The most uncomfortable baby shower Tina Haller remembers attending was one hosted by the expectant mother's mom.
"It was obvious the mom-to-be didn't want to play baby shower games and she kept saying, 'I told my mom I didn't want to this,'" says Haller, a mother in Nevada City, Calif. "It was bad form. It made everybody there not have fun because she wasn't having fun."
Baby showers have come a long way from the days of obligatory guessing games, blue or pink balloons, and women-only guest lists. According to The Everything Baby Book, by Sabrina Hill and Joni Russell, today's celebrations range from "American Idol"-themed events to Super "Bawl" Sunday showers to office "laptop" parties (where, says Hill, "everybody has fancy flavors in their coffee and chips in $5 for a gift").
With all the new possibilities to fit different tastes, budgets, and lifestyles, can an expectant mother expect to have some say in her own shower? And is there a way to let the hostess know what you'd like without being rude or hurting her feelings?
Baby Shower Etiquette: Is It OK to Ask for What You Want?
Not everyone agrees that the mother- or parents-to-be should speak their minds about their baby showers. Some experts and moms feel that's only OK if the host or hostess asks you what you'd like; others think you shouldn't even be asked.
"It's inappropriate," says Hill, who also runs an event planning service in California with Russell. "It should all be driven by the host or hostess."
"We feel a shower is a gift," adds Russell. "It's become like a fund-raising opportunity, where moms think they're entitled to have it a certain way. But the true purpose of a baby shower is community building."
Amanda McKinley, editor and blogger at Pregnancy and Newborn, disagrees. "It's definitely OK to expect the shower you want," she says. "Most women only have one really big baby shower. You don't want to come across as aggressive or ungrateful to the hostess, of course, but if it's going in a direction that makes you uncomfortable or unhappy, it's best to speak up."
While the experts disagree, many mothers-to-be just hope for the best -- and muddle through the embarrassing moments.
"The most terrifying thing I remember at the shower for my first baby was that one woman brought her baby and they all made me hold it," recalls Woman's Day "Momfidence" columnist Paula Spencer, now a seasoned mother of four. "I was mortified. It's almost like you're being judged as a parent and you haven't even seen the baby."
Yet Spencer and other mothers agree that these days, moms-to-be don't necessarily need to just grin and bear it. First of all, there are some areas of baby shower planning in which the expectant mother is traditionally consulted. In other areas, there are subtle and polite ways to try to make your wishes known.
Baby Shower Planning: The Mom-to-Be's Involvement
Nearly everyone agrees that mothers-to-be are generally involved in at least three issues.
• The date of the baby shower.
A hostess will almost always ask the expectant mother to pick some convenient dates for her baby shower. To ensure that you won't be in early labor and miss your party, offer dates five to eight weeks before the baby is due. "The baby shower should be held when the mother is pregnant enough to look pregnant, but comfortable enough to enjoy it," says Hill.
• The baby shower guest list.
When it comes to guests, a good rule of thumb is: You get to say who you'd like to invite, but the hostess determines how many people to invite -- based on the venue, her budget, and what size party she's comfortable hosting.
If your hostess asks you for a guest list, ask her how many people she'd like to have and don't press for more. What if she's planning on something big? Some women or couples like big baby showers, with families and children in attendance, while others think that can take the focus off the mother-to-be. If you'd like yours on the small side, this is the time to ask for something more intimate.
"Surround yourself with the people you enjoy and want to be part of the children's life," says McKinley. "That can be as intimate as a gathering with three of your best friends, if that's what you want."
This is also an opportunity to decide whether or not you want to mix people from different areas of your life (such as family, friends, and co-workers) at one event. While some women feel more comfortable in a group of people who know each other, others say that games or other activities that encourage mixing can break the ice in any group.
• Baby gift registration.
Though you shouldn't expect everyone to buy the items you register for, registering for the baby gifts you want is one way to communicate your taste and needs to those who want to know them or who may not know you well. Most hostesses will include this information with baby shower invitations.
"Before I had a baby, I never purchased off the gift registry, but now I always do," says Meghan Crimmins, a Washington, D.C. mother. "Having a baby is an expensive undertaking, and it's very helpful to get practical things that you need."
Karen Zuercher, a mother of a toddler and a baby in San Francisco, says that registering for baby gear is especially smart for first-time parents. "It's a good idea to bring a friend who has a child to advise you when you register," she suggests. "You'll have to do less returning. After a wedding, you have more time to return gifts, but you don't want to be doing that with a new baby."
Baby Shower Etiquette: Ways to Say What You Want
Fortunately, many modern baby showers are hosted by close friends of the mother- or parents-to-be, which usually makes it easier to be upfront (or drop hints) about any issues you have strong feelings about. Close friends are also likely to have a pretty good sense of your taste.
