Ask Lily Beth ☞ Children to Baby & Wedding Showers

Received this in my inbox today from Liane:

Lily-Beth,
I am a Dallas native and have more or less lived here my whole life.  I have just entered the phase in life where I have 2.5 wedding and/or baby showers per month.  Here in lies my question:  a lot of my friends who are not from Dallas, bring their babies or young children to these events; I find this inappropriate, am I out of line in feeling that way?  I find that the babies take away attention from the real focal point of the celebration — the soon to be bride or mother.  What is protocol? And if my friends try to bring their children to a no-kids event, how do I delicately suggest otherwise?

Some Notes on Dallas and a Reading of Lorna Novak

Now, the fact that she’s from Dallas seems to be important to Liane (as it should be), and she specifically mentions that she suspects this conundrum springs from a culture difference – women from Dallas vs. women from elsewhere. Which is precisely what What Would Jackie Do? is all about – reconciling that gap – and that means this post is going to be fraught, simply fraught, with anecdotes and stories and what have you, so fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!

I spent a good bit of my life in Dallas – even though it’s not where I hail from, it’s still where I introduce myself as being from when people ask.

When Jack and I traveled to Dallas together for the first time, it was evident that while I was back in my element and he was… well, a bit thrown off.

“Everyone is so sharp there. Dressed so smart. Everything’s so new. Well, and so hot,” he said as we sped through the glittering glass landscape in an air-conditioned town car from the airport.

“I know,” I replied. “Isn’t it wonderful?”

He didn’t exactly think so.

But for me, Dallas has always represented a wonderful mix between the agrarian world I came from and the society I wished to occupy. (I think Fort Worth being so close helps keep Dallas honest.) The Texan sensibilities were still there, but there was access to some of the best art, the best fashion, the best food. (All of which Jack had to admit was, indeed, the case – we’ve been all over the world, and the only places we’ve ever found proper fitting clothing for Jack are Dallas, Los Angeles, and Paris.) In my mind, Dallas ranks up there with even the most sensibly sophisticated cultural centers.

I adore it.

And I think this is exactly the right place for a passage from Lorna Novak’s Does it Make into a Bed?, published in 1963:

If you built a town here, or a house, or a garden, you’d made something out of nothing, and you could see what you had done. It might not look like much to the people who hadn’t seen the vast bare nothing in the beginning, but you were tired and proud, and you’d never leave it. Old ones were still alive who looked into a thousand miles of bare, unsheltered, arid land and turned, unafraid, to water a rose bush, a cup at a time, from a barrel. It was their notion that roses weren’t as good elsewhere…

In the woods and deep green rivers of East Texas, where the air had moisture in it and floated gently around your face, the ladies spoke in soft voices. They told each other twenty times a day how pretty they looked, how classic their profiles, how sweet and smart they all were. It didn’t seem so gluey once you got used to it and that soft air had soothed your nerves for a while. It was part of the place.

If they came from Dallas, they knew they were right and smart about everything. And next year, everything was going to be righter and smarter. Houston was really big. San Antonio people knew a secret; they were the real aristocrats. On top of the soft Southern slur it was enough to make you feel that if you were from West Texas, all you could say was by God, you’d lived through it!

All that to say, essentially, people are different everywhere, even from city to city in the grand state of Texas.

Lily Beth Attends Her First Shower “Up North”

When I moved up to the midwest, the first bridal shower I attended was not what I’d been used to. It was a “white elephant” shower. Now I’d heard of a white elephant Christmas – my family, which is about 60 when we all get together, had done white elephant Christmases for years, collapsing in laughter when someone got territorial over a set of pink flamingos or a mini-shop vac or a gift basket full of tequila.

But a white elephant bridal shower was a whole different thing – all the women brought something from their homes, and not just any old thing – no, specifically something that had been stuck in their attic for years that they hated and wanted to get rid of (like a garden gnome, a hideous 1970s sunset painting, a porcelain cat figurine, etc).

And then proceeded to gift this to the bride – who was, to my shock, delighted with everything.

I waited expectantly for this to have meaning, for the women to break out stories of these artifacts that would help them make sense – stories that would mean something, like “Harold gave that porcelain cat to me for our first wedding anniversary, and we were married thirty years before I got up the nerve to tell him I didn’t want it on the dining room table!”

Anything related to marriage that would help this make sense. But nothing came.

At the end of the day, as long as the bride is happy, you should be happy, but I couldn’t help but shake my head as I left in my a-line dress and big hat (all the other women had worn slinky cocktail dresses and teetered in impossibly high heels).

