Ask Lily Beth ☞ Gifts & Money at Baby Showers

Received this in my inbox last week from Charlotte:

I am hosting a shower for my daughter.  I have the invites, I wanted to put 2 extra’s on the invites and am having a problem with wording. The first is for the guest not to wrap gifts (as it is healthy for the environment and the mom to be can spend more time with her guests)The second is I have purchased ared wagon to use as a wishing well type thing and need some wording for bring a small token for the wagon.  Can you help?

Now, it’s taken me a while to get an answer together for this, because there’s a lot going on here.

Charlotte sounds pretty set in her ways – the woman has got a vision, and I try not to stand in the way of people’s visions.

But for the sake of argument, there are several things in this post that I see women struggle with a lot. So even though Charlotte seems adamant about the way she would like this to go, let me tackle some of it for the rest of you (and throw in some of the requested poems on the way).

It’s true that a lot of time is spent opening, unwrapping, oooing, and aaahing over gifts at baby showers. Some will argue, in fact, that this is the whole point of the party.

In a way, this practice is useful – it focuses a lot of attention on the mother, which is the idea, and it also allows her to express joy and thanks to each person individually about the gift they have thoughtfully brought her to assist with the new baby. Plus, it can be fun to watch, and to garner ideas for your own unique gift giving.

On a personal level, I’m with you. Opening gifts in public makes me exceedingly uncomfortable. I feel pressured to say something unique and wonderful about every. Damn. Gift. It’s exhausting to keep your face contorted into a permanent expression of surprise and joy over yet another baby blanket or diaper cake, no matter how pleased you might really be on the inside.

Furthermore, you’re correct: it does focus a lot of attention on the practice of gift-giving instead of the practice of, well, socializing, sharing stories, and generally being (frankly) women together.

So how does one get around this sticky subject? Well first, let’s look at the hard and fast etiquette – Mama always said you have to know the rules before you can break them.


Traditional etiquette dictates a no-no concerning listing instructions on gift-giving for anything, period. Weddings, bridal showers, baby showers, instructions for gift-giving are seen as tacky, which seems counter-inuitive at first glance, doesn’t it? The initial reaction is to assume that the majority of guests will, of course, want to bring a gift – and you are helping them by providing registry information, or even suggesting selflessly that guests do not bring gifts but to make a donation to a charity instead.

But that’s not the way etiquette works. No references to gifts on invitations, period.

The idea behind this is a sound one: a lady never references or flaunts money in conversation. Gifts are money. And an invitation is almost like a conversation recorded for posterity’s sake. No one wants to look like they’re fishing for money, and certainly no one wants this recorded in print for all-time. Referencing gifts on an invitation subtly lets people know that you expect a gift from them, and insidiously implies that their company alone will not suffice.

So what’s a girl to do?

Ideally, the complex information behind gift giving is communicated to guests via the party host, maid of honor, mother of the bride, or whatever designated ladies you’ve deputized to assist with RSVPs and planning. When guests call or email to RSVP, they may inquire about gift registries, at which point the host, MOH, MOB, etc communicate to them where you’re registered and any specialities about the gift giving (such as bringing presents unwrapped, or suggesting that the expectant mom has been very clear that she’s not going to use disposable diapers, or hinting that the happy couple just bought a house, which suggests the need for either home renovation tools or cash.)

At the end of the day, however, having a party thrown for you is different than throwing a party yourself. While a bride would never, ever list her own registry information on her invitations, there is a tad bit more leeway for someone else who’s hosting a shower in her honor to direct people to appropriate avenues for gift-giving.

In short, referencing gifts is in poor taste. And I stand by this. But if you simply feel you must do it, can not possibly get around it, be as discreet as humanly possible by listing the registry on a separate card or suggesting (again on a separate card) that the hostess is glad to be contacted concerning ideas or suggestions on what the expectant mother may need.

People keep acting like hiding gift requests in cute poetry is appropriate, and I don’t agree. Bad taste is bad taste, poetic or not.

However. You’re in a tight spot. I understand.

It’s easier to get away with this if you’re having a specific themed shower, as friends of ours recently did – they had a “book shower” and friends brought their favorite books (new, used, handed down, whatever) from when they were children, with warm wishes to the new baby inscribed in the front cover of each book.

Ehow, which is usually spectacularly unhelpful, has provided this wording for such an event:

A card is something very nice,
But maybe read only once or twice.
So instead, think of sharing a book, you see
And mommy and daddy will read it to me.
Please sign your name and add a note too,
So I know this storybook was from you.
I’m tiny now, just a sweet little tot
But someday I’ll thank you with all my heart.

Also, I must mention TinyPrints, a subsidiary of Wedding Paper Divas, who have some adorable baby shower invitations, many of which have matching thank you cards. (A good hostess will pack a mother-to-be off not only with her card loaded with presents, but also hand her a stack of her thank you notes with a discreet sticky note in each card noting the person’s mailing address, name, and gift they gave.) Jack and I have used them a million times for invitations; we like that the turn-around is fast, the quality is high, and we can view our edits onscreen in real time as we design our invite.


