The Baby Shower: How To Plan And Prepare To Make The Most Of Your Shower

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Our Experts In This Episode

Jennifer Adams wrote the book on baby showers. In fact, it's called Baby Showers. She is currently senior editor for the publisher Gibbs Smith, where she manages the cookbook and children's lines.

Virginia Johnson is an expert on manners and etiquette. She is a certified etiquette teacher and founder of Contemporary Etiquette in Houston.

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Welcome to your Pea in the Podcast. I'm Bonnie Petrie with everything you need to know about your body, your baby and the big changes ahead in your life and your journey to becoming a mommy.

This week, we're planning your shower! There's plenty to do, and the work starts four months before the baby comes.

"Figuring out what kind of shower you want to have, picking a date and a location and figuring out who you're going to invite."

We'll help you navigate the minefield of social expectations...

"A baby shower should not be held by a family member."

And we'll tell you what you really aren't expected to do...

"So many people don't like games, but for some reason we think that we're supposed to play them."

And we'll get you started with a planning timetable straight ahead in this Pea in the Podcast: Planning Your Shower.

It's time for your friends and your family to gather and shower you with everything you need to take care of your new baby, from baby gear to baby clothes to baby diapers. Jennifer Adams is the author of Baby Showers, which walks you through everything from picking the theme, creating a menu, designing the favors, and she says baby showers in some form or another have been common around the world throughout history.

"Every culture has some form or another of, you know, gift-giving or helping women prepare for their baby's nursery or whatever, so it's really old in lots of different cultures."

It's a ritual, or right of passage, and it will help you offset the substantial expense of getting ready for your baby's arrival. But Adams says that's not all…

"The second reason that is probably more important is that it is a celebration, it's getting together with friends, family, co-workers, loved ones, neighbors just to celebrate this huge event of the birth of a child."

So it's time to party, but who organizes the event? Well, there is some etiquette surrounding the occasion you may want to consider. Etiquette expert Virginia Johnson at Contemporary Etiquette says if you are worried about that kind of thing, you and your mom, and your sister, even your cousins are all out of the question.

"A baby shower should not be held by a family member. Of course, family members are invited but, the showers are and parties are given by friends first."

Adams says, though, a lot of people are now ignoring that particular convention. It is now perfectly acceptable, in some areas, for family members to put on your shower. You may want to ask around to see what’s generally accepted where you are. It is however, still seen in poor taste practically everywhere for you to host your own shower.

Once the host announces themselves, Adams says it is time to get started with planning.

"The place to begin is the group of people that you want to invite, which you should work with the person you are throwing the shower for. A lot of times people have more than one shower, so you kind of want to figure out are they just having one big shower where they want to invite everyone or is this just a work shower where you invite colleagues, you know, what kind of shower are you throwing? And then from there you pick a date and start with a timeline."

Okay, so you start with a guest list, which might seem like it would easy, but Adams says it's a potential minefield.

"You have to be careful of...it is really easy to overlook someone and hurt someone's feelings, which of course no one wants to do. And on the other hand, it is easy to make a list that is so big that you are inviting people that don't know the mom that well, and that doesn't lead for a very successful shower either. So I think it takes putting some thought into and compiling the list, thinking about it and then sending out the invitations from there."

Etiquette expert Virginia Johnson says one option for whittling down your guest list is leaving co-workers off.

"Because I think if you invite one, then sometimes that extends so greatly and so I think the way to get through that is to let perhaps someone have the shower or a baby shower at work. Or have someone say, let's get a gift for her from the office."

You can always keep the size of your party reasonable by only inviting people you really care about, not everyone you've ever met.

"I think you do have to use discretion, because I know that I've gotten, in the past, invitations that I wonder why on earth I got them. Some people, I think, are maybe gift-hungry and I don't think that is right. I do think you just need to have really close friends and the family members."

You may have someone in your life who has recently suffered a miscarriage or who is struggling with infertility, someone you would typically invite to your shower without hesitation, but now you're afraid the invitation to a celebration for your coming baby will hurt her. Do you invite her? Well, yes, if she is comfortable with it. Ask her, without pressure or guilt, if she feels ready for such an event.  Tell her you will not be offended in any way if she cannot come, but you love her and you don't want to exclude her. Then if she does come, don't be offended if she becomes overwhelmed and has to leave. Sometimes sorrow strikes when you least expect it. Respect her need for space; she'll share your joy when she is ready.

Baby Showers author Jennifer Adams says these days your baby shower guest list may include men. Lots of people are now having couples’ showers and many dads like to be included in this celebration, so go for it if you want to. But inviting men means this female right of passage turns tradition on its head, and you're now planning a different kind of party.

"Like you'd want to do maybe a barbecue and have not such little fancy cute girly food or maybe the kinds of gifts, like the theme that you chose would need to be something that appealed more to men."

