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Baptism By In-Law Drama

May13

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Advice Smackdown ArchivesDear Amy,

First, I want to tell you that I love your Pregnancy Calendar, and following along with your blog. I am 37 weeks pregnant with my first baby, and I swear, I would be lost without you.

Onto my question. So, as I said, I am 37 weeks pregnant and starting to think about the things we’ll have to do once this baby is actually around. We moved West about 7 months ago, from my husband’s home town, and where all of his family currently lives. My family lives abroad and is planning to stay with us for a few weeks when the baby is first born. We are planning to go back to my husband’s home town for about a week in July before my maternity leave is up, if there aren’t any complications with our baby’s arrival. Now, one of the bigger topics of discussion with my in-laws are a million questions about the baby’s baptism.

Neither my husband or I are particularly religious, but we do want to do a baptism. My parents are religious, and believe that a baptism is important in a purely religious sense. To them, whether they are around or not isn’t a big deal, as long as the baby is baptized before she is “taken out of the house” (read: goes on a plane in July, as we are planning). To my husband’s family, it is more cultural than religious, as in they want to have a party and eat tons of food. Keep in mind that none of my husband’s family has ever moved out of State, and we moved because my job offered me a promotion out West, and I’ve taken their precious son/brother/grandchild away from them. Some of my in-laws have said that they would come out West if we chose to have the baptism here, but we know that for my father-in-law and sister-in-law, they will not be able to afford the trip. I would also hate to ask the Godparents to travel for the baptism (I honestly don’t care if they are there, or if we have some stand-ins during the actual ceremony – they honestly don’t concern me that much, they are both reasonable people, hence the choosing them as Godparents and all).

My inclination is to have a quick ceremony a couple of weeks after she is born, before she does any traveling, with no frills. I sort of tend to agree with my parent’s viewpoint that taking an baby on a plane without her being baptized kind of scares me, as irrational as that may be. I do not want to have to organize and throw a party back in our home town, not to mention coordinate with a priest’s schedule and travel more while trying to get the hang of being a MOM. And I KNOW my husband isn’t going to do it. I’ve tried talking to him about this, but he doesn’t have any strong feelings about the baptism itself, but doesn’t want to hurt his family’s feelings.

I don’t even particularly want my in-laws coming here if we do a quick local ceremony, since we’ll be seeing them in a couple of weeks when we go back east (again, I do not want to have to organize and throw a party while figuring out how to BREASTFEED!) Now, the problem with doing it this way is that my parents would obviously be around for this baptism, and I am concerned that it will seem like I win and I don’t care that my in-laws aren’t around, and my in-laws will blow things out of proportion as they tend to do (I’m not joking, my sister-in-law stopped talking to my husband for 3 weeks because he accidentally texted a different person with the same first name as her- but that’s another issue).

So now, wisest Amy, how can I compromise? What kind of decisions am I allowed to make with respect to this kind of thing? Can I say, the baptism is on (fill in a date 2 or 3 weeks after she’s born), come if you want, but don’t expect a party?

-Anais

Okay, so first, because it is My Way and thus, The Way Of The Smackdown, let me frame my advice with my own personal experience: Neither of my children are baptized. We are not religious, we do not attend a church, we do not hold any particular beliefs or superstitions about the importance of having a newborn baptized, we have taken them both on planes and across the country and out of the country in a completely non-baptized state without a second thought, etc.

But both sets of grandparents are very religious — my in-laws fairly fanatically so — yet thankfully they have all kept their opinions about our decision to not baptize (mostly) to themselves. I think it helps that they both attend churches/denominations that place a higher premium on secondary, non-infant baptisms made past the age of “reason” or “consent” or whatever it was they called it back when I attended those catechism classes ahead of my own teenaged baptism (even though I’d been baptized as an infant as well). So you know, there’s hope for the souls of our children yet, in their minds.

So it’s funny — not “ha ha funny”, but YOU KNOW — that your baptism dilemma is of the mostly non-religious sort. You could probably very likely swap out the idea of a baptism party with a baby shower or first birthday or…I don’t know, one of those Red Tent Parties people are throwing for their daughter’s periods…and still be talking about the same basic problem: You don’t live locally, thus, planning and travel for said party is a bitch, and you kinda don’t care as much as everybody else does but still don’t want hurt feelings, etc. .

