The good aunt and baby showers

A diaper cake at the last baby shower I hosted

When I was interviewing women for this series, I ended with this question: “How many baby showers have you attended?” Maybe this wasn’t a fair question, because I can only give a guesstimate of the number of baby showers I’ve attended (maybe 30 or 40?). I’ve hosted four and attended countless others, including work showers for male co-workers whose wives were having babies.

What I had intended as a light question at the end of the interview turned into some of the most heartfelt remarks during the interviews.

Let me begin with their initial responses from each, categorized by the women’s ages (by decade):

Women in their 30s
“Oh my gosh. Maybe 15 or 20, but that’s a conservative guess.”

“Oh my gosh. Heavens. It’s got to be 1,000. It has to be [laughs]. Well, a couple of hundred, and I’ve hosted maybe 15 of those. I love buying baby clothes, but I don’t really like going to showers.”

“Oh … [laughs; shakes her head]. A lot, a whole lot … I’m going to one this weekend. At least it’s going to be at a really fun venue: the art museum. In this year alone, I’ve gone to four already.”

“None. No baby showers.”

In their 40s
“Oh my gosh. I hate baby showers and avoid them if at all possible. It would be really hard to say how many. More than I wanted to.”

“Oh my gosh. Countless. An unceasing amount. More than 30, but it feels like 100.”

In their 50s
[Laughs] “Not a lot. I probably go to more at work, but outside of work, a few.”

In their 60s
“I have no clue how many I’ve been to over the years.”

“A good number. A couple here. A couple there. Yes, I go to them. And I don’t get all bent out of shape by them. At age 35, that might have been a different story.”

In their 70s
[laughs] “Oh goodness … over the years? Wow, that’s hard … 75? I don’t know.”

In their 90s
“Oh mercy, whew! 15 to 20? I have no idea.”

The number of answers that started with “Oh” became almost comical to me. With one exception (a woman who lives in Europe), we have all been to so many showers we can’t even keep track.

I should have known that the question would bring out emotional responses. I remember as if it were yesterday co-hosting a shower about ten years ago, a luncheon at a restaurant. While the guest of honor was unwrapping gifts, I noticed one of the other women completely fall to pieces. She was fine one moment and then weeping the next. Fortunately, she was good enough friends with the woman sitting next to her that they talked quietly until the woman had composed herself. I didn’t know it until later, but she had suffered multiple miscarriages. She went on to have two lovely children, but of course, she didn’t know that future as she sat at our friend’s baby shower that day.

How many women are like her at any given baby shower? Women barely holding themselves together to celebrate another woman’s joy. Women who have miscarried. Women who are single. Women who don’t have children for reasons too numerous to count.

There are probably more than you would imagine, because so many woman are good at holding themselves together just long enough to get the car door closed and engine cranked before the tears start flowing.

Why good aunts love (or don’t) showers
I don’t want to suggest that every woman who is single or doesn’t have children goes right to the car after a shower to have a big crying session. There are good aunts who love showers, who love the gifts, the stories, the food and camaraderie. And there are good aunts who will go to showers even if they know no one else who will be there simply because they care for the mother-to-be.

One woman talked of loving showers because she enjoys seeing all the gifts. She describes it as being able to get that “awww” moment with the cuteness of gifts she knows she’ll never receive herself because the woman receiving the gifts is getting ready to experience something my friend will never experience.

Most of the women I interviewed admitted that the showers they enjoy the most are for close family and friends, those moms and children whose lives they know they’ll be able to play a big part in. I think that’s true for most of us (moms and non-moms, too). If the shower is for someone dear to us – a niece, a close friend, a sister – we’re much more likely to enjoy the party.

There are some ways you can test a good aunt’s limits with a shower, though. While we may play along with a shower game, too many can get tiresome (and most of us good aunts dread them). One woman mentioned a four-hour shower she attended, not a floating shower where guests can drop in, chat and leave whenever they like. No, the guests were expected to stay for the whole four hours of food, games and presents. Yikes.

The conversation minefield
Of all the social situations good aunts find themselves in, the baby shower may have the potential to be the most traumatic. And I think it’s primarily the minefield of the conversations or lack thereof that will take place at a shower.

