Baby shower etiquette: Hint, it's not about the gifts

Baby showers may bring to mind towers of pink and blue gifts, but presents should not take precedence away from the thrill and anticipation of a new baby.

Kathy Kmonicek/Invision for Carousel Designs/AP Images
Kim Antal of Albany, N.Y. (l.) and Jennifer Lyman of Ballston Spa, N.Y. admire the baby shower gifts they received at Operation Shower, hosted by Melissa Joan Hart and sponsored by Carousel Designs at The 2012 Barclays, on Aug. 22, 2012

Baby showers bring to mind much oohing and awing (obligatory or genuine) as piles of pink- or blue-themed gifts are opened.

While it's true that the point of a baby shower is to give new parents gifts that will help them be prepared for their new bundle of joy, they are also about sharing the excitement a new baby brings with family and friends.

Whenever guests are expected to bring a gift, those expectations can start to become the center of attention, instead of the event the gifts are celebrating.

Here are a few ways to help keep the focus where it belongs: on the thrill and anticipation of a wonderful new baby.

While new parents don't throw their own shower (it's too much of a direct ask for presents), anyone else can host.

And though many people might associate baby showers with a group of women seated in a circle around a mom-to-be, it's fine to throw a shower for any expecting or new parent-single mom or dad, or gay or straight couples together-and the guest list can be co-ed.

This is also the case for parents who adopt, though if the adoption is for an older child, don't use baby-themed invitations. It's also a good idea to include the child's name and age on the invitation.

Keep shower guests to close friends and family.

Though a gift is expected if a guest attends, guests should only be invited to help celebrate the upcoming arrival, not for the gift they bring. If a guest is invited to a shower but can't attend, there is no obligation to send a gift, though they certainly may if they want to.

Include registry information on a separate slip of paper with the invitation, or better yet, provide it to guests who reply they will be coming. It is splitting hairs, but it keeps the focus on the guest being invited to celebrate and not just on their gift.

It's okay to have a shower for a second or third child. Originally this was frowned on, the idea being that parents would have what they need from their first child.

But in some cases it's been many years since the last child was born, or the first child was a girl and now the parents are expecting a boy.

For parents who are relatively well equipped, shower hosts might consider themes that focus on restocking basic items, or treats for mom and dad, such as a night of babysitting, coupons for take-out, massages, or movie tickets.

Office showers are a nice way for colleagues to help celebrate and acknowledge parents-to-be. Usually there is cake and a card signed by the group, often accompanied by a group present.

Employee guests to an office shower aren't expected to bring gifts; instead, the group gets together for a group gift, usually funded by an office collection.

It's important that no one be excluded from or pressured into participating. Instead, the person in charge should inform everyone that there's an envelope at his or her desk, and to make contributions there anonymously. Never go desk-to-desk asking colleagues to pony up on the spot.

The person in charge might check in with the parent-to-be to discover what they need, and to see if their partner might be available to join the party.

Traditional etiquette says that if you thanked someone for a gift in person, there is no need to send a handwritten note. This is still true, but shower gifts have always been and continue to be an exception.

Be sure to send a prompt handwritten thank-you note to each guest who gave you a gift. It's never okay for the shower host to ask guests to write their address on blank envelopes to save the parent-to-be the effort.

Notes, including the envelopes, should be personal start to finish. Some hosts will excuse the practice by using them to draw door prizes or as a way to gather mailing addresses for the expectant parent in an age of email.

Door prizes don't make up for laziness, and an address book would work just as well to collect mailing addresses, so these excuses don't make up for the tackiness of outsourcing the task of thanking guests to the guests themselves.

And a final grace note for parents: After your newborn arrives, be sure to share the news personally with anyone who attended a baby shower for you. 

Anna Post is a spokeswoman for The Emily Post Institute, a U.S.-based organization founded in 1946 that addresses societal concerns including business and wedding etiquette and raising polite children. Her latest book "Emily Posts's Etiquette, 18th edition" is out now. The opinions expressed are her own. The Emily Post Institute's website is www.emilypost.com

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