In the spirit of Birth Story Week, I thought we’d tackle a question we’ve all gotten from time to time: “what kind of help did you have when the babies came home?” This was one people seemed to ask me constantly when I was pregnant, and again when the kids were newborns. When I was pregnant, it really annoyed me: this assumption that no mere mortal could possibly care for twins on her own. The reality is that you do need help, but not necessarily in taking care of babies. It’s all of the other stuff! (Though help taking care of babies isn’t a bad thing…) Newborns are time-consuming and exhausting, who can be bothered to go to the grocery store? Following is a roundup from the HDYDI moms on helpful people and things when the babies come home.
Help, the paid variety
One thing we cannot recommend highly enough is, if at all possible, to hire a cleaning lady. Many of us have someone come every other week. A luxury? Sure. But with two babies to take care of, I found it worth every single penny to know that my bathroom wasn’t going to get gross, my kitchen would be cleaned, and the rugs vacuumed. If you can pinch together the $50 or $75 every other week, you’ll be beyond happy that you did. I was not a great housekeeper before my kids were born, so there was no reason to think I’d get any better at it with two newborns to take care of. With the cleaning lady, at least I know I’ll get fresh sheets on my bed and no dust bunnies that my kids can practice their pincer grasp on.
On the childcare front, there are a number of options out there. Some people hire a nanny or babysitter, especially if there is an older child in the family who will need some attention, or if you’re going to go back to work and will have this person take over when you go. Especially in urban areas, I’ve heard of “newborn nurses,” who will come and help teach you some newborn care, or actually come and move in with you for two weeks or a month (this is what my mom was suggesting for me… it didn’t happen). Alternately, there are postpartum doulas, who can serve as sort of mom-support, newborn care, lactation consultant, and all-around wonderful person. There are also night nanny services, where someone shows up at about 9pm and stays until 6am, so you and your husband/partner can sleep. Not surprisingly, that isn’t cheap (about $300/night here in the Boston area), but the people who do it really swear by it. There’s really nothing like a good night’s rest to make you feel like a new person.
And if the “professionals” aren’t in the budget, get creative! Hire a dog walker a few times a week so your beloved pooch isn’t so neglected (and is therefore less likely to poop in the dining room). Pay the 13-year-old next door a few dollars to play in the yard with your older child, mow your lawn, or even watch the babies for 20 minutes so you can go take a shower.
Help, the unpaid variety
Family, friends, church folks, and even your trusty twin club can provide a good source of volunteer help. The trick with that, along the lines of “you get what you pay for,” is making sure it’s actually helpful. With visitors, especially family and friends, I’m a big fan of setting up expectations ahead of time. Make a rule: you can’t hold a baby until you’ve done something helpful like fold laundry or bring dinner. The last thing you need is guests to entertain, so don’t be shy about putting people to work. A trick that I got from fellow HDYDI mom Rebecca (that she got from another twin mom, and that we’ve passed along to everyone we know) is to post a list of chores in your house. It can be a running to-do list, a daily list, or whatever works for you. Put everything on it: walking the dog, taking out the recycling, making lunch, or emptying the dishwasher. The list is great, because people really do want to be helpful, but sometimes you feel awkward asking your brother-in-law to wash dishes. This way, when someone asks “what can I do to help?”, you can just point to the list! This also lets people pick their own chore. OK, so maybe no one will pick “clean the litter box,” but at least it’s a start. Oh, and put checkboxes on the list. People love checkboxes.
Another important tip, when getting help from family and friends, is to be specific in your requests. If someone kindly asks if you need groceries, don’t just say yes, give them a list. Lest your well-meaning bachelor friend arrive with nothing other than chips and beer. When someone offers to bring dinner (hallelujah!), try to have it occur on a day when you don’t already have your mom cooking for you.
Try to spread out your visiting help as much as possible. I know there’s a website that helps schedule family and friends, but for the life of me I can’t find it. In my case, all of the newly-minted grandparents live a minimum of 1000 miles away. While none of them wanted to wait an extra moment to meet the babies, we did try to spread things out as much as possible. Having too many people at once can be a sort of inverse relationship to helpfulness. When there’s a bunch of people, suddenly you have guests instead of helpers. Not cool.
On the issue of having people stay with you, that’s an entirely personal choice. It depends on the type of relationship you have with the visitors (i.e. your sister or your mother-in-law), the available space in your home, and your overall nature with regard to having other people in your space. Lots of people have their mom camp out in a guest room for the first week or month. The rule in our house was that, if it was just one person visiting (i.e. my mom, or M’s mom), they were welcome to stay in our guest room. Any more than that, and we asked that people find a hotel or stay with someone else. But that’s me, I don’t really love having a lot of people in my space. Again, early expectations were key. We set up that “rule” many months before the babies arrived, so there were no emotional debates when the time came.
One more incredibly important bit of “help” that I nearly forgot to mention: if your husband/partner/baby-daddy has any kind of leave or vacation that (s)he can take off from work, DO IT. Dads (or second mommies, for that matter) need to learn early on how to be comfortable and take care of their kids, and the earlier that can start, the better. I think it’s easy, for a variety of reasons, for dads to be pushed aside. They let any feelings of inexperience or insecurity keep them from getting in there and getting their hands dirty. If you want dad to be involved, competent, capable, and engaged as a parent, it starts from the get-go. Don’t let your mother box her son-in-law out.
Too much of a good thing?
I’m going to raise a somewhat controversial/debatable point: I do think there’s such a thing as too much help. It’s not an absolute quantitative measurement, but I think it exists. While I probably had a low-to-moderate amount of help, the benefit of going solo when they were just over 3 weeks old was that I rapidly developed my confidence and independence. And while it might have been nice to have more help, I have also met people who had a constant “staff” of family at the house for 2-3 months, and who still feel unable to take their kids outside on their own, or whose husbands don’t feel capable of being at home alone with the kids for a few hours. And that, I think, is too bad. The only way to figure out how to make it work is to give it a try. Do I sometimes wish my mom lived nearby so I could have extra hands? Absolutely. But I’ve made it work for the last nine months, and so can you. Nannies and night nurses and doulas and lactation consultants and mothers are all wonderful resources, and you should use whatever is going to work best for your family, emotionally and financially. But don’t give into the hype that you “can’t possibly do it on your own.” Help is great, and necessary. Just don’t let it turn into a crutch that leaves you fearful of standing on your own two feet.