So many of the women I interviewed spoke of being the only single woman or the only woman without children at showers. One woman described it this way, “But all these pregnant women, and all of them are talking … those moments have been a little awkward for me, when everyone’s talking about baby things, children things, and I really don’t have anything to add to the conversation, other than to say I’m just amazed at what mothers do.”

Another friend spoke to me about a shower she had recently attended. She was choking back tears by the time she reached the car. As happens at many showers, she made the others laugh when she could (and trust me, this woman can tell some fabulous jokes), but she felt like she was just the “special friend who tells good jokes.” She knew that no one there wanted to hear her opinion on the latest nappies, or the dilemma of going back to work part-time or consulting, or how to find the right nanny. Her opinion simply didn’t matter to them.

Several of the woman at that particular shower told her to treasure where she was in life, saying, “You should be so happy. You get to be so carefree. You don’t have to worry about who you have to shop for at Target and who you have to strap into a car seat just to get to the store.” While she knew that they were trying to be encouraging, she felt singled out as the only woman there who wasn’t engaged, newly married, pregnant with a first child, or getting ready to have a second child. And she also knew that not one of those women would trade places with her to get her “happy life.”

She compared the good aunt going to a baby shower to taking a class outside of your major in college. “It’s not easy or comfortable. The conversations thrust you toward your frailties.” If you only take one thing from this post, please let it be this: attending baby showers thrusts some women toward their frailties, and it isn’t easy. But they bravely go anyway.

I could share even more of what I learned: about how showers have changed over the generations; and how expectations of gift-giving and who will attend have grown; and how different cultures celebrate a new baby. My friend in Spain has never attended a shower, because in that country it’s the family who typically will buy the new parents what they need. But she’ll knit something for the baby, and she and her friends always make sure to see the new mom before the birth to see the “bonbo” – the big belly. There’s no unique gathering and gift-giving occasion before the birth (though my friend is quick to admit that this may not hold true among the very affluent in Spain). But each of the expectant mom’s friends celebrates with her in individual ways.

Welcoming the good aunt to a baby shower
I don’t write any of this to convince you expectant mothers out there to cut the good aunts off your guest list. But instead, offer as much grace as you can. If you know you’re “good aunt” friend won’t know anyone else at the party, enlist the hostess to make sure your friend isn’t left out of conversations.

If you want to have a long shower, consider making it a floating shower or breaking it up into easily-scheduled parts so that guests may come for the parts they enjoy but not stay and suffer through parts they don’t enjoy.

Be understanding if your good aunt friend doesn’t show up for your shower. She may be having a day where she knows she can’t hold her emotions in check, and she doesn’t want to upset anyone at your party. But it doesn’t mean she loves you any less, and it doesn’t mean she wants to be excluded from your journey into motherhood.

Other than that, let those of us who are good aunts “ooh and aah” over the cute blankies and clothes and the latest toys. And let us know that, though we don’t know from experience what you’re going through, we are valuable to you as friends and family.

Got a baby shower question or comment for good aunts? I’d love for you to comment below.

6 thoughts on “The good aunt and baby showers

  1. Hi, friends — I just finished reading a fun book today that was written by my friend Jennifer Durbin. It’s called Party Planning Tips for the Clueless Chick (http://cluelesschick.com/Clueless_Chick_Books.html), and I wanted to give it a shameless plug here.

    In this post, I talked about the emotional side of a party and ways a hostess and guest of honor could help all guests feel welcome and a part of the conversation. Jennifer’s book takes care of the practical side of planning the shower and taking the stress out of the day itself.

    Plus, for all you good aunts looking for the perfect gift, Jennifer’s other two books (Pregnancy Tips for the Clueless Chick and Baby Traveling Tips for the Clueless Chick) make excellent gifts for the expectant moms in your life.

  2. Ah, how that photo brings back memories! Sammy recently told me a story about his first Teddy bear (pictured above). Thanks to your encouragement and support, I have treasured memories and mementos from the baby shower. I felt the loss of my mother that day along with the love of friends and family. I knew there were women present who had experienced loss and longing themselves and I distinctly remember how touched I was that they all came together in celebration of new life.

    • Wish I could hear Sammy’s story of his first bear. Thanks for reminding all of us that even the mother-to-be may come into a shower with her own emotional burdens (as you did with the recent loss of your mom). You gave us all a reason to celebrate with joy, even though many of us carried fresh wounds to the party. I remember it as a day of happiness and laughter and light-hearted caring for each other.

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