(Baby) Showers With Strangers
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.
Published April 25, 2014. Last updated March 27, 2018.