Are baby showers still an important tradition?

In this month's debate, two moms face off on the topic of baby showers. Are they still important?

are baby showers important
Illustration: Miki Sato

“Yes, baby showers are still an important tradition” 
Leah Rumack, Deputy Editor, mom of one

I’m not a sentimental kind of girl when it comes to life’s big milestones. My friends practically forced me to have a bachelorette party, I got married in a bar, and for my fortieth birthday I celebrated with a spaghetti night at my mom’s. But there was no way I was going to pass on my baby shower.

Now, I’m Jewish, and Jews don’t throw baby showers (it’s considered bad luck). I had never even been to a baby shower until I started throwing them for my non-Jewish friends. As all my gal pals started dropping like flies into the swamp of pregnancy jeans and stretch mark cream, I felt like the last woman standing. But after years of fête-ing everyone else’s adorable spawn with shower upon shower, no bubbe superstitions were going to stop me from getting my turn.

Read more: How to throw a baby shower>

I know there are haters who say that baby showers are just a gift grab, but for me it wasn’t about the stuff. I wasn’t really dying for someone to buy me that hipster onesie with the headphones on it (but thank you, Carey!). Then there’s the contingent who complain that showers hearken back to an era when women were measured by their ability to squeeze out small humans and serve perfect party sandwiches. But I think a proper baby shower—one with no boys allowed—is actually the ultimate feminist celebration. Because for all the devoted dads who do the daycare drop-offs or wipe snotty little noses, they’re still not the ones growing babies inside their bodies. This is (messy) lady business, yo, and it was my ladies I wanted to celebrate with.

My friends and I were all city girls who came to parenthood relatively late. We supported each other through the whole making-babies thing, just like we did when we were building our careers and finding partners. It was each other we called when we couldn’t get pregnant, or when we had miscarriages and needed someone to bring over huge bags of maxi pads and orders of sushi. After two failed pregnancies myself—one heartbreakingly late, in the second trimester—I meant it when I looked around the room at my shower, saw every single one of my girls (including the ones who had rushed to my side with maxi pads and sushi), and said, “Thank you for coming to my victory party.”

“No, baby showers are not still an important tradition”
Jowita Bydlowska, mom of one

The first time I attended a baby shower, I was in my early 20s. My friend Jen was perched on a chair as if it were a throne, with everyone gathered around as she opened the gifts and read the cards aloud in a tired voice. We all “oohed” and “aahed,” then snacked on pink cupcakes. Someone’s kid popped all the balloons and ran around screaming from too much sugar. As the mountain of wrapping paper grew around poor Jen, I kept wondering, “Why are we doing this?” The whole thing seemed so contrived, and Jen complained later that she only did it because she felt like she had to. Do people actually enjoy these things?

Read more: My unconventional baby shower>

I suspect they don’t—just as they don’t really enjoy those weddings with endless photo sessions, four hours of awkward speeches and a mediocre dinner. I understand that some new parents really do need help aquiring the necessary gear, but most grown-ups don’t need to be bought all those presents.

However, this hypocrite had two baby showers. My sister and a friend arranged the first one. The invite list was limited to my closest friends, and the whole thing was basically an ironic, anti-baby-shower event. We asked the guests to donate to my stroller fund (no random gifts allowed). I actually had fun, and I felt loved. However, my second shower was a surprise, and it was the more traditional kind, with cupcakes and distant acquaintances. There were too many gifts and too many pictures. I felt just like Jen, stuck on a chair, unwrapping presents and putting on a happy face while I was cringing inside—especially at all the attention, wasted money and silly things I didn’t need.

My son is four-and-a-half years old now, and I’ve only just gotten rid of a heap of unworn sleepers. There are still many, many boxes of plastic and squeaky junk to go. It’s overwhelming—my backyard storage shed is 90 percent filled with barely-used baby things and only 10 percent garden tools.

Read more: Dreading your own baby shower?

I thought the word “shower” was supposed to imply showering a mom-to-be with love, but I think it gets confused with showering each other with material things. While getting a bunch of good friends together can be a blast, I don’t need another forced gift reception. Welcome a new baby to the world with a party, sure, but skip the showering part. We have enough stuff.

What do you think? Tell us in the comments below, and add your two cents on Twitter using the hashtag #babyshowers

A version of this article appeared in our March 2014 issue with the headline “Are baby showers still an important tradition?” p. 90.

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