I have been thinking a LOT about US culture surrounding the birth of a baby. The baby shower route kinda grosses me out; we sit around playing silly games and then sit around watching the mom open a ton of gifts that are cute but not necessarily helpful (and quite possibly not in her taste anyway). As a guest I am never comfortable with any of this, and as a potential receiver it actually fills me with dread. #firstworldproblems
On the other hand, my love language is gift-giving, so I understand that it brings many people joy to give gifts and celebrate being a part of a community; they are showing their willingness to support the family in a time of great transition and often need.
I’ve been working on my own attitude, and trying to appreciate gifts people share with us (and everything has been in great taste so far) while struggling to understand why I am so violently opposed to being on the receiving end of this process.
1. CONTROL. I have to admit that part of me wants my kid to look cute and artsy, but on my own terms. I don’t want to feel obligated to outfit him in cheesy “grandma’s little cutie” print shirts and well-intentioned but horrific handmade booties. When we weren’t sure if we would have a boy or girl I was ready to keep the gender secret just to avoid an influx of terrible pink and ruffly baby clothes. This is a control issue, I will freely admit.
2. MINIMALISM. We live in a tiny house and do not have the physical space to store any extra items. I was visiting a family member shortly before they gave birth and their ENTIRE GUEST ROOM was full of unopened boxes of [generous yet] gigantic plastic baby things relatives and friends had shipped to their house. While we will be moving into a larger space sometime within the first year of Burrito’s existence, we just don’t need or want to be equipped with everything until the kid actually needs it.
3. THE PLASTIC. We have been making a concentrated effort to bring less plastic into our home. We’d like our child’s toys to be as organic and natural as possible.
I know everyone says their kid LOVES the bright plastic play seat with little animals that move and music that plays and buttons to push, I don’t want to train my baby to have a short attention span and demand constant entertainment. Give the kid a dishtowel already! Or a stick! (HA.) I remember being intrigued by a friend from MIT who came to the US from Slovakia; Daniel kept talking about how he didn’t like the way people in the US buy all the toys in bright, unnatural colors for their children, as these colors don’t really exist outside of the plastics factory. HE’S RIGHT.
So those are basically my top three reasons for not wanting to participate in the US baby shower culture. I also don’t want friends and family to feel obligated to purchase things for us. Supporting a friend in your community should not be relegated to one afternoon of awkward game-playing — then cross them off your list after you deliver a lasagna or two after birth! Being a good friend is an ongoing relationship where you figure out what the other person really needs and make yourself available to help with that.
I apologize if that sounded didactic or preachy, I’m just trying to get out my thoughts about the gifting thing because a good friend remarked to me last night that she has never heard of anyone not wanting help with a new baby. It’s not that we don’t want help, but that we want people to seek out creative ways to support us in this huge transition time.
To be honest, I’m quite anxious about the upcoming change in lifestyle and loss of personal freedom. Having another being to support is going to be a full time commitment for the next twenty years. It’s scary and wonderful, and we’re excitedly preparing ourselves for this change. And hoping we don’t turn into the stereotype new parents who only talk and think about their children and forget how to be interesting.
Inspired by a friend’s recent facebook post, “[friend] gave me the best gift ever last night – she took care of Ransom all night long so I could sleep!!!” I put together a list of what I think are PERFECT gifts for a new mom. I realized after writing the list that most are services, and therefore potentially pricy, so I am envisioning a few friends getting together for some of the bigger items.
ETA: Ali and I continue to urge friends NOT to buy us any gifts, but for those of you who insist, here are ideas of the type of thing that works for us:
- ★ contribute toward diaper service (my mom is gifting this to us for the first few months, what a brilliant idea!)
- ★ gift a couple of hours of pro house cleaning service to use before or after birth
- ★ bake cookies, fudge, or other sweets; bring meals the week BEFORE the kid is due and when mom is feeling too big/tired to cook
check out mealtrain.com for an easy way for a friend to coordinate meal dropoffs and share dietary preferences with well-meaning others
- ★ give the mom a couple of “coupons” that you will take her out, buy her coffee, and hold her child while engaging in adult conversation with her – to redeem at ANY TIME in the first three months of having said child
- ★ [very close friend] babysitting and washing all the dishes while mother rests or gets out of the house
- ★ Commit to praying for the new child and the family once per week on one specific topic. Let them know what you’re praying for!
- ★ group of friends contribute toward credit with a pro house meals service [like The Good Plate or DinneratYourDoor in Portland]
- ★ pedicure credit + promise to hold the child while mother is being served
- ★ consultation session or credit with a professional organizer or life coach
- ★ gift certificate to your local bookstore and a list of recommended books (thanks, Michelle & Paul!)
Personally, I would be thrilled with receiving a luxury like pro housecleaning or meal services. I’m not suggesting friends should be burdened with spending more than they would otherwise just because I’m snobby about synthetic clothing; even if the gift was small (like one hour of cleaning or one meal’s worth) it would be a treat. I can’t figure out any classy way to communicate this to people… is there one?
What would you add to the list? What would have thrilled you to receive before or after the birth of your first child?