Picture this: You’re stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire. You have a spare, but no tools, and the embarrassing truth is that you wouldn’t know how to change the tire even if you had all the necessary supplies. You may or may not even know what the necessary supplies are. That’s a sad commentary about the competence of our generation, but it isn’t the point of this analogy. You pick up your phone to call for help or, who am I kidding, you post a status update on Facebook asking for help. The post conveniently provides friends and family with your exact location. You’re relieved to immediately receive a series notifications. Three of your relatives have commented saying they’re on their way. You’ve also received four likes, which is odd, because what’s to like about having a flat tire? Anyway…
The first person to arrive is your uncle. He has brought a tank of gas with him and immediately begins filling your tank. He mutters something about how you should have known better than to run out of gas. Before you can open your mouth to explain that you aren’t out of gas–that the tire is the problem–your sister arrives. She gets into her trunk and pulls out a bucket and a few jugs of water and begins washing your car. At this point you are at a loss for words. You pull out your phone to check the status you wrote, and there it is in black and white, “I have a flat tire! Can anybody help?” What the hell is wrong with these people, washing and gassing up the car, completely ignoring the problem at hand?
Just then, your mom pulls up–your voice of reason, your rock. While you aren’t sure you’ve ever seen her change a tire before, at least you know you can count on her to take charge of the situation and get things done, right? Wrong! She tells you to hop in–she’s come to pick you up! She read online that you have a flat tire, and since you can’t drive home with a flat, she’s going to give you a ride.
“What about my tire?” you exclaim in frustration. Everyone at the scene turns to look at you. Whether they say it or not, they now think you’re a brat (or worse). Who in their right mind wouldn’t appreciate a tank of gas, a car wash, and a ride home? They’re all here to help you, after all. They’re carving time out of their busy schedules to make your life easer. How could you be so selfish as to demand that someone change your tire as well?
This is oftentimes what it’s like to receive ‘help’ from well-meaning friends and family members, especially as a new parent. At best, it’s tolerable…we still have to solve the biggest problem ourselves, but it’s nice to have had someone take care of a smaller, auxiliary problem in the meantime. At worst though, our uncle fills the gas tank with diesel fuel, our sister scrubs the paint right off of our car, and our mom stops by the grocery store for two hours on the way back to our house. At that point, we would have been better off with no help at all.
You see, contrary to popular belief, it isn’t helpful to hold a newborn for hours while the baby’s mother brings you refreshments and keeps you entertained. It isn’t helpful to criticize the way a new father is burping his child and insist he use the method that worked for you. That’s the type of ‘help’ a new family would be better off without. Instead, visitors should consider folding a load of laundry, loading the dishwasher, or making a grocery run. If you, as a visitor, don’t feel comfortable enough with the couple to jump in and start doing that sort of thing, then there’s a chance they don’t feel comfortable enough with you to have you camped out on their couch for hours on end. Let that sink in for a moment. Did they invite you to visit the baby, or did you descend upon them without warning under the guise of offering assistance? If it was the latter, and if you stay until you are actually asked to leave, it may not be the new parents who were guilty of rude behavior.
Of course, neither stranded motorists nor new parents are entitled to your help by any means. If you simply want to visit with these people on your own terms without the pretense of assisting them, kindly extend an invitation and wait for them to resolve the situation at hand (whether it be changing a tire or getting the hang of parenting) before expecting a response. Otherwise, I ask on behalf of all new mothers that you survey the situation and truly LISTEN to the type of help we’re asking for before jumping in. You may wash a car better than anyone else in town, but if we’re trying to change a tire, you’ll only be in the way. Trust us to recognize and articulate our own needs, rather than assuming you know what’s best for us, and we’ll be much more inclined to seek you out when we ‘need help’ holding the baby.