The balloons are inflated, the petit fours and cucumber sandwiches are set out, and the party games are ready…. the stage is set for the perfect baby shower. But what’s this? There’s a man at the door? Isn’t this whole thing basically a huge pastel No Boys Allowed sign?
(image courtesy of melaniewinters.com)
These days, just like so many things in our ever-shifting modern world, we’re seeing changes in the traditional baby shower. Perhaps most significant among these changes is the decision of whether or not men will be invited to what has until recently been a very exclusive meeting of mommy-to-be and her female friends and family. The origins of the baby shower go way, way back to ancient times, where the only men around were priests invoking special prayers for a safe delivery of the baby. In the thousands of years since, it’s been almost exclusively a women’s affair. This made sense for a lot of reasons— the entire ritual of giving birth has, until our current generation, been designed in many cultures to keep the women close and the men at a distance (for the comfort of both genders). For almost the entire twentieth century, dads-to-be knew their job was to stick around in the waiting room, ready with a handful of cigars, waiting for a nurse to come out and inform them that they were now a father. Then they would drive new baby and new mommy home from the hospital and, well, go back to work. Because now there was a family to support. Bottles, diapers, strollers-- all of that was their wife’s area. And, at the time, everyone was pretty cool with that.
Not so today. With gender roles becoming increasingly mixed, it’s much less of a clear-cut situation of who will be the primary caregiver for the baby, who will be out earning the money to keep all those diapers and onesies rolling in, and where the “we’ll both do it” areas land. Having a baby shower only for mom made a lot of sense when she was going to be the only one handling baby’s care, but what about if dad is going to be the primary caregiver, or if they both work from home and they’re going to switch off? (For example, a young couple in our family each change every other diaper for their little boy, so both have equal diaper-changing time—which I, for one, think is a fantastic policy.)
In 1993, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed, which guarantees that certain employees can take up to twelve weeks of leave for family medical leave without losing their job. Even though it doesn’t guarantee that the leave is paid, it does open up the door to both parents being at home for a little while after the arrival of their new baby. And even if one parent isn’t taking much leave after the birth, they’ll still likely be interacting with the baby’s care items on nights and weekends. With that in mind, does it make more sense for gifts to be “showered” upon not just mom, but dad as well? If they’re both going to be using it, shouldn’t they both be there to open it?
There are varying opinions on having what is commonly termed the “Jack and Jill shower”—some say “Yes, obviously! That’s what modern parenting is all about!”, and some say “Heck, no! I don’t want men around watching me open my new breast pump!”
It’s also important to consider that the tradition of the shower goes beyond just gifts, snacks, and lighthearted games. It’s become a dedicated time where women can gather to share wisdom, advice, and handy tips for the new mom so she’ll feel more prepared for the physical and emotional challenges that come with the process and after-effects of giving birth. Many feel that those conversations simply can’t happen (at least comfortably) in a room of mixed company (say the word “episiotomy” in front of a group of men and see what happens). Some women, though, feel very overwhelmed by all of the advice (how many horror stories about Aunt Eila May’s three breach births can she hear without deciding this baby will just have to stay put until scientists figure out a way to tele-transport it out?), and find that having their partner there for support is very helpful.
Another thing to think about is that dads, at least in the US, don’t have a traditional cultural gathering where they get to receive advice and encouragement from other guys. Men and women are, obviously, different in their communication styles, but new dads are embarking on a new stage of life just like new moms are, and a co-ed shower might give them a good opportunity to be able to get some of that support from their own male family and friends. Just like dad being expected to be in the delivery room, throwing a co-ed shower also helps to cement the new modern understanding of a baby’s care being not just up to the mom, but to both parents (and both receiving the community support that goes with it).
(image courtesy of melaniewinters.com)
When it comes down to it, every couple is different, and every “new baby scenario” is too. Maybe the mom has heard every horror story in the book and won’t be overwhelmed at all. Maybe this is a high-risk pregnancy and she needs Dad with her to steer conversations. Maybe the dad is going to be Mr. Mom and he’s going to be doing 90% of the diapers and feedings. Maybe he travels for work and will only be home twice a month. Maybe they’re both super independent and they each want a gathering of their own to have some “girl time” and “guy time” before they dive into focusing on a baby 24/7. Maybe they don’t, and they want to share this as a joint memory instead. Maybe they can split the difference and have a party where the men spend some time grilling and playing touch football and doing other ultra-manly things outside while the women open “girls-only” gifts inside and talk about mesh underwear, and then everyone gets together for a burgers-and-petit-fours-buffet.
As long as it works for the parents, the main thing is to help them feel loved, supported, and welcomed into the crazy-weird-wonderful world of parenthood—the rest is just details.