But what if your hostess is planning a traditional pink-and-white girl shower and you hate pink? What if she's got her heart set on games that involve chocolate pudding in a diaper, but the thought of that turns your stomach?
Here are four tips to keep in mind when making your feelings known.
• Bring it up in the beginning. You may be tempted to put it off and see what the hostess has in mind, but the best time to talk is before she's made many plans or put down money on shower items. "Don't wait until she's already ordered a baby game online," says Tina Haller. "Release your wishes with love and let it be out of your hands."
• Be tactful. This is not the time for power-talking. Spencer suggests trying phrases such as: "Wouldn't it be fun if…," "What I really need is…," or even "Didn't you hate it at that other baby shower when …?"
• Ask someone else talk to the hostess. In some situations, it can be more effective -- and less awkward -- if a good friend or family member conveys your feelings to the hostess.
• Try to get your wishes known in other ways. "If it's really not clicking when you talk to the hostess or if you're too uncomfortable talking about it, involve her when you go shopping or show her the colors you're planning for your nursery," suggests McKinley.
Coed Baby Showers and Games
One area of baby shower planning that can be sensitive is whether to include men.
In ancient times, baby celebrations included both parents. After World War II, when they really came into vogue in the U.S., fathers got short shrift in baby showers, as they did with their baby's birth. Today, some parents feel it's important to correct that.
"The person who threw us a shower asked what we wanted," says Crimmins. "To us it was important that it not be traditional because I wasn't the only one having the baby -- my husband, Bob, was too. We wanted to say that to us, giving birth was a 'team event.'"
If the prospect of men at a baby shower shocks the elderly aunt who wants to throw yours, what should you do? This may be a good time to bring in your mother or a favorite niece to explain to her that coed showers are very acceptable today. Or ask for a semi-coed shower, where men and women gather together in the beginning and then split up for separate events.
Another strangely contentious area is baby shower games. Some people think they're hilarious; others think they're awful. But most agree it's important to have some kind of activity to bring guests together -- and your hostess, who may not know many of the guests, wants to make sure that everyone has a good time.
Fortunately for the game-phobic mother-to-be, other activities can serve the same ice-breaking function. Haller -- who sells hand-crafted baby shower invitations and decorations online and at her shop, My Favorite Things -- says that crafting brings guests together to create keepsake gifts for the mother. The crafts studio behind Haller's store has become a popular baby shower venue because hostesses can make unique decorations there instead of buying them and guests can create nursery garlands and other mementos "that last longer than the shower."
Whiteboard baby books are another popular item at baby showers. With a digital camera for on-the-spot developing, each guest can design a special page for the mother-to-be, using photos from the party. The involving activity is a lasting reminder of the guests' support and best wishes, as well as a memory book of the event.
No Gifts, Please: Baby Showers for Strapped Times
What if you'd prefer that your guests bring no gifts -- or just small ones? Perhaps some of your guests have been invited to more than one shower for you, and you don't want to strain their budget. Perhaps this is your second (or third, or fourth) baby, and you already have most of the big-ticket items. Or perhaps you want to emphasize the gathering and not the gifts.
Consider suggesting one of these ideas to your hostess.
• "Baby's first library" shower. Baby books are inexpensive, personal, fun to buy, and generally something a child can't have too much of.
• "Best advice" shower. All the guests are asked to write out their best piece of advice, and all the advice is put together in a book at the shower.
• "I.O.U." shower. Perhaps nothing is more appreciated by new moms than the gift of time. Each guest offers to provide a specific service: a week of carpooling, a night of babysitting, a delivered dinner, a free housecleaning.
Enjoying Your Baby Shower: 3 Tried-and-True Tips
No matter what shape your baby shower takes -- and whether you're involved in the planning or leave it all in the hands of the hostess -- there's no reason why you can't enjoy it. Here are three tips for making any baby shower a happy celebration.
• Be open-minded.
Especially for first-time moms, opening shower gifts and playing games can be awkward. "Everyone is looking at you so expectantly as you're opening a wipe warmer," says Spencer, "and you're trying to figure out the correct expression of gratitude, but you don't even know what a wipe warmer is yet." Instead of worrying about awkward moments, she says, just expect them and open yourself up to them.
• Don't sweat the details.
"Figure out what's important to you and let go of the little stuff," says Crimmins. If you try to micro-manage decorations and favors, you'll wear out yourself as well as the hostess. "A stressed-out planner equals a stressed-out party," says Russell.
• Accept the party on its own terms.
If you find yourself the center of attention at a baby shower that wasn't what you had in mind, relax and enjoy it for what it is -- and for the thought and effort that went into it. "Any excuse to sit around and have people give you (or your baby) presents is fun," says Spencer. "It's also a good rehearsal for parenthood to learn that you can't control everything."