Baptism By In-Law Drama
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?
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.
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Published May 13, 2011. Last updated June 24, 2018.