen benches full of cakes with no room to prepare dinner. We like cake and all, but a savoury meal is more practical!

    Families that do not have extended family close by need more help. We live out in the country and we usually literally double the numbers in the pews when we show up on Sunday and many of those members are elderly or have fragile health , but they gather around us and help out in any way they can and I appreciate all they do for us.

    The bathroom! The last few weeks of pregnancy it can be hard to bend down to get all those nooks and after bub is born, it isn’t priority. I have a cleaner for two hours a week and after she’s been, I just go into my bathroom and gaze lovingly at my shower and pray a special prayer of thanks for her 🙂

  15. What great ideas. I wanted to add that in addition to all the wonderful meals that people brought, a couple friends got together and brought me snacks, things that a nursing mom could get quick and that were nutritious. this was expensive for them I’m sure but what a blessing. These included almonds, trail mix, fresh fruit, crackers, bagels, and on and on.

    One other thing that really stands out is the effort someone put into the meal they brought with such love. It was simple, healthy, and delicious and to top it off she had picked flowers out of her yard. It made me feel so loved.

  16. As a mom who isn’t good at asking for help (not so good at accepting either when its an open ended “is there anything we can do?”), I’d say we need people who just step in & something nice or helpful. And it would have been nice if people would have looked at fostering similar to giving birth, actually much harder…we so appreciated those meals when my bio girls were born & really could have used them when our largest two (ages 7 & 11) joined us because my workload suddenly exploded going from 4 to 6 kids. I pretty much lived in the kitchen & laundry room & was still dealing with a needy foster baby when they arrived & any help in that department would have been most welcome (as would running errands since there are many more things I’d rather do than take 6 kids shopping, lol). I guess what I am saying js, assume tha any parent to new arrivals, regardless of age, could use some help, hugs, encouragement so don’t ask, just do. 🙂

  17. Babies are just the most wonderful thing there is! It’s so great that you were able to bless your daughter with what she really needed, instead of some preconceived idea of what new mothers *must* need. If only everyone could be so thoughtful!

  18. We added a child to our family this year thru a very unexpected adoption. We had adopted an infant boy last Feb & we got a call in April from the adoption agency telling us that he has a newborn sister & their mom wants to place her with our family. We a lot to do to get ready to bring her home. We had to update our homestudy & get her room set up. One of the best gifts anyone gave us was an evening of their time. A family from our church came over to our house one night and helped us. The husband helped my husband finish childproofing the house and the mom helped me sort through baby things that we’d stored away. She also watched my little boy while I worked in our daughter’s room. It was a huge blessing! The two men got childlocks installed on every cabinet in our house that night. It would have taken my husband much longer to do that on his own.

  19. We were extremely thankful that my mom could stay with us in house for a few weeks. It was a huge blessing for everyone. While that may not be practical for everyone, it was a huge blessing when meals and baby clothes were dropped off.

  20. I gave birth to twin girls in April, and I just love this post! A couple of things that were VERY helpful to me were friends who stopped by with dinner (because they provided both dinner and much-needed moral support) and friends who helped me declutter the house to make space for the babies before they were born. To organize the friends who brought dinner, I asked a friend of mine to create an online care calendar (I think it was through, so that the dinners were spread out and so that we had regular visits to look forward to. I think care calendars can also be set up for people to volunteer to do more than just cook, but we used it just for dinners. Regarding getting my house ready for our 2 babies, I needed the physical labor provided by my friends because I was too tired, and toward the end of my pregnancy, too high-blood-pressured to do much of the heavy lifting involved with nesting. I just gave directions to my friends and sat while they brought me stuff to say “keep,” “toss,” or “donate,” and they even carted off boxes of stuff to Goodwill on my behalf. I am incredibly grateful for the friends who helped me make space for my babies and who then helped feed us.

    • One more thing I forgot to mention is that my parents and my in-laws took turns visiting us for the first month after the babies were born (we live several states away from both sets of grandparents), and before I went to the hospital to deliver, I had written a list of chores and activities the grandparents could help us with when they stayed with us. The list included things like vacuuming and cleaning bathrooms as well as cleaning out the pantry and refrigerator. It even included taking my car to get the oil changed and to get its regular maintenance taken care of, since I wasn’t able to do that late in my pregnancy. My dad found the list when my parents arrived at our house, and they promptly got to work on the household chores without even needing to be asked. It was incredibly helpful and so wonderful to come home from the hospital to a freshly vacuumed and scrubbed home.

  21. Kristen Penny says:

    Don’t forget to support mothers whose husbands are deployed with the military. When I was holding down the fort for six months with four kids and no family within helping distance, I was deeply touched by one friend who brought over dinner for my boys and me.