Before you dispense with the idea of opening gifts altogether, I’d suggest examining first your motivations and then your location.

First, if your motivation for dispensing with gifts is because the act of unwrapping all those things makes the mother-to-be uncomfortable, then by all means, don’t do it. The idea, above all else, is to throw the expectant mom a party that she will look forward to attending, not dread.

But if the mother-to-be doesn’t really care one way or the other, or even suggests that she wouldn’t mind opening gifts in front of people, then think about if having “helpers” would change your mind about the practice. Is it possible to blow through gift-giving if you had deputized women assigned to collect wrapping, write down who the gifts are from as she opens them, stack gifts, etc? Then the practice gets stream-lined, and each woman still feels like they got a moment in the sun when the mom-to-be unveiled their gift. Everyone gets to oooh over a stuffed giraffe, everyone goes home happy.

Still not doing it for you? Alright. Then examine your location.

Having a bridal or baby shower in someone’s home, cloistered around sofas, lends itself to the practice of unwrapping, ooohing and aaahing a lot more easily than having the shower in a more public place, like a restaurant or tea room. Whereas people may very much notice the absence of gift-unwrapping in someone’s home, they’re more socially conditioned to leave a gift on a table and not miss the spectacle of opening in a public place.

The question of money

Oh, honey, this is tricky. Like I said earlier, a lady doesn’t discuss money, or if she does, she doesn’t do so in specific terms.

A power networking breakfast for female financiers is one thing, but a polite social event is another.

No one wants to know that Jack and I made a killing on stock, and are flying first class to Jackson Hole at the end of this month to stay at a $600 a night hotel. Jack wanted to drive it in our new sports car – only $10,000 more to get the build in navigation and air-conditioned seats – but I insisted we fly instead, first class of course, which is sooo expensive but worth it, don’t you think, darling?

See? Didn’t that make you feel weird and awkward? Don’t do it.

Putting a big red sign – or in this case, a little red wagon – begging for cash donations is equally questionable practice.

But tiiiimes have chaaaanged. *cue Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes”*

I see couples at weddings today – and I only bring up weddings because they lop so easily in with baby showers, and people are honestly more likely to give money at a wedding than a baby shower – who devote entire dances to the practice of pinning money to the bride’s dress. It’s awkward, awful, horrible, every single time I see it happen.

Not just because it’s an unconventional flaunting of wealth, or that it makes all the guests who already bought a gift feel imposed upon to pony up some more cash, or that it makes the bride look strangely like a hooker, although these things all seem to be true.

It’s because it always turns out awkward in practice. No one wants to bring behavior they’ve previously only exhibited at strip clubs and drag shows into a wedding reception. So the bride dances awkwardly by herself, before a few brave souls encroach to pin $1s and $5s to her, then dart away. Eventually that big-shot uncle saunters up and pills a hundred dollar bill to her dress, and then certainly no one wants to follow that act, so it’s essentially curtains for the Dollar Dance, complete with equally awkward DJ transition.

Ugh. In my day, girls, if people wanted to give you money, they did so in polite discreet little envelopes passed to you hand-to-hand in the receiving line.

The trend to openly flaunt or reference money may be growing in popularity but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stand by it.

Furthermore, you’ve lent me a bit of an image of people tossing bits of change or bills into said little red wagon, which is horrific.

I’m sure this is not how you envisioned it in your mind, and am equally sure that if you proceed with said little-red-wagon bit, you’ll provide tasteful envelopes or something equally helpful for women to put money or checks into (hastily scrawled in the powder room or kitchen I’m sure, because the practice is awkward, I tell you) before depositing them into the wagon.

Lovetoknow suggests this for your little-red-wagon wishing well:

Diapers, bottles, clothes galore,
we have some but still need more.
If you could pitch-in to help with these,
The parents-to-be would sure be pleased.
With your donation, your name please don’t tell,
it’s just a little contribution to our wishing well.
One Response to “Ask Lily Beth ☞ Gifts & Money at Baby Showers”
  1. Dana says:

    We find that the issues posed by Charlotte’s question are increasingly common these days. We offer a service at that helps a lot of people with this conundrum. Users create baby gift registries with us for anything they’d like monetary contributions towards and because the registries are so specific and personal, the sentimentality of gift giving is not lost. We also offer a gift card that givers can print at checkout. We often get feedback that they do cute things like wrap it in a onesie to give it as a gift. This solves a lot of issues:
    -no gift wrap
    -giving a gift that is actually useful to the parents-to-be
    -the baby website url can be put on the invite as the place for all the info about the baby

    Although this is a new concept, the response is that it is filling a need. Now people can register for anything that couldn’t be registered for before, like contributions to the college fund, a baby nurse, a diaper service or newborn photography session. And if they want bigger things like a crib or stroller, now friends and family have an easy way to contribute. You can find some samples here:

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