It seemed to me to be ridiculous – that the bride would now be lugging all this crap to her car, none of it actually useful, and then have to find a place for it in her new home. The symbolism seemed off to me; inheriting the unwanted junk from everyone else’s marriage as some of your first gifts for your new married life.

When I got home, I talked to Jack about it – I was flummoxed!

Jack explained that while the practice of a white elephant shower wasn’t common among the social circles he grew up in, he knew it happened in certain groups or neighborhoods – our city is very old and ethnically diverse, and as such, there’s certainly no one general, overarching way to get married or throw a shower. He pointed out that Brygid, our girlfriend who’s shower I attended, was from an old Polish family, and her whole wedding was probably going to be different than what I was used to, and if Bry was happy, that’s all that mattered.

Learning to Negotiate Difference vs. Rudeness

Again, all this to say: people are different everywhere. Not bad, just different.

In my four years in the north, my biggest struggle has been negotiating between difference and rudeness. People looked at me strange when I tried to talk to them about the weather in the grocery store line – it took me a long time to understand that this wasn’t rudeness, persay, it was just difference. People didn’t meet my eye on the street; my smile seemed too open and naked to their closed faces. And they looked disgusted when I stopped them and said things like “I love that hat!”

It took Jack explaining to me, “It’s fucking cold up here, Lil. People are trudging through snow and slush and freezing rain five months out of the year, and busy wondering if their car is going to make it up the hill. No one wants to talk to you about their hat.”

And indeed he was right; I began to notice that people thawed out substantially with the coming of Spring. To this day, if you catch people on the first spring weekend that it’s warm enough to sit outside, they are so overjoyed at being out that they’ll do anything for you – everyone is family on the first weekend of Spring.

And then there were some things I encountered that were just plain rudeness, no matter where you were. Like the fact that even if I was loaded down with luggage or heavy bags, no one, man, woman, or child, was conditioned to stop and hold a door for me. Or the fact that people waiting outside an elevator would shove over the occupants trying to get out instead of calmly waiting for the elevator to be emptied before stepping inside.

It’s important to draw the distinction between rudeness and difference, I think, when you’re talking about customs like wedding and baby showers.

Alright already – give me the specifics

How do guests know whether or not they can bring their kids?

Bridal and baby showers adhere to the same damn rule as weddings, galas, and other basic events: the only people attending should be the people the invitation is addressed to.

For example, if a bridal shower invite is just addressed to me, Mrs. Lily Beth Tempest, I would never in a million years consider bringing Jack along for the ride. But if the bridal shower invitation is addressed to both of us, that’s a signal that it’s a co-ed shower and we should bring a gift more fitting of both the couple, not just the bride.

Say what you want about etiquette, but it’s like my Mama always said, “The idea behind etiquette is not to exclude people; it’s to make sure everyone’s on the same page and no one feels awkward.”

For a more casual bridal or baby shower, the bride or mother-to-be may welcome the children of her friends and family – in which case, the hostess should address the invitation to “Janice, Janie, and Paige Smith” – the mother plus her two young children.

That seems a little vague and out-dated – what about putting it on the invitation?

To this, I’ll give a resounding sigh and acquiesce. In a perfect world, everyone would be on the same page regarding etiquette, and this blog wouldn’t need to exist. But the world is perfectly imperfect – lots of cultures and ideas and personalities mishmashed together – and that’s great. (Hell, a time did exist, you know, when women were not just encourage but required by their company to quit work when they got married; we’ve come a long way, baby.)

In this day and age, where “bridal shower” or “baby shower” could actually refer to a million different styles, I’ll give a resigned green-light to spelling your kids or no kids policy out on the invitations. I don’t like to do this, and I wouldn’t do it myself, but to each their own. If you believe it will alleviate the stress and confusion, go ahead.

For a no kids shower, I suggest “adults only, please” in small, unthreatening print, hidden away in a lower corner – don’t trumpet it like a headline across the top of an invitation, and don’t bold it. You’re just providing information, not an admonishment.

For a kid-friendly shower, I suggest “children warmly welcome” in equally small, undemanding print. This neutrality gives moms the ability to bring their kids or not without feeling forced.

Kids or no kids: how does the hostess make the decision?

Many brides or mothers-to-be discourage the practice of bringing children altogether, as things can get sticky (both literally and figuratively) any time you involve people’s children.

While your gut impulse may be to invite your sister’s children (they’re perfect angels, why not?), that also means – in the spirit of fairness – you have to extend the invitation for your sister-in-law to bring her three poorly behaved children as well. Thus, the kids that are perfectly happy coloring neatly in their coloring books for two hours have to sit alongside the same kids who, the last time they got together, managed to cover the dog in honey and let him loose in the backyard (and later the white carpet) while their mother simply smiled and said, “Aren’t they adorable?”

