The most memorable random act of kindness I’ve received was during a road trip to South Australia with our first baby. It had been a long drive with many stops, feeds and cleans. We decided to stay in Nhill overnight, mostly because we were shattered, but a motel also represented the last decent shower we’d have before camping for five days.
At the local pub bistro, I was poised ravenously over my roast of the day when our son decided he had a deeper desperation for dinner and began the insistent cry that no self-respecting parent can ignore. Sigh. Thirty minutes later, having done the feeding and burping thing with all due grace and love, it was time to eat my tepid roast. Congealed gravy and a conversation had never seemed so appealing.
But baby had other ideas and figured it was now shout, wriggle and play o’clock. Perhaps my inner woe radiated or maybe it was pure empathy that drew a total stranger to my side with the words, “Would you like me to hold the baby for you love, while you two have your dinner?”
I nearly fell of my chair with surprise and gratitude. What an amazing gesture from this unknown woman, to patiently rock a fidgety child beside the table of its frazzled parents. I’ve vowed to pass this forward at every opportunity once I’ve successfully completed my transformation from frazzled parent.
It came to mind recently after reading the tragic story of a woman whose baby twins had died of malnutrition in their own home. According to the article, the mother of six had slipped into a world of chaos as her ability to cope had deteriorated, unbeknownst to anyone. Her family and friends suspected things were not going well, but clearly had no idea how bad the situation had become.
Having children is arguably the highest impact exercise in life. My husband and I chose parenthood and I am gifted with an incredibly supportive partner who is the primary caregiver in our household. Yet I remember with painful clarity and not a little anger at what a shock it was to become a parent.
Personal identity in turmoil, the majority of childless and/or single friends drifting away, family not geographically close enough to provide support and a relationship that had morphed into a tag-team of survival. Work obligations continued uninterrupted because mentioning children in the corporate world can be a career-limiting practice.
My story is not unique, such post-natal feelings are well documented and, of course, the upside of children is limitless in comparison. But new parents every day face very real challenges and just as it is impossible to love a child too much, I’d say the same goes for being too kind to new parents.
Conversely, not paying attention or being aware can be disastrous. The needless death of the baby twins tells me it’s the mental health discussion again. Insidious behaviour changes, slippery slopes around basic standards and a horrible finale that could have been avoided.
Early in my adult life, I witnessed substance abuse issues up close and personal; three good friends died and another acquired a brain injury, either directly or indirectly as a result of drug and alcohol abuse. My partner at the time was later diagnosed with schizophrenia and I shared the battle for normalcy for seven years. In all cases there was no awareness, or discussion of, mental health as an issue.
When we see someone doing it hard, there can be a reluctance to help. Is this because we don’t realise there is a problem, or because we don’t know what to do? Do we not wish to interfere? Maybe we are afraid our gesture of care will be rejected?
Or are we so disconnected from each other that our collective conscience lets us off the hook when we should push through to help?
A local friend describes the day of his wife’s funeral after a long illness as ‘the day the casseroles stopped’. People no longer checked in or provided regular support, thinking it was all over. But the funeral and the treatment and the birth are all the starting points for an individual to deal with powerful emotions and feelings that they may not have experienced before.
The lady in the Nhill bistro set an example we should all be proud to follow. If we think someone could be struggling, take a risk and help. It may change a life.