Honestly, I can’t imagine the idea of planning and throwing a big party just a couple weeks after giving birth — at least not without significant outsourcing to local friends and family. (Which is what probably happens for most of the in-state baptism parties in your husband’s family.) If you don’t have a ton of local friends and family, I don’t see anything horrible or offensive about explaining the lack of a baptism party in that way. “Listen, for us, the actual baptism is the important thing here, so we’ll be doing that in the traditional time frame. However, we just won’t be able to have any sort of party or reception or deluge of houseguests right at that same time.”

(And I mean for your husband to say that, by the way.)

Some churches offer the option of a low-key, on-site reception following baptisms (that of course you pay for), so that could be a compromise if some relatives absolutely insist on coming to witness the baptism. Though then you might be on the hook for in-laws piling up in your guest room and sleeper sofas, so…would a better compromise be to ask them to help plan a party during your visit? Perhaps there’s a (non-baptism) secondary blessing or dedication the family’s priest or pastor could do at the time, just to lend the occasion a bit of religious meaning or formality? My church also had an “infant dedication” option for non-church-members or for those who felt baptism should be done as a conscious, personal choice later on. Maybe your in-laws’ church could offer something along those lines, or just a priest showing up to pray and bless your daughter during the party?

That way you can 1) keep your space during the early weeks, 2) baptize when YOU want to, according to YOUR beliefs about the timing and significance, but also 3) accommodate and include their traditions, even if it means not doing it at the precise occasion it’s traditionally done.

__________________________________________________________________
If there is a question you would like answered by Amalah on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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22 Responses to “Baptism By In-Law Drama”

  1. Jennifer May 13 at 1:12 pm Reply Reply

    I’m with Amy in that I’m not religious and won’t be baptizing my children (in the interests of full disclosure).

    What I think would work to please both sets of parents would be to have the formal, small baptism sans party before you visit your in-laws, and tell them that they’re welcome to plan a party for your daughter when you visit (but that you won’t be taking part in the planning). That way your parents get their “baby doesn’t go out of the house without being baptized” and your in-laws get their party.

  2. Amy May 13 at 1:36 pm Reply Reply

    I think it’s rude to juxtapose the letter writer’s beliefs with superstitions. 

  3. JLM May 13 at 1:55 pm Reply Reply

    As someone who DID baptize both her kids and is religious, I frankly, find the stance of “just get your kid baptized” a little offensive. 
    Have you considered standing up for your beliefs (or lack thereof)?
    Baptism isn’t magical, it’s a commitment to raise your kid as a Christian. If you don’t want to make that commitment, don’t baptize your child.
    Doing so is making a mockery of my religion.  

  4. Stephanie May 13 at 2:07 pm Reply Reply

    Amy, you’re clearly going to get a lot of interesting comments on this one. I, for one, completely agree with your advice – a post-baptism party with the in-laws sounds like a perfect compromise.

    As for JLM’s comment, it certainly sounds like the LW is Catholic, whereby the act of baptism is something that must be done as soon as possible (the same being true for last rites). It’s not a mockery of YOUR religion, as you don’t know what the LW’s faith background is.  Please don’t take that personally.

  5. SarahB May 13 at 2:15 pm Reply Reply

    It sounds like there’s a lot of friends and family back in your husband’s hometown, so the idea of some kind of party or open house is a good one, as it may be hard to visit everyone in the short time frame.  I’d put it to your husband to let his parents know they are free to arrange such a gathering if they wish, but that you and he won’t be doing the baptism there or planning such a gathering yourselves.

  6. Nancy May 13 at 2:31 pm Reply Reply

    I had a somewhat similar issue with my family. But I was able to make a compromise. The baby was born in August and we combined the baptism with Thanksgiving weekend. That way my husband’s family could travel and I had time to recover and cope with planning a party. My parents were originally uncomfortable with waiting that long for the baptism but my priest explained that it is very common these days to wait until the baby is about 3-4 months for the baptism (and yes I am Catholic). And I was happy that everyone was happy. Maybe you could talk to your priest or pastor about what time line they recommond for baptizing?

  7. the grumbles May 13 at 3:02 pm Reply Reply

    A back-home open house hosted by his family sounds like a good compromise. My parents did something similar since we live out of town and it seemed to please everyone with nearly zero planning/stress on me during those early months.

    As hard as it is at some point you’re just going to have to make a decision that you think is best and say this is what we’re doing to those who may be offended. I think that’s a tough lesson with a new baby, one I’ve struggled with. Don’t be afraid to call the shots and have confidence in the way you want to do things.

  8. Leslie M. May 13 at 3:43 pm Reply Reply

    So I am not religious at all and will likely not be baptizing any children I may have. But I am wondering – would it be possible to have the baby baptized twice? Once at home, and then again with your in-laws? Obviously if this is taboo in your religion, then that’s understandable. It seemed kind of obvious to me, but again, I don’t know what your religious customs or rules are.