The hard and fast rule is that the hostess and the bride/mother-to-be need to come to a decision one way or the other about the type of event, and then stick to their guns. If their vision is an elegant lunch in the town’s best restaurant, or a graceful tea with afternoon cocktails in a quiet art museum, they may arrive to the “no children” conclusion.

And no children means no children, period. If their friends can’t get a sitter, that’s a personal problem – there are some events that children simply can not attend. As a guest, if the invitation isn’t addressed to you plus kids, don’t call and put the hostess in an awkward position by asking her to make an exception – if she does it for you, she has to do it for everyone. (If you’re a hostess who gets one of these calls, take a deep breath and be thankful that at least they didn’t just show up with kids in tow, and then politely explain that it’s a no children event with no exceptions.)

Likewise, if you’re going to invite some kids, you must open the invitation to all kids without prejudice. I’ve seen couples do this successfully at weddings, where they devoted an entire separate room with separate, kid-friendly meals and kid-friendly tables and serving pieces, complete with multiple (well-paid) nannies or babysitters, so that kids could tag along but not be bored, and their parents would have the freedom to eat and dance without reservation. If you’re going to invite kids to your shower, consider taking similar steps: have a baby-sitter or kid wrangler, have a separate space for kids to call their own, and have kid friendly foods available.

If you try to attempt a hybrid of these options (“Oh Sarah’s kids can come, of course, they’re so well-behaved, but we’ll have to tell Marjorie to gets a sitter because her kids are out of control”) you’re inviting a much bigger problem than if you’d come down hard on one side or the other. In addition, no one wants to be the one woman who was told to bring her children while the others sit around and glare at her – it makes it awkward for everyone.

But isn’t a bridal shower different from a baby shower? Shouldn’t I automatically be able to bring my kids to a baby shower?

The gut reaction to a baby shower can often be “But it’ll be so fun to bring the kids along to help celebrate the new baby!”

Hey, it might be – in which case the hostess will have addressed the invite to you, plus children. But then again, it might not be; your two kids are one thing, but 15 of them in a single space is another.

Remember that bridal and baby showers both have the same purpose: to provide a time for the other women in one woman’s life to gather round and offer their formal congratulations in the form of company, gifts, and good stories. And because all these women are allegedly brought together by their mutual love of a single woman, they should in no way disrespect her wishes, bully her, or make her feel uncomfortable – that negates the whole point entirely.

It’s the hostess’ responsibility to execute the bride or mother-to-be’s wishes. It’s the guests’ responsibility to be graceful and well-behaved, which means no arguing, wheedling, or intimidation tactics (such as “But you know John and I can’t afford a sitter right now!” wailed tearfully into the phone).

But what if we have children in our wedding – shouldn’t they be invited to the shower?

The easiest thing to say in this instance is no children means no children. Period. Little Suzy is being given a responsibility, not a playground, in being made a flower girl, and part of that includes understanding that she can’t be included in every little detail of the wedding.

However, a grey, insidious area also exists with specific children. Traditionally, it’s acceptable to invite your flower girls or junior bridesmaids because they are literally considered part of the wedding party. Other women need to understand that decision, and respect it.

Typically, a square is always a rectangle but a rectangle isn’t always a square: you don’t have to invite every female guest at your wedding to your bridal shower (and shouldn’t, unless it’s a very small wedding), but every guest who’s invited to your shower should also be invited to your wedding. Otherwise, it’s equivocal to saying “We think you’re important enough to give us a gift, but not quite important enough to share in our special day.” (The singular exception to this is showers thrown by your work colleagues, where the entire company may pitch in for your gift but shouldn’t be expected to be invited to a wedding – budgets are finite, y’all!)

Likewise, if you have children in your wedding, obviously you must invite their parents, no matter how they make your blood boil. And therefore, if you invite these children to your shower, their mother must obviously come along.

This seems like a no-brainer for young kids (I mean, who’s going to supervise them if not a parent?) but I’ve run into this kind of rationalization before with complex families. A woman feels very close to her teenage half-sister and would like to have her to her shower, but she and her step-mother share a mutual hatred of each other. In this case, you invite both the half-sister and step-mother, or you take the half-sister out with your privately for your own special time together before the wedding.

But what about the difference in children’s ages?

Newborns

So Betsy has just had a baby of her own three months ago, and would like to attend her friend’s shower, but it’s way too soon to leave her newborn behind. Generally, bringing newborns is more acceptable than children who are walking and talking. Bringing a newborn to a bridal shower can still be questionable – and it’s better to call the hostess and ask – but they’re generally more manageable than older kids (because, hello, they’re kind of immobile) and therefore usually more welcome at baby showers.

