A Guide to Telling Your Family the Kind of Help You (Actually) Need from Them

Tools to make tough conversations—easy(er).

If you didn’t already feel the heavy weight of people’s words and actions prior to becoming a mom, it’s probably something you know well now. For whatever reason, there’s no time in your life that people want to give their unsolicited advice more than during your season as a new mom. They want to tell you how, when and why to do things, as if you aren’t the person most capable of knowing the dynamics of your life and what is right for your family. At the very same time, however, the saying that “it takes a village” is true. You need the support of the people around you and shouldn’t be expected to do everything on your own.

So how do you rally up your troops to be there to support you without bombarding you with what feels like nonsense? That’s a bit of a slippery slope. As Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Edward-Elmhurst Health in Illinois, Nikita Pant, M.D., explains, the journey from pregnancy through motherhood is wrought with numerous changes. “This is a time when she desperately needs validation and support from those around her, yet oftentimes what she finds is an environment lacking in adequate social etiquette and compassion,” she says.

But the unsolicited comments and advice during pregnancy are just the beginning. Once the baby is born, everyone’s attention shifts to the infant, nearly forgetting what the mother has been through physically, mentally and emotionally.

The paradoxes come rolling in, Dr. Pant, explains, from the pediatrician touting the benefits of breastfeeding even though she feels shamed for doing so in public to her work pressuring her to return sooner than she is ready. The paradoxes come rolling in, Dr. Pant, explains, from the pediatrician touting the benefits of breastfeeding even though she feels shamed for doing so in public to her work pressuring her to return sooner than she is ready.

“Perhaps a family member generously steps forward and volunteers to babysit which she is grateful for but most people simply offer her their opinions about the role of women in the workplace versus at home with her child,” says Dr. Pant. “Her in-laws insist that the baby is cold in his crib and should be covered with blankets while she gets scolded by the others who recommend no blankets be used until the baby turns one.”

What you really need during this postpartum period and beyond: Someone to listen to you, care for you, understand your challenges, be empathetic and to offer the kind of support you can actually use.

Here, experts share strategies for how you can talk to your village about the hard things and receive the kind of support you need in return.

Start on a positive note

“Even if your mother's comments about the best baby food are driving you up the wall, she'll be more receptive to what you have to say if you start from a place of acknowledgement,” explains Nikki Press, Psy.D., New York-based clinical psychologist. “Try something like, ‘I know how much you care about baby's nutrition and that means so much to me,’ before transitioning to your request with ‘I'm taking in your suggestions and what I've researched, so I'd appreciate it if we can table the conversation for now.’"

Tune inward before looking outward

It’s ok to reach out for advice, but Courtney Conley, Ed.D, N.C.C., L.C.P.C., owner of EH Counseling and Wellness in La Plata, Maryland, recommends keeping the full picture in mind. “Remember that you are just gathering ideas to consider then deciding what will work for you,” she says. “Try phrasing your questions in a way that lets the other person know you are gathering ideas or want to know their thoughts on a certain topic, as this sends the message that you value their thoughts and ideas but are ultimately the one who will make the decision.”

Get clear on your beliefs and what you feel you need

This can be a far more difficult task than what it seems, but Dena Tibsherany, L.M.S.W., postpartum motherhood coach and Empower 2 Heal Podcast Host, suggests talking or writing about what is bothering you or something you feel you get advice on a lot that creates conflict inside of you. “As you begin to understand yourself and feel like you can identify what you need, create a ‘needs statement’ for yourself: ‘I need…,’” she says. “This practice can help guide you to begin hearing your wise inner voice amidst the noise of outside pressures and support you in feeling secure in standing firm in listening and honoring that voice.”

Do not be too proud to ask for help

Oftentimes, new moms associate asking for help as some sort of parenting deficiency, explains Dr. Conley. “I often hear mothers say, ‘I should be able to do this,’ but it’s important to remember that interdependence is critical during the parenting stage of life,” she says. “Maintaining your wellness during motherhood requires help from others, as you and your baby will benefit when you are in a position of wellness.” If someone in your life offers to help, she recommends accepting the offer. “Take every opportunity to recharge so you don’t risk depleting your emotional reserves,” she adds.

Set your own boundaries

How many times have you said “yes” to something when you really wanted to say “no?” In the moment, this might feel like the path of least resistance, Dr. Conley warns that it’s only likely to leave you feeling irritated and resentful. She suggests setting boundaries early and often. “You can acknowledge the fact that this is your first child, and you are not quite comfortable yet with XYZ,” she says. “If you need help at first, use the excuse ‘The pediatrician suggested…’—and remember, slight untruth to stave off offending someone and preserve your sanity is worth it.”

Remember you are worth it

“Sometimes it feels like being a mom means you have to put your own needs last, but whenever you have to set a boundary, it's important to remind yourself that you are worth it,” says Dr Press. “You are going to be the best mother you can be when you feel confident and empowered in your choices, rather than frazzled and stressed by others.”

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The content provided here is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of medical professionals. It should not be used to diagnose or treat medical conditions or problems. Please contact your healthcare provider with questions or concerns.
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