Dear Ann Cannon • My friends’ children are all at the stage of life now where they’re having children of their own. I’d like to reach out and be helpful in some way beyond giving them gifts — although I’m happy to give gifts, too — but because I never had kids of my own, I’m not exactly sure what true helpfulness looks like. I’d appreciate your suggestions. Thanks!

— Well-Intentioned, but in the Dark

Dear Well-Intentioned • What a lovely friend you are — both to your friends, to their children and to their grandchildren, as well.

OK. Because my childbearing years are a blur at this point, I decided to throw your question out there on Facebook to see what new parents (and possibly a Russian troll or two) would advise. What follows is a summary of their ideas. Thanks so much to all who participated!

Offer to babysit. You can babysit the baby so that the new parent can take a much-needed nap. Or you can babysit the baby while she or he takes an older child to a doctor’s appointment. Or you can babysit the older children so that the new parent can spend time with the infant. Or you can babysit all the children so that the new parent can run a few errands on her or his own. When it comes to babysitting, the possibilities are endless!

Be specific when you offer to babysit. Ask what would help the most. Then pin down the new parent as to time and date so that your generous offer doesn’t just float out the window.

Offer to chauffeur older children. Take them to and pick them up from school/practices/whatever so that the new parent doesn’t have to. One reader said this: “When I had my fourth child, a friend had purchased a new house but hadn’t sold her old one and she was short of cash. Instead of buying me a gift, she picked up my daughter every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and drove her to preschool for five months. It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received...”

Take in dinner — hot or frozen. Remember that new families will still appreciate a meal beyond the first few weeks.

Take in muffins. One reader said, “A neighbor brought me muffins! Oh my gosh, that was so great. We had dinners a plenty, but having muffins for easy mornings was so nice!”

Show up with snacks. And speaking of food, another reader said she loved it when someone gave her a stack of paper plates as a gift. “I was in heaven!”

Take laundry and do it.

Text or call whenever you go to the grocery store and ask if you can pick up something for the new parent while you’re there.

Arrange for housecleaning. Instead of throwing a shower for a second baby, take up a collection for a housecleaning fund.

Show up and shovel the walk or driveway when it snows. “When I was pregnant, our next-door neighbor shoveled a path to my car door every time it snowed,” one reader remembered.

Visit. But call first and don’t wear out your welcome.

Deliver books. Go to the library and check out books for the new parents and/or children. Then return them when they’re due.

Lend emotional support. One reader noted that “my mom was my emotional support when I realized I couldn’t successfully breastfeed my baby. It was a dark time and I needed her to pull me out of it.” You may not have the kind of relationships with your friends’ daughters that would lend itself to this specific type of support — but you can always listen without judgment.

There are plenty of great suggestions here. I hope they help!

Ann Cannon is The Tribune’s advice columnist. Got a question for Ann? Email her at or visit the Ask Ann Cannon page on Facebook.