If it’s an engraved, calligraphy style invitation and the location is listed as a posh restaurant, you should probably think twice, even with a newborn. If it’s a super-fun casual invitation and the location is listed as the hostesses’ home (who has three kids herself), it’s probably safer to assume your newborn will be okay. Still, if you have reservations, call the hostess, and be gracious about whatever her decision is. If for some reason calling the hostess is out of the question, then err on the side of caution by leaving your child behind or politely decline the invitation.

Toddler Age up to Ten Years

This is the age that carries the most concern. Even the best-behaved young children can become impatient or bored through two hours of oohs-and-ahhs over kitchen utensils or baby clothes. If the invite isn’t specifically addressed to your kids, leave them at home.

Teenagers

Pre-teen or teenage kids (especially girls) may actually want to attend a bridal or baby shower – they’re getting to the age there they desire to be accepted as adults, and hopefully will behave accordingly. They may enjoy participating in games, or hearing stories of everyone’s marriage or children. This is the most likely invitation you’ll find addressed to children – I remember flushing with pride when I’d reached the age where invitations were addressed not just to my mother, but also to “Miss Lily Beth.”

If you have reservations, a call to the hostess is still in order, but teenage girls are usually considered more acceptable than younger kids. Still, each shower is different – maybe your hostess had actually planned something a little more risque, and everyone would feel awkward if your 13-year old was included (including the 13-year old in question).

How do I gracefully check with a hostess?

Like I said, no bullying, wheedling, or manipulation. No emotionally charged or passive aggressive phrases to try and get what you want. Beginnings like, “I could get a sitter but I’d rather not” puts the hostess in an awkward position – don’t do this.

Instead, be honest, respectful, and neutral.

“John can watch the kids, of course, but I wanted to check with you first to see if I’m supposed to bring the kids or not.”

“I wanted to check with you to see if this event is appropriate for children or not.”

“Is it alright to bring my kids or should I leave them with my mother-in-law?”

Some additional pointers on having this conversation gracefully with your hostess:

  • Lead and end with thanking the hostess for undertaking what you’re sure will be a lovely event
  • Be sure to let her know whether you will or won’t be attending
  • Ask her if you can help in any way
  • Be sure to get any other questions out of the way (like dress code, parking, etc)
  • Confirm the date and time, such as “See you on the 10th at noon!”

An example conversation might go like this (we’ll pretend our three dogs are children because I’m running out of names here):

  • Lily Beth: “Hi, Al, it’s Lily. I got your invitation to Cindy’s shower in the mail, and I have to say, it’s beautiful. Of course I’m coming, but I wanted to check with you about what type of event it was first – is it appropriate to bring Jo, Miles, and Lisbette, or should I just leave them with Jack?”
  • Alison: “Oh, hi, Lily Beth – thank you, you know I spent two damn hours picking those invitations out. I’m so pleased with the way they turned out. It’s great that you’re coming, I know Cindy will be thrilled, but we decided on no children across the board.”
  • Lily Beth: “No problem, I think Jack can handle them for a single afternoon! By the way, I was planning on wearing slacks and a turtle-neck sweater – is that appropriate, or should I dress up a little more?”
  • Alison: “Oh, I think slacks and a sweater will be just fine; I’m wearing slacks myself.”
  • Lily Beth: “That’s great – and also, a quick question about parking. Since it’s at the museum, is there valet or should I park in the garage instead?”
  • Alison: “There’s valet available, don’t worry about that – the garage is so far away.”
  • Lily Beth: “Perfect. Thanks so much for pulling this together for Cindy; I know it means a lot to her to have us all together before her special day. Can I do anything for you to help?”
  • Alison: “I don’t think so, Lil, but thank you so much for asking. We’ve got it all under control – just show up and be your gorgeous self!”
  • Lily Beth: “Great. You be sure to call me if anything does come up that you need help with. Hey, I’ve got to run, but thanks again, Al.  I can’t wait to see you on the 10th; I’m sure it’s going to be lovely.”
  • Alison: “Looking forward to having you – be sure and give my love to Jack and the kids!”
  • Lily Beth: “Of course, and my love back to John. Bye!”

Additional Resources

As always, the Post Institute is usually a good reference, although remember that cultures vary from area to area.

For example, the Post Institute says that if you’re not attending, don’t bother sending a gift in your place, whereas my mother wouldn’t be caught dead not sending a gift, irregardless of whether or not she would attend. Likewise, they claim it is rude to send a shower invitation to someone living far away who obviously can’t attend, but my best girlfriend living in Sydney would be heart-broken if I didn’t send her an invitation to include her in spirit.

You know your friends better than we do – use your common sense.

Bridal Shower Resources

Baby Shower Resources

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