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November 21, 2017

 Baby whisperer Sharlene Poole explains how important it is to accept offers of help when raising a child - something she found she needed too, following the birth of her own baby

In travelling around the world, working in around 12 different countries, I’ve discovered that extended family members’ roles in caring for a baby are paramount to raising a child. And it is one of the most important, valued and respected roles when it comes to the arrival of a baby.  

In Asian countries, particularly, any new parent would not dream of bringing a new baby into this world without having a grandparent there, often living with them or staying close by. They bring a wealth of knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation.

Here in New Zealand, and in many Western countries, the grandparents’ involvement and support is varied. We have such a vast range of cultures and situations that there is no traditional way of doing things. Over my 25 years in the industry I have seen a gradual shift to less family support and guidance. This is partly due to living in different towns or countries, and with many grandparents choosing to stay in work for longer periods, they tend to be less available.

I have also observed that many new parents seek more advice and support outside of the family and there seems to be an ‘I can do it on my own’ attitude or expectation. 

Family support

Having daily support, no matter how capable we are, is so important and now having had a baby myself I can see it from another perspective. I know how wonderful it is when you have the right person/people around, whether that be family or very close friends.

It is in simple things like making meals, folding washing or just changing your baby’s nappy that make you realise how vital it is to have an extra helping hand in those early days.

For me, I had brothers who came and offered help – a working bee day in my garden, chopping wood and pruning trees – and Mum and my friends filled my freezer with meals for the days when I just wasn’t able to prepare something nutritious.

You can be incredibly independent and do everything on your own, but when you bring a baby, or babies, into the world, you really need to think about the whole family. Looking after yourself so you can be the best mother you can possibly be means giving yourself time to sleep, eat well and bond with your baby. Only then can you think about your partner’s and other children’s needs, as well as the rest of the family.

This is where, if possible, allowing family or close friends into your life in the early weeks, months or years with a baby or children can bring harmony and peace through the time and love they can spare, giving you more time to concentrate on more important, immediate things.

It can be hard for some women, as I have observed in my career. You may be used to doing it all on your own, not having to ask for help, being totally in control, and to be honest, I am one of those women! 

Letting the help in

Since leaving home at 16 years of age, I have travelled, worked and lived alone, so I felt totally capable. But luckily for me, I have also seen how much this independence can work against you when you’re sleep-deprived or simply physically unable to do much, like after a c-section. 

This kind of intervention, can make some women feel like they are not in control. So when I had to have my c-section four weeks ago, I had to allow help. I had to sit and let family and my close friends do things for me. As hard as it may have been, when I look at the big picture, it allowed me to eat well, to enhance my milk production, to rest and bond with my baby and it also gave me a positive and peaceful environment because my house was kept tidy and clean, which is very important to me and my mental health! 

My mother did not offer advice unless it was needed – that has been a learned skill between us. We have learned to communicate with each other: I have been honest and she has been able to take notice of what I like in terms of advice and help.

Communication is key when it comes to the older generation helping us. It is natural for them to offer advice but it is up to us to communicate what type of help we need, rather than getting upset and angry with unwanted suggestions.

In saying that, while some of the advice from the older generations might be out of date, it is always worth listening to. There are often gems of wisdom within, and we just need to filter what might be helpful and what might be outdated.

Alongside the wonderful support that family can offer, the bonus is that babies and children can have special relationships with extended family or friends, creating trust, bonds and love outside of their parents.

I always had both sets of grandparents during my early childhood, learning skills and history from them, as well as having love that was just as great but different and mature, consistent and less anxious.

Support doesn’t have to come from family either, it just needs to be someone who is trusting and loving. I play an ‘aunty’ role to many children, children who live away from family and with whom I love
to share memorable moments that will impact their growth and learning for the future.

 Sharlene's five ways to accept help 

  1. Start saying yes. This is the first step and can take some practise. 

  2. Banish any feelings of guilst about saying 'yes please'. Peple offer to help because they want to feel useful. 'Yes please, a meal for the freezer would be wonderful'.

  3. Don't feel as though you are admitting failure by accepting help. It may come as a surprise, but you can't actually do everything and no one expects you to. 'Yes please, it would be great if you could vacuum.'

  4. Help comes in many forms. Until you're caring for your newborn you will have no idea how tricky the simplest tasks can become. 'Yes please, could you watch the baby while I have a shower.'

  5. Hand your baby over. Sometimes just letting someone else hold them for a while gives you a break. 

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