Bringing your baby home can be daunting. In the first 100 days of parenting, there are a gazillion things you need to do, forms to fill and a whole new human to learn. Visitors are plentiful and gifts are great but how do you be assertive and say no to visitors without offending?
When my oldest child was born, she needed to spend time in the Special Care Unit due to her particularly early entry into the world. I still remember the excitement and trepidation as my husband and I first stepped out of the hospital and into the world as a family of three. Overwhelmed by how surreal the moment felt, I remember saying to a smiling passer-by, “I can't believe we're leaving with her”. (Moments later, the same man, who'd clearly been pondering my comment called out to our departing car, “Wait! She is YOURS, isn't she??”)
The first few weeks that followed were unlike any other. I remember each waking moment (and there were a LOT of waking moments) was focused on keeping this tiny dependent human alive and comfortable. I was sore, exhausted, uncertain and utterly besotted.
We also had lots of visitors wanting to come and see the baby - family, friends, workmates and neighbours. Our ‘village'; Some of these visits would go well. Others… honestly, I still have traumatic flashbacks … (Related tip: When visiting a newborn baby, do NOT wear expensive white pants!)
Fast forward two, then four years, and history repeated with the birth of my second and third child. These times, I was better prepared. The freezer was stocked and the calendar was rationalised in anticipation of entering ‘cocoon-mode', while we adapted to our newly expanded family.
There were times when I found it hard to balance our need to hide away in our tired, noisy, messy bubble with our need to maintain our connection with loved ones and the outside world. Thankfully, once toddlers had entered the mix and my confidence as a parent had grown, it became easier to set limits and make requests of our visitors.
I'm sure I didn't always get it right, but if you're finding this balancing act hard at the moment, here are a few tips to consider:
Prioritise yourself and your family
Perhaps you're unspeakably tired, or your still-adjusting toddler is in need of your full attention for the day, or maybe you're keen to avoid your tiniest family member catching an infection from outside visitors. Honestly, it doesn't matter what the reason is. It's completely okay to prioritise your immediate family and decline visits to your new baby for the time being.
You can't do it all. None of us can. And there's no need to pretend otherwise to your visitors who simply want to offer their love and support. Imagine how liberating it would be if we all admitted truths like, “I'm sorry. We're just a little shell-shocked by all this newness at the moment. I'd love to see you but would prefer to hold off a few weeks.”
Use positive language
Try to use positive language that focuses on what you do need rather than what you don't. Instead of "I don't want you to visit right now," consider saying, “I know you're keen to come and visit but I'm still recovering from the labour. Any chance you could accompany us to the shops next week instead? I'm not sure how I'm going to go wrestling the pram out of the car and I'd love your help then if that's okay?”
Remember, we live in a digital age in which virtual ‘visits' can take place over Facetime/Skype instead. Try saying, “I'm keen to keep our little one hidden away from everyone right now, at least until her immune system is a bit stronger. Any chance you're free this afternoon for a Skype call instead?”
Ditch the guilt
As parents, we seem to take on a whole lot of unnecessary guilt. I'm sure you'll feel bad when you set boundaries with your visitors, but you needn't. Looking after yourself and your family is your priority right now.
This brief stage of adjustment will soon pass as you adapt to your new normal. In the meantime, be honest with those who want to care for you, be clear about what you need and be kind to yourself. Oh… and keep your expensive white trousers in the cupboard.
Dr Kaylene Henderson is a highly trained and sought after Child Psychiatrist and parenting expert. Based in Queensland, she dedicates her time and knowledge to a wide audience of parents, educators and corporate groups while raising three gorgeous kids of her own.