Community Psychiatry’s Alison Mehta, M.D. was featured in Insider discussing how to support new parents during COVD.
How to support new parents from a distance this holiday season
By: Ariana DiValentino | November 25, 2020
A lot has changed this year, but people are still having babies — and new parents might be struggling to stay connected to friends and family while keeping everyone safe.
Although photos with mall Santas and big family reunions might be out of the question this holiday season, it’s still important and possible for new parents to create support systems to fall back on.
Read on for a few ways friends, family members, and neighbors can step in to make tough times a little easier for parents who have welcomed babies this year.
Socialization is important for a child’s development, but that doesn’t mean a newborn needs a ton of visitors
Social interaction is important for newborns and young children. Fortunately, according to Alison Mehta, a California-based psychiatrist with Community Psychiatry, all of the socialization newborns need is right at home with their parents.
“Very small infants thrive with attention from parents and a few close caregivers,” she said. “At this stage, they are not really able to interact with the outer world to a great extent and are at high risk of illness from the public, so being home and not meeting family over the holidays will not affect small infants much.”
Mehta added that there will be plenty of time to bond with extended family later on as babies grow and begin to desire a wider social network.
It’s also important for new parents to stay connected with loved ones
Dr. Abisola Olulade, a family-medicine physician affiliated with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group in California, told Insider that new parents are really the ones who need the support and stimulation of extended family and friends during that period.
“The first thing to remember is that even before the COVID pandemic, new parents often feel isolated,” she added.
Between sleep deprivation and all the responsibilities of caring for a baby, it’s typical for new parents to feel overwhelmed. On top of that, a parent who gave birth is still undergoing hormonal changes, and in some cases might experience postpartum depression.
For these reasons, it’s important to make sure new parents have strong support networks, even if in-person visits aren’t feasible.
Be there for the new parents in your life by asking genuine questions
If someone you love is a new parent, you might be wondering how you can help provide that necessary support when travel and in-person gatherings aren’t possible.
Dr. Olulade said it’s important to make your phone and video calls genuine and meaningful. Friends and family members can give new parents space to speak freely about what they’re going through, both the ups and the downs.
“Sometimes we say ‘how are you doing’ as a greeting without really expecting or consciously inviting an answer, but this is a time when we have to mean it when we ask,” she told Insider.
Also be sure to engage in conversations about ‘non-baby topics’ with new parents
Mehta also recommended talking about subjects besides parenting on the calls. Having conversations about “non-baby topics” is a good way to offer new parents intellectual and emotional stimulation.
Marcie Beigel, a New York-based board-certified behavior-analyst doctorate who works with children and parents, also shared the importance of focusing on the new parent, not yourself.
“Make it all about them. Yes, as a new grandparent or aunt you have lots of feelings about not being with them, let them know you wish you could be there but don’t put your emotional needs on them,” Beigel said. “That is what you have other friends and family for.”
By putting the new parents’ feelings and needs first, you can also find out what they need from you, and how you can make this time easier on them.
Material support — like food and baby supplies — can be a huge help
Don’t underestimate the power of a home-cooked meal. If you live near a new parent, consider making contactless drop-offs of hot food or essentials like diapers.
Dr. Olulade said these kinds of material offerings can be especially helpful for new parents who live far away from their own extended family. She said that, since the start of the pandemic, some of her patients have shared stories with her about really bonding with coworkers and neighbors who reached out to help.
If you’re not able to get to the new parents’ house yourself, consider other options like sending a grocery delivery or putting together a care package to lift their spirits.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to baby showers and other traditions
Instead of skipping the baby shower because loved ones can’t gather in person, consider throwing new parents a virtual celebration.
New mom Nadia Murdock, a New Jersey-based fitness expert who gave birth in July, said that registering for gifts online made it easier for relatives and friends to send help from afar.
New parents like Murdock have also gotten creative in order to bring their extended families together. When her son was born, she put together a drive-by gathering so his grandparents could safely meet him in person.
“Although it’s not the norm, it was still nice for them to see him not via a camera,” she told Insider.
To connect the youngest members of the family, Murdock scheduled regular playdates via video chat for her sons and their cousins. Although newborns may not be able to grasp onto extended-family relationships just yet, she found it to be a particularly great experience for the older children.
“His older brother, who is 3, really enjoyed showcasing his new brother to his cousins,” she said.
There are still ways to keep the holiday spirit alive at home
Parents may feel disappointed that certain traditions, like big family gatherings or town tree lightings, won’t be possible for their baby’s first holiday season. Fortunately, babies won’t know what they’re missing, and they can still be charmed by at-home celebrations.
Beigel suggested that families start some new traditions, like using a family selfie for Christmas cards rather than sitting with a professional photographer. Families with other children might also enjoy an arts-and-crafts session to make holiday decorations for the house.
Virtual holiday parties may also be a blessing in disguise for new parents
Beigel also suggested having an extended family dinner via Zoom or FaceTime to celebrate the holidays. The key is to keep it unstructured and low-stress — everyone can agree to have their cameras on for an hour during the cooking time and another hour or so during mealtime.
Dr. Olulade added that eliminating the task of going to parties and events could be a blessing in disguise for new parents who are often already spread too thin.
“The memories of the large parties and celebrations and who brought or wore what often fade away over time,” she said. “But it’s the feelings of togetherness and love that will always stand the test of time.”
Click here to read the entire article on Insider.