  9. J May 13 at 4:20 pm Reply Reply

    JLM, anybody can be raised a christian without being baptized any particular “branch” of religion…being a christian is doing things “christ-like” which just boils down to being a good person…being a catholic is the “title”, being a christian is in the way you act (i’m the grand daughter of a catholic deacon so please don’t think i don’t know what i’m talking about)

  10. JenVegas May 13 at 4:42 pm Reply Reply

    I was raised in a very actively Catholic Italian family but have been…let’s go with Agnostic…for some time now. When I was expecting a relative of mine, who I love dearly, asked where we were going to baptize the baby and if she was going to be invited. I told her we weren’t planning on a baptism and she flipped out on me but I explained that I felt it would be not only disingenuous for us to baptize a baby we didn’t plan on raising in the Catholic church but that it would also be completely disrespectful to get up on the alter and lie about it just to get the baby baptized.
    Sooooo I don’t know. I guess do what you gotta do but if you are superstitious enough to be worried about taking an unbaptized baby on a plane maybe you are superstitious enough to worry about what God does to people who totally try to fake him out at a baptism.
    Wow, now that I type that it sounds like a threat but it’s not. Cause obviously I have no pull in that department…if there even is a That Department…ya know?

  11. Candace May 13 at 8:08 pm Reply Reply

    I am a Catholic and my son was baptized at nine months after numerous plane rides. As you will learn in class, in the event of a life altering emergency YOU can baptize anyone who wishes to be baptized or needs to be ( infant).  So since I live in a different state than both sets of parents we waited until a good time for everyone to baptize, which was summer time as my MIL and SIL are school teachers. My son was a little old to be baptized but the priest didn’t comment, he just was happy to be welcoming a new little person into the church. Most people are far more reasonable about the whole baptism thing than you would think, especially Catholics. It is now also the view of the church that unbaptized infants are received into heaven because of God’s grace (grace means unmerited favor, which means you dont have to do a damn thing to be in His favor) So! baptize your child when you wish, but don’t worry about plane rides, car rides, or anything else because truly, god loves children, he isnt turning them away at the gates alright? :)

  12. Candace May 13 at 8:08 pm Reply Reply

    I am a Catholic and my son was baptized at nine months after numerous plane rides. As you will learn in class, in the event of a life altering emergency YOU can baptize anyone who wishes to be baptized or needs to be ( infant).  So since I live in a different state than both sets of parents we waited until a good time for everyone to baptize, which was summer time as my MIL and SIL are school teachers. My son was a little old to be baptized but the priest didn’t comment, he just was happy to be welcoming a new little person into the church. Most people are far more reasonable about the whole baptism thing than you would think, especially Catholics. It is now also the view of the church that unbaptized infants are received into heaven because of God’s grace (grace means unmerited favor, which means you dont have to do a damn thing to be in His favor) So! baptize your child when you wish, but don’t worry about plane rides, car rides, or anything else because truly, god loves children, he isnt turning them away at the gates alright? :)

  13. Clueless May 13 at 8:53 pm Reply Reply

    Thanks Candace – great response. My son was baptized at 4 mon after a ton of trips but we wanted family to be there and it was great.

  14. Jessica May 13 at 8:58 pm Reply Reply

    I would have the baptism with your parents and strongly discourage out-of-town guests. To the point of not telling them about it, if need be. If they HAVE to come, they should stay in a hotel.  Then, ask the in-laws to plan a party for when you’ll be there. 

    P.S. If there’s no way to not have a bunch of people overrunning your house for a baptism, I’d risk the plane and have the baptism back home. Anything to avoid extra house guests at 2 weeks postpartum!

    P.P.S. We are religious and had an infant dedication at 2 weeks (our church doesn’t baptize infants) but my mom did ALL the party planning and it worked GREAT. We did pay for the food, but she cooked it and served at her house (so we didn’t have to clean ours).

  15. -k- May 14 at 10:33 am Reply Reply

    Candace, it’s so funny to know that’s *allowed*.. Not suggesting it’s funny that it would be– I say this because I was raised Unitarian and thus not baptized but dedicated as a Child of the Earth (haaaaay); my (very) Catholic grandmother, however, did a DIY baptism on my infant self without my mother’s knowledge, an act of which, decades later, she remains exceedingly proud. I always just thought she had gone holy-rogue to make sure I was taken care of by any means necesssary– never knew it was within protocol!

