Meghan Markle is finally a mom and—if her track record with trendsetting is any indication—poised to change the face of parenting as we know it. Barely 72 hours into motherhood and she is already being hailed for everything from her name selection skills (Archie!) to her taste in trench dresses. And as long as we’re handing out hand clap emojis, I’d like to give the Duchess props for a decision she made back in February when the gifts at her star studded baby shower were left unopen. Perhaps because she wanted to open gifts in the company of her Prince, which is what shower guest Gayle King told CBS This Morning. But isn’t it also possible that the Duchess has attended her fair share of baby showers and knows that public gift opening is a tedious and outdated exercise that aught to go the way of the royal fox hunt?
To be clear, my issue isn’t with feting a person (or people) on the occasion of a first child (that’s first child—none of this sprinkle nonsense). Becoming a parent is a major milestone, worthy of celebration and swag and bottomless mimosas. But for the love of BPA-free silicone soothers, can we cancel the part where everyone is forced to spend hours oohing and aahing over the same stuff they oohed and aahed over at the last baby shower? There’s always that one know-it-all mom who points out the gifts you’ll “never use,” and the dutiful, clipboard-wielding pal who takes her secretarial duties just a little too seriously. Meanwhile, everyone else is bored and uncomfortable, and what should be a happy occasion starts to feel like that episode of Friends where everyone is trying to escape Monica’s terrible party to go to the fun one across the hall. So why do we do it?
For the parent-to-be is what I had always assumed when I posted on Facebook to see what some of my mom friends had to say on the matter. I was surprised to hear that many of them had actually “pulled a Markle” and either left gifts unopened or circumvented the whole thing with alternative options, like a big group gift (hallelujah!). “It’s a lot of pressure and exceptionally boring for those who don’t have kids,” said one friend, who opened presents after the fact. Another skipped a baby shower entirely, largely based on her dread around this particular ritual.
Of all the moms who did open gifts, some said they would do it differently if they did it again. “My friends and I all opened presents—because of tradition, not necessarily because I wanted to,” said a colleague, who had her first daughter more than 10 years ago. Today, she would probably take a private moment aside to appease certain older relatives and put everyone else out of their misery—herself included.
“There is definitely a feeling of shifting generations in terms of shower etiquette these days,” says Lisa Orr, a Toronto-based etiquette consultant. Like a lot of rituals, she explains, baby showers are evolving along with society. In previous generations, they were relatively intimate family-centric gatherings where a wide-eyed mom-to-be would collect much-needed wisdom on breastfeeding and colic. Fast-forward a few decades and there’s an app for (all) that. Meanwhile, the average age of a first-time mom in Canada has spiked: 23 in 1969, and almost 30 today. “Women are having babies later, have more control over their finances and a lot of autonomy and know what they want,” says Orr.
Her comment reminds me of a shower I was at a couple of years ago, where a guest had the gall to go “off registry” and purchase a bright purple-and-blue blanket for the baby’s room. “But that doesn’t go with her nursery colours!” a friend whispered with mock gravitas. And, yes, I agree: This is a horribly obnoxious anecdote that belongs on an episode of Baroness Von Sketch Show. There is something lovely and authentic about the smaller, less Internet-enabled showers of yore. But as anyone with a Pinterest account is well aware, that vintage train set (classy neutral tones only, please) has left the station. According to BabyCenter, 82 percent of new parents request gifts via registry, selecting every last extensively researched item with care and receiving notifications with every purchase. The guest of honour already knows what they’re getting, which makes the whole gift-unwrapping process not just boring but also, let’s face it, a little fraudulent.
Of course, you’re going to get the odd guest who really wants you to open their gift. If it’s an older person or a relative, Orr suggests taking a private moment to appreciate their offering. If it’s anyone else, I suggest telling that person to back off.
Last fall, I went to a shower at a restaurant. My friend (the mom-to-be) said she really just wanted a chance to enjoy an indulgent three-hour lunch with friends before the baby came and all bets were off. “Time is such a valuable commodity these days,” says Orr. “A lot of moms-to-be want to catch up with the people they invited, and that may not happen if they have to spend two hours opening presents.”
That’s probably what Meghan Markle was thinking, right? (If you had a few precious hours with Serena and Amal, would you want to spend them talking about sippy cups or baby yachts or whatever it is that impossibly wealthy celebrity moms gift each other on such occasions?) Point is, as long as the Duchess is changing the way we live today, here’s hoping that not opening baby-shower gifts is the new messy bun.