Manners and the New Mother
What good mothers and fathers instinctively feel like doing for their babies is usually best of all.
- Benjamin Spock
Pregnancy. Ah, there is something so alluring, almost magnetic, that makes complete strangers act as if they have known the expectant mother for years. Here are a few reminders when dealing with Pregnancy, Birth and New Parents:
Don't Ask ~ Hum, her ankles look swollen, she has been a bit green in the mornings, and she has not worn anything tailored in weeks... No matter what “signs” you think you see, do not ask a woman if she is pregnant. If she is not pregnant, she will be insulted. And if she is pregnant, she may not be ready to share that news with you yet. It is best to hold you tongue and wait for the announcement.
Don't Tell ~ Once a woman has publicly announced her pregnancy, resist the urge to tell your favorite horror story. Stories of miscarriages, stillbirths, and weeklong labors are not appropriate. Pregnant women are well aware of these situations and do not need to be reminded. If you don't have anything nice to say...
Don't Touch ~ Those round bellies are terribly tempting, but please do not touch a pregnant woman unless you have been invited to do so. Most women are happy to let others rub their bellies, but best to get the O.K. first.
Suddenly Superstitious ~ Many people become quite superstitious during the pregnancy period. These superstitions vary based upon religious and ethnic backgrounds. Do not be surprised if you find the parents-to-be hesitant or answering certain questions evasively. These superstitions include not sharing the baby's name or gender, and many prospective parents prefer to have baby showers after the baby is born.
Call Then Come ~ Before you visit the new family at the hospital call them to see if visitors are welcome. Different people react differently to the birth experience. Some new parents want lots of friends and family to visit as soon as possible. Other new parents prefer to have family bonding time.
Hospital Visits ~ Birth is an exhausting experience. Watch the new parents for cues as to when to go. A short visit (15 – 20 minutes) can take a lot out of a brand new mom. Also, be sure you are in tip, top health before you visit. Anyone with even a sniffle or a cough should stay home.
Ask At Your Own Risk ~ Brand new parents are in awe of their new child and totally amazed at how this child came into the world. They will often recount the events of the birth in infinite detail to those who ask. Do ask, if you are interested in the story. (Reminder: Try to avoid asking about the birth over dinner!)
Do Ask ~ A new child is all consuming, so almost all conversations with the new parent will be about the infant. Please feel free to ask the child's name, why that name was chosen, or if the parents are getting any rest. Other good topics include pictures of the baby, and hints on helping the infant sleep through the night.
Touch the Toesies ~ New baby skin, new baby smell, everyone wants to touch or hold an infant. Please watch the new parents for cues. Some parents are more protective than others, and it is certainly their prerogative to be protective if they so choose. You can ask, but if the answer is no, just wait. Within a few months, the parents will be happy to hand off the child to anyone who offers. If you must touch the infant, touch the toes.
Choose a Rainbow ~ Gifts for the newborn are always welcome. And feel free to choose a variety of colors beyond the traditional pink and blue. Books and clothing for when the child is older are also wonderful presents. (Be patient with the thank you note as sleep is a priority when the new parents have a moment to spare!)
Be a Babysitter ~ One of the best gifts you can give a new parent is the gift of time. Offer to watch the baby while they nap, run errands or even go out on a “date.” If you are not comfortable babysitting, try to help in other ways. Bringing over dinner, going grocery shopping, or helping with the housework is always appreciated.
Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ My daughter-in-law just announced she is pregnant. We are thrilled and want to give her a little something. Since we believe buying things for the baby before it is born is bad luck, do you have any gifts that would be appropriate?
A: How thoughtful of you! Yes, there are a number of gifts that would be appropriate. A book of baby names or a pregnancy journal are both appropriate. Personally, one of my favorite pre-baby gift is the movie Parenthood starring Steve Martin.
Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ This is my wife’s first birthday as a mom and I want to do something special, but don’t know what. Any suggestions?
A: Funny you should ask. I just spoke with a group of new mothers and asked what gifts they would want. Here were the top responses:
- Massage or other spa treatment
- Housecleaning service
- Family portrait
- Uninterrupted bath or nap
- Letter from husband saying what she means to him
Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ I often dress my infant daughter in pale blue since it brings out her blue eyes. Many people see the blue and say things like "What a cute little boy!" Should I correct them?
A: For quick conversations with strangers who are trying to be polite, there is no need to clarify. A simple "Thank you" is fine. Acquaintances who are wrong should be gently corrected. A statement such as "Yes, she is a cute little girl" or "Elizabeth looks cute now, but you should see her at 3:00 am!".
Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ My son was born prematurely and a little sick. He is doing well, but is a high needs baby. People ask a lot of questions and offer a lot of unsolicited advice. My husband and I are keeping a positive attitude and doing the best we can. Answering some of these prying questions is a bit much. What can I do?
A: One of the things I love most about etiquette is that you are not required to answer any questions you feel are too personal. The best way to answer these questions is politely, with a vague answer and then change the subject. For example: "Thank you so much for asking about Jonathan. We are taking it one day at a time. How is your daughter doing? I heard little Janie was the star of the science fair!"