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(Baby) Showers With Strangers

(Baby) Showers With Strangers

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

Help! I am just starting my second trimester and my mother-in-law is already talking about throwing me a baby shower. This is a lovely sentiment and, of course, I’m grateful, but here’s the catch: my in-laws moved South for retirement five years ago and the “friends” she plans to invite to the shower are relatively new ones that neither I nor my husband know particularly well. Sure we’ve met many of them at various holiday parties and the like, but ultimately I’m just uncomfortable with the idea that the guests might feel compelled to bring a gift for someone who is, at best, an acquaintance. I would feel differently if the guests were some of the many longtime family friends that my husband knows well from his hometown, but that’s not the case here. Is it tacky to go forward with this shower? And if so, how do I gently tell my mother-in-law that I’m uncomfortable with her shower?

~Embarrassed by Baby Shower

If there is one vast, sweeping generalization about the South that actually has some real truth to it, it’s that Southerners love them some baby showers. While we’re all up north freezing our butts off and clutching our pearls over the idea that someone is DARING to throw someone a baby shower for their SECOND baby, how TACKY, the South is staring at us like, whut? Why do you hate parties? And fun? And BABIES? Bless your hearts. Have some cake.

One of my Southern transplant friends had FIVE different baby showers, FOUR of them back home, separately thrown by her mom, her MIL, her hometown childhood friends AND her sorority sisters. It sounded exhausting, honestly, but it was just the way things were done. You’re having a baby? OMG. HOORAY. LET’S HAVE A KIKI.

Obviously, no one should force a shower on someone who doesn’t want one, or who feels uncomfortable at the idea of hanging out with/talking to strangers. If you mentioned your crippling social anxiety, for example, my advice would probably be different. But from a pure etiquette standpoint, I suspect that your MIL’s friends will not be all that scandalized to receive an invitation to shower a friend’s new grandbaby. It’s mostly an excuse to get together and eat cake and gossip and celebrate on behalf of their friend, your MIL. Maybe they’ve all expressed a desire to meet you/get to know you better, maybe they’ve thrown baby/wedding showers for their children, maybe they all have entirely too much free time on their hands and throw parties at the drop of a hat, who knows. (IT’S A HAT DROPPING PARTY AT THE COMMUNITY CENTER THIS FRIDAY WOOOO!)

I’m just now realizing, as I write this, that my total Yankee MIL attends more baby showers than I do, thrown on behalf of the children/grandchildren of her friends from church. She’s always asking me for gift recommendations, and usually will give a little handmade something to every pregnant women she knows, even tangentially. I do not get the sense she sees it as a burden or tacky gift grab. She just gets really jazzed about pregnancies and babies. So maybe this is more of a grandma thing, rather than just a Southern thing.

And anyone who does not feel comfortable attending because they don’t know you and your husband that well doesn’t have to attend, and is presumably grown-up enough to send their regrets without any drama or shade. (Which, worst case, would probably be directed at your MIL, correct? Not you? I highly doubt anyone would be all, “can you believe the nerve of Mabel’s daughter-in-law, flying into town and forcing Mabel to throw her a baby shower at gunpoint, MY LANDS!”)

Overly-broad cultural differences/assumptions aside, I actually find this to be a fairly sweet in-law “problem” to have. (I mean, have you seen some of the letters I’ve gotten recently?) She’s clearly super excited for you and wants to feel involved in the preparations/celebrations, and maybe this is the best/only way she knows how, given the geographical distance. I say give her this one.

Give her this one…with the caveat that you get approval on the invitation text and contents, so you can ensure that your baby registry info is NOT included directly. (My personal old-school etiquette hill that I will die on!) She can provide when asked by guests, but let her know it’s really, really important to you that her friends do not feel obligated to bring you anything. Or — and I don’t know if she’d be down with this, but worth a shot — you can ask her to explicitly add “no gifts please” to the invite, using the excuse that you’re coming in from out of town and would rather not have to lug or ship back a ton of baby items. But if she pushes back that the baby shower will be no fun without gifts or her friends are already planning a group gift or whatever, I’d probably let her have that one too.

Oh, and thank you notes. Be sure to write every single person a really lovely thank you note, and I think you’ll be solidly in the baby shower etiquette clear.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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 Ama...

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

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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  • ally

    April 25, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    We moved down south right before I got pregnant with my first child. My fourth baby is 7 months old, and I had a total of 8 baby showers. I live in a small southern town and there is a shower for every baby. It’s fun, and special. Everyone just likes to have a little party and celebrate the new life that is coming. I have gone to a lot of showers for people I barely know, and I never find it tacky. 

  • Kathy in Texas

    April 25, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    Ooooh, so all the baby shower hate I see on the internet is from (non-grandmother) Yankees? Okay, cultural differences. Now I get it.