    (I would be pretty unhappy, to put it lightly, if my MIL pulled anything like that, but as the baptizee, I just have to appreciate it for what it meant to Grandma.)

  16. Liz May 14 at 5:18 pm Reply Reply

    Candace – spot on & thank you, although I do understand the LW’s mom’s concern since (at least for Catholics) the teaching was only recently updated to clarify God’s grace towards children.

    That said, we held our baby’s baptism 6 weeks after her birth on a Sat evening with a brunch the next morning @ our house. I & offered out of town guests a free hotel room (my fam is in the East&South, but I now lice in the Midwest) – only 3 families needed to take us up on it & boy was it easier on me to foot the bill than having a to of house guests. Even with the extra help, my brother along with most of my extended family couldn’t afford to make it here & that’s ok. It is now your family & your choice.

    Amy I usually love your advice, but I feel like this time you missed the point. Anais please try not to pander to the wishes of your mom, mom-in-law, or own fears. Baptism is a blessing & I hope the pending birth of your child will prompt you & your husband to re-examine your faith. I pray that God will lead you to a solution that is right for your family.

  17. Karen May 14 at 6:07 pm Reply Reply

    Well, with my first we had him baptized with a big family party two months after his birth, which, looking back, was INSANE. I had to somehow order food platters and a cake, while figuring out this new little person. Add to that my insane family and…yeah.

    Second time around, we waited six months, and it was much more doable, and we only invited my husband’s parents and the godparents and godparents’ kids. Much easier.
    The third baby didn’t get baptized until he was three years old. Long story. And we didn’t make a big deal out of it, we went to the baptism, with the godparents, and then went out for lunch. With this next baby we will probably do it within three months, only because I want my in laws to be his godparents and, well, they’re not getting any younger. We are Catholic, and while I have a SIL who insists on scheduling the baptism BEFORE the baby is born—she wants them baptized within a week of birth–it’s not required.

  18. Holly May 14 at 6:38 pm Reply Reply

    Could you have the actual baptism at home, but the celebration/reception in July? I know people who’ve done that for weddings. Or baptize the baby twice?

  19. kari Weber May 16 at 12:54 am Reply Reply

    Ahhh. This. Right now.  Sigh.  My mother use to be a nun y’all! Out of highschool… ten years.  Had to write to the POPE to be released from her vows! So.  We got the Catholic thing DOWN in this family! And yet… My first son was 7 months old when he was baptized.  My second, ahem… still not.  He just turned two.  I WANT to get him baptized! I just… seem to have lost track of time.  My mother keeps “hinting” and putting church bulletins in my diaper bag when she watches the kids.  My husband is NOT religious.  We had a Catholic wedding because of my family and beliefs.  He has willingly participated in the baptism of our first, and will for the second… but he certainly isn’t actually HELPING. We will do a baptism… probably soon (maybe June? July?) and then a small get together, BBQ at my parents.  They can organize, my mom has even offered.  It SHOULDN’T be as stressful as it is for the original poster.  She needs to do what is right for HER, not her in-laws, or parents.  Trust me. 

  20. MS May 16 at 3:19 pm Reply Reply

    Gotta agree with Kari above here…this new little person will be your family now. You, your husband, and baby. Have a calm few moments of discussion about what is important to you both about this situation and what is not. To me, it sounded like hurt feelings of family=very important, actual baptism=sorta still on the fence as to importance to you both. Baptism doesn’t have to equal a party as far as I know. Sort of along the same thought with weddings and wedding receptions or birthdays and birthday parties. The absence of the party doesn’t negate the event! So I say, if its important to you and your husband, separate from your extended families, pick a local church, get your babe baptized and maybe eat cake for dinner that day. Your family, your rules!

  21. Sharon May 18 at 1:56 am Reply Reply

    In nursing school I was taught how to do emergency baptisms. 
    As an atheist I’m glad I was never in a situation where I needed to do one. I would either have to refuse, or do it out of pity and feel like a hypocrite.

    When I got married I dragged a very heavy Virgin Mary statue into a corner of Grandmother-in-laws garden. We didn’t have our ceremony right in front of it (that would have been a bit much), but she could see it and feel a wee bit better about the heathens :)

    Family + differences in belief = run away, run away!

  22. Amy in StL May 19 at 5:04 pm Reply Reply

    Okay, I had to google Red Tent Party. I read the book and had no idea that people were now seeing fit to humiliate girls in that awkward time of their life. Wow, I feel like I’ve learned my one thing for today; wonder if I can go home now.

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