Well-meaning people are seriously so lovely. They're just... so...well-meaning.
But as every new mom knows, there is a world of difference between your well-meaning people and your people.
Allow me to illustrate with a common question well-meaning people ask new moms:
Do you need any help?
Ooh! Ooh! PICK ME! PICK ME!! *raises hand eagerly*
YES! She does. She does need help. Every new mom needs help. Exactly all the time. It doesn’t matter how she answers this inevitable question: unless she says ABSOLUTELY! and hands you a chore card, she’s just putting on her brave face. New mothers try courageously to keep their big girl pants on, holding it all together and doing for themselves all the things that new mothers have to do. (If you’ve never been one, it might be hard to imagine exactly what those things might be, but trust me when I say IT IS A TON OF THINGS AND IT IS VERY, VERY HARD AND EXHAUSTING.)
The time after childbirth is difficult in myriad ways, but one of the really unique difficulties is that women are bred throughout life to understand that it’s in solidly bad taste to get (unpaid) help with, say, folding the underthings or cleaning the toilets, and so it’s a wide leap to actually say to another human outside of family, "Yes, of course I need help. Please fold my husbands underwear. And also clean my toilet. And my two-year-old just pooped in the bathtub, could you be awesome and clean that up for me? And I seriously need a nap so please wear this colicky infant while you do it." (Which is exactly what she will do when you leave.)
Most moms would rather suffer in baby-wearing silence.
So here's what to do if you want to move from Well-Meaning People to My People:
And start doing.
Ideally with sushi in your hand. And chocolate in your other hand hand.
While she's talking, covertly notice the house. See the dishes piled high in the sink. See the disaster of a toy room. See the floor in desperate need of a vacuum.
If you see nothing, excuse yourself to the bathroom. And on your way sneak by the laundry room. You will surely see needs hiding in these places.
And start doing.
Say to her “I’m here to help, where am I starting?” and if she gives no answer, just begin. Because honestly she may not know exactly what to tell you. Brain fog is legit after baby, which is why you did your covert spying operation. If she's got nothing, you know how to start. If her house is oddly, miraculously perfect, this post will give you some ideas for the things she needs to have done that are not so obvious.
A word of caution: She will protest. She will tell you to stop. (Remember that whole thing about upbringing? Yeah…that.)
But. You are the real deal. You are a truly awesome friend. So you continue. You do the jobs that require kneeling, bending over, or reaching high (it SO HARD to bend over in postpartum, and especially wearing a baby….forget it.)
If she doesn't want help on account of being particular about how a job is done... there are definitely other jobs. You could prep meals. Or run to the grocery store with her list. Or let her nap/shower/watch a movie (read: get much-needed alone time) while you watch the babes. Or do a project that she's been meaning to get to. Or renovate the bathroom. Whatever, man. If she's a new mom, there are things to do. Your job is to discover what.
Don’t let her help.
Best: Take the kids (olders can watch something, no? Babe can be worn in a carrier or placed in whatever baby-setting accoutrement this family uses so this worn out woman can catch some sleep (or just some quiet downtime) while you work. If this is too much, for you or her: Set her down in a comfy chair in a room with her babies, hand her the sushi and chocolate and TV remote, and go to it.
Do whatever you’re able to do.
Do it for 15 minutes or 4 hours. The will and the intention are what matter most, and the fact that you’re a show-upper who sees and does. Regardless of how much you get done, it matters.
Mom brain explained
You ask: Do you need any help?
She hears: Are you weak? Are you incapable? Please say no, because I don't actually have time to help you.
You say: I’m here to work, what am I doing first?
She hears: I actually love you and I’m here for you because I understand what you need. Have some sushi.
The fact is...
There are very few people these days who show up, see a need, and meet it without being asked or told. This is set-you-apart behavior, and it means the world to new mommas everywhere. Thanks for being our people.