    • IrishCream

      April 28, 2014 at 11:30 am

      I’m from New England, and I don’t hate baby showers! I don’t know anyone who does. What I do hate are the displays of selfishness that sometimes accompany them–demands for specific gifts, asking guests to help pay for the shower, no thank-you notes afterwards. I’ve seen those from parents-to-be in all parts of the country. Fortunately, they are the exception, but they do tend to give the whole institution a bad rap.

  • Mona

    April 25, 2014 at 10:33 pm

    It’s true- we looooove a baby shower in the south. I know a momma to be who just had her sixth ( ! ) baby shower. They were variations- her friends, her mom’s circle, her MIL’s circle/hometown, work, other friends, and… I don’t know what else. But we do up the shower business here, and eat it up like cake. Which we also love.

    I’d let her go for it- roll with it- just ask that it be more about celebrating baby, not receiving gifts. She’s just super excited, and trust me when I say no one will look askance at you over a baby shower down here!

  • Deedee

    April 25, 2014 at 11:52 pm

    Do we know that the in-laws moved TO the South? She just says they moved south. In my part of the country moving south upon retirement means moving to Arizona or New Mexico. I hope they are in the actual “South” because that sounds like a fun place for a baby shower!

  • trish

    April 26, 2014 at 9:57 am

    I’d just add that I am a yankee and i hated baby showers before i had kids. But now that mine are past the baby stage I think they are fun. I give the thing that I thought were indispensable.. Some of which are never on a registry. As a knitter there is always a baby knit I want to make and am looking for a baby to give it to.

  • Nanvy

    April 26, 2014 at 11:18 am

    I think Amalah hit on the head about it being a grandma and older woman thing. My mom had about 8 of her friends at my baby shower, only 2 of whom I actually knew and even cared about. But her friends were just so excited for HER and OMGBAYYYYYBEEEEE!  and TEENY TINY BABY THINGS! that that’s all that mattered. So let mother in law and her friends have their fun while you enjoy some hopefully yummy food and pampering. 

  • Brigid Keely

    April 26, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    I’m from Chicago & when I had my kid I got gifts AND HAND WRITTEN LETTERS from people I’ve never, ever met who my mom knows through church or whatever. Apparently old ladies just sit around and talk about their kids and health problems and feel that they know each others’ kids really well?

    It was kind of weird FOR ME that these absolute strangers who I’ve never met and have barely heard of were sending me gifts and lovely letters, but for THEM it was pretty normal. And i really appreciated it!

    Again, we’re northerners living in the north, dirty Yankees, and this is apparently normal up here. I have other friends who’ve also had their mom’s friends give them gifts etc. Any chance for a baby party, right?

  • Paige

    April 26, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    I was in the same boat too when my grandmother insisted on throwing me a separate baby shower comprised of only her friends (like 30 of them) and I had no idea who any of them were and felt enormously guilty about them bringing baby presents for a total stranger. But those old ladies loved it. And I guess it’s a thing they do for everyone’s grandchildren, throw them parties and bring them presents. It’s a good, albeit sort of socially awkward problem to have. Just enjoy it. 🙂

  • Hi, I'm Natalie.

    April 27, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    I’m Canadian, didn’t have any showers (BIG introvert), and yet still received TONS of gifts from my MIL’s friends (strangers, mostly). People (grandmas?) seem to love shopping for babies and they seemed genuinely happy to receive thank-you cards/photos after baby was born. I would go to make them happy. 🙂

  • Kat

    April 27, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    One additional suggestion that might make things easier for the mom to be… Make any presents people want to bring about the grandma. Some people (in the south in my experience) even call it a grandma shower! A car seat, stroller, toys, books and bath stuff that grandma can keep at her house for all of those visits to come with the baby. Her friends will LOVE the idea of their gifts going to support their friend and her fun times ahead with her grand baby. And bonus – no need to schlep everything home!

    • S

      April 28, 2014 at 6:00 am

      This is an awesome idea! Both sets of grandparents live in the same town as we do, but even spending the day with my husband’s dad requires so much stuff – my mom bought a highchair and pack’n’play pretty much as soon as she heard there would be a grandbaby. Its so much easier to spend time with her, knowing everything is set up and ready there. I can’t even imagine having to pack everything we’d need for a few days if we had to fly to her! 

    • Danielle

      April 28, 2014 at 1:09 pm

      Love this!

  • Amanda P

    April 27, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    My mil had a wedding shower for me, at her house with her friends, and that was pretty strange for me. But I realized that it was partly just her turn – she went to all her friends children’s showers. Plus, they all love to shop and they are very good at it. So then baby time came and two groups of her friends had showers and sure, it is a little awkward, but its also just really special to have lots of women gathered together being excited for you (even if you don’t know half their names!). Definitely have someone keep a list of gifts/givers and write thank you notes though, that’s a must!