If you are going to go with a couples’ shower, your invitations should reflect that. Put both names on the envelope, and with a couples’ party you'll want to keep the party favors gender neutral, that kind of thing. Adams says if you acknowledge this isn’t your mother's baby shower and keep that in mind with your planning, there is no reason why a couples’ shower can't be a huge hit. Some people even have family showers, inviting couples and their kids and have a big ol' party. In fact, Adams says, there are all kinds of ways to do this shindig, not just a dainty gathering at the host's house. Those are great if that’s what you want, but the shower really is all about you, the mom-to-be.

"You know, maybe she likes doing things with a small group of friends, maybe she's a really social person who likes huge parties, maybe she just wants to go to lunch, maybe she wants to have a little day at the spa or maybe she wants a more traditional shower where her mother and mother-in-law are there. So you can do whatever you want and I think the best thing to do is to tailor it to the woman that you are throwing the shower for."

One way to make planning your shower easier is by having a theme.

"Theme showers are fun because it gives, it's pretty much a simple way to tie everything together. You could do something for a theme as simple as a color, like a pink shower for a girl, or you can do something very specific like base it on a children's book, your favorite children's book like Winnie the Pooh or Where the Wild Things Are."

With a theme, decorating really becomes a no-brainer and guests have something to guide their gift giving.

"Like, if you use a bedtime story shower theme, then you say on the invitation for everyone to bring their favorite children's book. Or if you do a bath-time theme, you know, you can get towels or baby shampoo or things that go along with that theme. There is also the ‘around the clock’ shower where you assign each person a time of day to bring a gift for so they have to think of a gift that goes with 8 in the morning or 3 in the afternoon or whatever time they are assigned. So those are some ways you can mix it up so people don't get only pink dresses or only diapers or whatever."

You also need to pick a location for your party. Traditionally, your shower would be held at your host's house, but that’s not written in stone.

"In the summer, backyard showers are fun, like on a deck or you can even go to a park if there is a nice place that you want to set up outside, and for work showers, I’ve even have showers at work, you know, like in a big conference room. But sometimes it’s more fun to go to a different location."

So what goes on during your baby shower? Well, some people will tell you baby shower games are obligatory, even if you don't like them and don't want to play them.

"So many people don't like games, but for some reason we think that we're supposed to play them or we have to. So my advice in the book is actually, my first advice is not to have games at your shower unless the mom actually wants them. It is definitely not necessary; I mean, just opening your presents, eating your food, and visiting takes up plenty of time. I do have the advice that if you do decide to do games, keep it short and simple and do maybe one or two at the most."

So there is no law that says you have to let people guess how many squares of toilet paper it takes to wrap around the circumference of your belly.  If you don’t want to do it, don’t.  If you do want to do games, Adams has many suggestions to get you started in her book Baby Showers.

One thing Jennifer Adams talks about in her book, Baby Showers, is the sentimental little things you can do to make your shower memorable. Sometimes the host will pass around a beautifully bound journal in which the guests can write a bit of parental advice or wisdom.

"I think that's a really nice one and sometimes people even make, you know, a little handmade book or some little thing for mementos. And another thing you can do is, I have heard of people just taking pictures at the shower of friends and everyone together and then for the favor, giving everyone a little framed picture the next day or whatever so that the people, the friends and the guests, have a keepsake as well as the mom."

Speaking of party favors, it is absolutely not required for you to give a gift to your shower guests. But if you do, Adams says they don't have to cost you an arm and a leg.

"Favors can be, they can be so simple. It can be just little candies or I've seen people do the centerpiece for their food table like a bouquet or flowers and they just give each woman a rose when she goes home out of the bouquet so the decorations kind of double as the favor. Or the same thing with a bouquet of balloons or something. So I kind of advocate that favors can be, they can be a lot more simple, you know, just how you package it can be the big difference. If you put it in a cute little box with a bow or if you wrap it up really nice, it can be something as simple as a little lip gloss or a little thing of bubble bath. It doesn't have to be daunting."

Okay. So you've got a general idea about what kind of shower you want to have. It's time for you to call your friend who is planning the party for you, call them over to listen to this podcast with you. We've got a timeline for the preparations. Baby Shower expert Jennifer Adams suggests you start planning about four months before the baby is due, and one of the first things you'll do is pick a date for the party. Now that's about 2 months before your due date.

"I mean, you can go up to the month before but if you get too much closer, then the baby can come and then, you know, you have to cancel the shower. So I'd say probably 2 months before the baby is due is a great time."

