Friday, December 10, 2010

Getting the Help You Need Part 3. Dealing with Help that You are Better Off Without

In the first part of this short series on getting help in the early postpartum period, we talked about how to ask for and organize help in those early weeks after your baby is born. In the second part, we shared some ideas about what to do when friends and family who have offered to “help” are making more work for you. In this last post in the series, we’re going to share some ideas about what to do when the help you are offered is incompatible with your ideas of parenting. An example might be a well-meaning grandmother who wants to give your baby “a little brandy” to help you get some sleep. I’m sure you all have been offered advice that you would never take. New parents tend to be barraged by advice. We shared some of examples of the worse advice we’ve received in a previous post.

Remember, we are focusing on situations and people in your life who are trying to help you, even if the advice they are offering is just...bad. For example, in the last post, we made up a story about a sister who has called bubbling with excitement about a book called “Baby Care in Less than 10 Minutes Per Day” based on the premise that babies can raise themselves (without help from adults). Far-fetched I know, but we used this example because, with all the baby-care books on store shelves, we assumed some of you may have been experienced a situation something like this.

When you find yourself needing to disagree with people who think they are helping you, keep the following in mind:
  • Pick your battles. If the person is a stranger, only visiting for a short time, or has little contact with you or your baby, you can get away with a non-committal “we’ll keep that in mind” and move on. If the “helper” is staying while, will be visiting frequently, or is someone who is close to you, you will find yourself needing to have “a talk.”
  • You have the right to your position; you are the parent. The responsibility of caring for your baby, however daunting, is ultimately yours.
  • Don’t avoid or skate around the important issues. Be honest and clear.
  • Don’t let the person confuse the disagreement over their advice with your relationship. Whether or not you choose to read your sister’s book does not affect how much you love her.
  • Providing a reason for your position can be helpful but you do not need to criticize or persuade the person to agree with your view. You need only to make it clear that you respectfully disagree.

So what would this conversation be like? Maybe something like this: “Hi Sis, thanks so much for coming over, we could really use some help with the house this week. I know you’re excited about that new book but Fred and I spent a lot of time while I was pregnant learning about how to take care of the baby. We know the way we’re doing things takes time (a lot more than 10 minutes a day) but we’re okay with that. I appreciate your offer but I don’t want to read the book. We like to spend time with the baby and we’re lucky to we have you to help with all the rest.”

Be prepared for a little awkwardness or frustration from the person who has offered help and give them time to move on. Things will soon return to normal. We realize that some of you are dealing with more serious situations and complicated relationships. If that’s the case, we again encourage you to reach out for professional help if you find yourself overwhelmed.

We hope that this short series has given you some practical tips to get the help you need. Remember, getting help is important, for you and your growing family.

Next time: Secrets of Baby Behavior is 18 Months Old!

A good resource for tough talks: Stone D, Patton B, Heen S. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. Penguin Books, New York 1999 (there is a more recent 10th anniversary edition).

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