  • Grammy

    April 27, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    I’m not from the South, but I can attest to the statement that old ladies just love babies. Everybody’s babies. We remember being young and a little fearful and nervous and, frankly, not having much money to get “extras” when we were having our babies. So now we know more, we have more (I’m not talking rich, but it doesn’t cost as much to be old as it does to be raising a young family) and we just frankly want to celebrate the good fortune of our friends who are becoming grandmothers as well as the young women who are enabling that to happen.

    Enjoy the shower, know that all the people who attend will be happy to do so and not in any way feel they are being pressured to buy gifts for strangers, and bask in the comfort of knowing how happy your mother-in-law is about your bringing a new little one into the family.

  • Ak

    April 27, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    Spot on. Enjoy it. I hope one day I shower unsuspecting younger ladies with gifts. My distant relatives were face to face asked by my shower hostess of they could make it, and when they couldn’t , my hostess (in true northern fashion didn’t invite them when they said no to not appear like a gift grubber) didn’t send invites. I have never had to deal with SOOOOO much damage control.
    The ladies, they love the baby showers. Your future child can never have too much older lady love.
    When we visit our great aunt, more people know my kid than me. It’s all good. The kiddo eats it up.

  • LT

    April 27, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    I also say enjoy it…. My father and his wife, as many elderly New Yorkers do, moved down to Florida (not really the south) here they have a whole new group of friends I’ve never met. The first time I went to visit them (I live very far away, small Island, Pacific Ocean, other side of the world ) they insisted on throwing a party so my husband and I could meet all their friends. It was a little weird, but it was nice to meet all their friends. Some of them found out it was my birthday and even brought gifts. 

    In terms of gifts you should ask and find out if your MIL has been attending their children’s baby showers and buying gifts because although they didn’t have an opportunity to throw me a baby shower they did share my baby registry with all those people because they had been attending all their children’s baby showers and these people wanted to reciprocate. So even though you may be from out of town it’s your MIL’s turn to play host and soon to be grandmother…you might as well enjoy it and maybe even get some gifts out of it. 

  • Anne

    April 28, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    I think old ladies just plain love buying baby stuff. My mom is a doctor in South Florida, and when my daughter was born, I got boxes upon boxes of stuff from her patients. So many hand knit blankets and hats and booties! (All completely unsolicited, in case that isn’t clear.)

    I wouldn’t feel guilty. Those ladies are going to be happy to pay the $25 gift price of admission to coo over your big belly and give you outdated parenting advice. Just bask in it. And if anyone does raise an eyebrow at the invitation, it will be in your MIL’s direction, not yours.

    • karen

      April 28, 2014 at 1:46 pm

      “Those ladies are going to be happy to pay the $25 gift price of admission to coo over your big belly and give you outdated parenting advice.”

      LMAO! Yes, this is so true. My mom is a nurse and when I had my first, I received many gifts from her fellow unit colleagues (not from a shower, they just all gave them on their own). It was mostly crap like boxes to store locks of hair and first teeth, not my thing. yes, just bask in it, smile, and send an effusive thank you note. The world needs more giving.

  • Susan

    April 28, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Living in the Rocky Mountains here, where my MIL threw us an engagement party (with mostly her friends), three wedding showers (with her friends), a wedding (where over 60% of the guest list was her friends), and two baby showers (again, her friends). 

    It really has everything to do with the fact that she was invited to So-and-So’s daughter’s baby shower/wedding/whatever so she reciprocated the invitations – and yes, the ladies were just thrilled to be included in the celebration. 

    So as others have said, just let the partying go on and enjoy the celebration of your MIL’s grandbaby.  I will encourage you to make one of your friends the designated gift list maker because the ladies may be too excited cooing over darling knit caps and booties to remember to write down the details. 

  • Sam M.

    April 30, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    The exact same thing happened to me. My MIL lives in New York and my husband and I move around a lot. She wanted to throw me a shower and I knew maybe 2 people that were there. The rest were new to me. It was a not horrible experience and I’m so glad that she did it. It’s not such an odd thing for people to give gifts that really are for my MIL- I’m just the person having the baby but really they gave me gifts to show respect for her. We are still getting gifts from my husband’s grandparent’s and parent’s friends. It’s nice and I agree- thank you cards. And maybe include all the people when you send out birth announcements as well. 

  • Amie

    July 14, 2014 at 8:40 am

    I JUST HAD my shower (I live in Florida) yesterday 7/13/2014 and NONE of my friends showed up nor called to decline the invite (Once I met my husband and left the “Party Scene” behind me the friends showed true colors).  My sister threw my shower and invited ALOT of her friends and Patrons of her business and I knew maybe 3/25 of them.  For not knowing myself and my family they were so generous and thoughtful towards us.  I have high anxiety etc also so I’ve been nervous for weeks but it turned out GREAT…..   I’m just suggesting you thing it over and over because my living room is FULL of gifts from people I didn’t know but had TRUE open and loving hearts to spare their time and $$ on someone they didn’t know.  It was so touching we re still realling about it.  My only problem now is finding the RIGHT THANK YOU cards to send to these selfless new Friends.