So two months before the shower you pick a date for the shower. Now that is four months before the baby is due. I don't want to confuse you, four months before the baby is due and two months before the shower, you pick a date for that shower, you also pick a location and you decide on what kind of party you want, with the person planning it. You also will pick a theme if you want one, you'll settle on a guest list and you may talk about what kind of menu you want, which includes usually finger foods and certainly cake. You could also plan that menu up to about six weeks before the shower. Now one month before the party, your host will buy her own gift for you. And buy the party favors, if they are non-perishable, of course. And then the next couple of weeks will be very busy for your friend.

"Three to four weeks before, send out the invitations. Two weeks before, I'd say do a deep cleaning of your house or yard if you're going to be doing it at your house. Order flowers if you're going to have a florist or a bouquet, and then buy any non-perishable food two weeks before, buy any decorations. Then you're pretty much done until two or three days before. You've got to clean one more time, and then the day before is when I would buy perishable food and stuff because, I mean, some people buy food sooner than that, but I like to get it as close to when you're serving it as you can for the fresh food stuff."

By the way, about invitations -- you can do paper invitations or you can do them online, either way is really okay. But Adams does suggest going with the paper variety, if for no other reason than people really do like getting something in the mail that is not a bill, so it’s kind of nice to do it that way.

On the day of the shower your host is setting things up then keeping the guests comfortable during the party without stressing out too much.

"A lot of people get someone or hire someone that can help them through the two hours so that they don't have to be in the kitchen the whole time or things like that. If it works for you, you know whatever works to make you less stressed and have fun."

Now, mom, back to your responsibilities. You're going to get a lot of thoughtful gifts on the day of your shower, some expensive ones, too, and etiquette expert Virginia Johnson at Contemporary Etiquette says you want to acknowledge that thoughtfulness graciously.

"The receiver is, of course, to acknowledge the person at the party or the shower and then the infamous thank you note. Even in this day and time of email and electronics, there is nothing more appropriate or kinder than a hand-written thank you note, and I really stress that even if it is your best friend or someone that you are on email with all of the time, I would still say you've got to write a thank you note."

And try to get those cards done quickly, although a mom-to-be may get a little leeway.

"Supposedly you should get them out 2-3 weeks from the time of the event, however, it's better late than never. So with the showers, I know that everything can be so busy. What I suggest is, especially if you're having a large group, is, of course, have a friend help you during the shower and that's normal, you know, you have a friend sitting there with the list saying 'Susie gave you this' and so you will have that list handy and just start working and cranking out thank you notes, 5-8 a night until you get them done."

Some people do put off and then sometimes skip altogether thank you cards because they are overwhelmed by the task. Don't be. Keep it simple.

"It does not have to be a long dissertation at all. I mean 3 or 4 sentences are absolutely appropriate. Mention the actual gift that you got because that makes them realize that it is more personal. So yeah, always mention the gift and thank you for being there, that touch of warm fuzzies does actually help a lot."

And someone else deserves your thanks -- the person who planned and paid for this party.

"I do think that it is appropriate to always get a little something for them, and of course that is up to the individual and it can vary greatly in price because it depends upon your economic stage in life. Sometimes people will get a gift certificate. I have given floral arrangements before. Sometimes it is just a little trinket and what I do think is especially nice is to acknowledge them at the shower in front of the party. So I think that is a nice thing to do."

Oh, and one more note of etiquette to ponder – is this is your second baby or your third? You may wonder if you'll be committing some sort of huge social sin if someone has a second shower for you. Well, strict etiquette says yes...

"It's usually not given for a second or third child because the mother already has certain essentials leftover from the first child. But sometimes friends might have a small gathering, you know that’s an option, you can have a small gathering, a lunch or a tea to celebrate and you can bring gifts, but it's not an official shower."

But Baby Showers author Jennifer Adams says that is one other gray area in which etiquette is evolving.

"That's a much bigger trend lately is kind of the school of thought that every baby is a cause for celebration. So if you want to have showers, you know, go ahead. The only thing I think people should keep in mind if you're in a group where you have a shower for like a second baby, then if there’s other women in that group, then you can't just start that and not, so that's something to keep in mind. If everyone in your family or your neighborhood is like on their second kid, make sure you want to do showers for the same group and don't just start something that you don't want to carry through."

Every baby is a cause for celebration and every mom-to-be deserves to be honored on her special day. So prepare to sit back, relax, have people wait on you, give you gifts and serve you your favorite treats. It's your day; it's your baby shower.

We hope you've enjoyed this Pea in the Podcast: Planning Your Baby Shower. Please visit our website, peainthepodcast.com, for more information about our experts, to find links and transcripts, and to register to receive tailored week-by-week shows for each week and stage of your pregnancy. It’s everything you need to know about your body, your baby and the big changes ahead in your life in your journey to becoming a mommy. For Pea in the Podcast, I'm Bonnie Petrie. Thanks for listening.