Family Matters

Postpartum Exhaustion: Is It O.K. for New Parents to Solicit Friends to Cook, Clean and Empty the Trash?

Having a baby, as any new mom knows, is just the start of an exhausting cycle of duties that can prompt many a new mom to long for some helping hands.

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Having a baby, as any new mom knows, is just the start of an exhausting cycle of duties that can prompt many a new mom to long for some helping hands.

And many friends and relatives offer it, in the form of casseroles and quiches galore. But that wasn’t nearly enough for one Brooklyn couple, who decided to preempt the “How can I help?” question with a detailed, eight-item list of what they called “helpfuls,” and distributed it in a Google doc to their friends and family via Facebook, according to Gawker: “Come over at 10am, make me eggs, toast, and ½ a grapefruit. Clean my fridge and throw anything out that you doubt — don’t ask me, just use your best judgment. Clean the kitchen stove and the kitchen floor,” read one portion of the letter.

In addition to purging the fridge, the list included folding laundry, going grocery shopping, dropping off  “a big super Greek salad with grilled chicken” — and keeping your mouth shut.

As the unnamed mother wrote:


Come over in your work clothes and vacuum, dust, clean the litter box, and then leave quietly. It might be too tiring for me to chat and entertain, but it will renew my soul to get some rest knowing I will wake up to a clean, organized space.


It was one ostensibly offended recipient of the list who turned it over to Gawker, where the writer — whose name was mercifully redacted — has been both lauded for her honesty and vilified for the specificity of her requests.


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One reader wrote:


…a normal person would write “would really appreciate it if you came over and helped us out a bit.” Friends would then come over, ask what needs to be done, and not feel like they are being given a grocery list they are expected to do and for no rational reason.


On the other hand, another reader noted that:


…people often volunteer to “help” but just come over and want to chat. Visitors feel weird taking over someone else’s house to clean or cook and new parents feel awkward about asking someone to do it.


Both reactions are on the money. But while having a new baby is undoubtedly exhausting, this list feels excessively demanding (a big super Greek salad? Is a regular Greek salad not sufficient?) to the point of being rude. Rather than appearing gently humorous, the list smacks of expectations generated for hired help, not for friends or relatives who want to be useful and who are, after all, volunteering their time and services. The most audacious aspect? The fact that new parents emailed their directive proactively. If a friend had asked what she could do, the new mom could certainly offer up a suggestion. But to send this list out unbidden, presumptively assuming that a circle of friends wants to mop your kitchen floor or “empty every trash basket in the house” and “Reline the kitchen garbage can with a fresh bag” just sounds more like chutzpah than a legitimate plea for some relief.

Ultimately, if you’ve made the decision to have a baby, you must also make the decision to care for the baby and for yourselves. Work out arrangements privately with family members, hire help — but don’t guilt your larger community of friends (who may have babies of their own complicating the smooth running of their lives) into scrubbing your stove. Seems to me that if proud mamas and papas have time to devise such multi-part directives, then they have time to do their own mopping and trash-can-emptying.

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