The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Readers share unhelpful newborn advice


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

As promised Monday, some readers’ definitions of unhelpful help with a newborn:

●Didn’t cook. Didn’t clean. Didn’t hold the baby. Didn’t do laundry. Went out when the baby was sleeping so I could “rest,” when what I needed was someone to stay with him so I could rest. My husband worked, shopped, cooked, cleaned and did laundry for all of us while I made my way into insomnia and postpartum depression.

(Nick Galifianakis)

●When my second child was born, my father-in-law and his wife came to “help,” which happened to coincide with the baby’s massive acid reflux. Although the wife spent time with my oldest, she eventually got tired and retreated to the basement for a nap, leaving me with a toddler; an infant who couldn’t sleep, eat or be put down; breasts that desperately needed to be pumped; and my father-in-law, who kept asking me to help with the computer or get him something to drink.

He departed for the basement eventually, only to reappear while I was trying to make dinner for the toddler one-handed. He proceeded to prepare a delightful looking cheese plate and two glasses of wine before disappearing downstairs again.

The baby ended up at the ER that night, so my husband let me sleep in the next morning. He finally understood why I had been so angry: While he was juggling breakfast, two kids and a dog, his dad asked him to go get the newspaper because he didn’t want to get his socks dirty.

●Don’t know which was worse: my mother- and father-in-law, who stayed with us for a week and wanted me and my two-week-old to accompany them on touristy things while my husband worked, or my brother-in-law, who came the next weekend to “help,” which meant taking my husband out for eight-hour rounds of golf two days in a row, while I was home not adequately entertaining my sister-in-law and their two kids, 4 and 2.

●My in-laws arrived two weeks earlier than we asked — the day the baby and I got home from the hospital — didn’t book a hotel as we requested, then proceeded to sit at our kitchen table, order my husband and me around, and make ridiculous demands. They wanted us to host a party for their former neighbors and allow any who drank to spend the night. The “helpful” part of the party was that the friends would bring baby gifts. My husband asked them to leave after a day and a half.

●When my son was one week old (and I was recovering from a C-section), my mom brought over dinner. Which sounds nice, doesn’t it? It was raw ingredients for a complicated meal that involved timing of several dishes. She “helped” by holding the baby while I made a gourmet meal for her and my husband kept her wine glass full. (At least she brought the wine).

●I had a C-section. I had some complications, was in the hospital for a week; the baby was in the NICU almost all of that time. Came home the same day that in-laws arrived. They came in, grabbed the baby, and my husband’s mom looked at me and said, “So what’s for dinner?”

The phrase “bring the pain” has new meaning. Thanks, everyone.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at



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