What's The Deal With Grandparent Baby Showers?

Parents and etiquette experts weigh in on this modern trend.
01/05/2018 02:02pm ET
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Grandparent baby showers are a divisive subject.

A baby shower is an exciting occasion to celebrate parents-to-be and help them prepare for their new bundle of joy. But lately, expectant parents aren’t the only ones being “showered” ahead of their baby’s arrival.

Over the past five years or so, there have been increased reports of a newer trend: grandparent baby showers.

Baby showers for grandparents (aka “grandma showers,” “grandbaby showers” and so on) are gatherings to celebrate expectant grandmas and/or grandpas before the birth of their grandchildren, typically a first grandchild.

Amy Roloff of “Little People, Big World” TV fame had a grandma shower in April when her two daughters-in-law were expecting her first grandchildren. According to TLC, friends of the grandmother-to-be organized the shower, which featured champagne, a game of “pin the panties on the granny” and gifts like diapers and strollers.

But this type of celebration has sparked controversy, with many expectant mothers expressing discontent, calling it “tacky” and a way for their parents or parents-in-law to steal the spotlight. In 2010, etiquette expert Judith Martin, also known as Miss Manners, called grandparent baby showers a cheap gift grab.

Good and bad experiences

We asked members of the HuffPost Parents Facebook community to share their opinions and personal experiences with grandparent showers. The responses were mixed.

“My mother-in-law tried to have her own shower when I was pregnant with my first,” one woman, who asked to remain anonymous, told HuffPost. “She argued that the baby would spend so much time at her house that she needed just as much stuff as we did, including things that we could easily bring over with us or that she just wouldn’t need, such as clothing, a car seat, a baby bath, etc.”

“She tried to encourage her own sisters and some of her nieces to throw it for her, but the general response was that they were already planning on throwing one for me,” she added. “When that didn’t pan out, she asked for hand-me-downs from their babies and grand-babies, but again, those were already spoken for by me and the other new moms in the family.”

In the end, the mother-in-law bought most of these items herself “while complaining about the cost, despite our assurances that there wasn’t anything the baby would need at her house that we couldn’t easily bring over when he was there,” the woman recalled. “She was welcome to get a few things, as my parents did, but it just became this big issue.”

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HuffPost Parents readers described both positive and negative experiences with grandparent showers.

But there were many sweet stories about grandparent baby showers, too.

“Last year, my Nannie, who is my daughter’s great-grandmother, was thrown a surprise ‘grandma shower’ by the women in her sewing group,” Alexandra Rugh told HuffPost. “All of the items were for the baby, save for a notepad with my Nannie’s name on it, and most were hand made ― blankets, bibs, crocheted hats, a quilt, and more.”

The great-grandmother-to-be had no idea they’d planned this celebration for her.

“Now, to some, it probably sounds strange, but it was a very special moment for my Nannie because she had just been diagnosed with an enlarged aorta and was scheduled to have open heart surgery two weeks before my due date,” Rugh explained. “At 73 years old, my Nannie didn’t know if she would make it through the surgery. Her biggest fear was dying and not being able to hold her first and only great grandchild. I’m happy to say that Nannie survived the surgery and was able to hold my daughter in her arms when she was just 1 week old.”

Today, Rugh’s daughter is over a year old, and her great-grandmother watches her twice a week while the mom works from home.

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“I understand why some people may think this is unnecessary, but for my mother, it was truly a well-earned celebration,” Katey Johnson said.

“When I had my daughter 10 years ago, my mother, who worked as a tutor mentor in a New York state correctional facility, was given an amazing baby shower by her co-workers,” Katey Johnson told HuffPost.

“I understand why some people may think this is unnecessary, but for my mother, it was truly a well-earned celebration,” she said, adding that her brother died unexpectedly at the age of 19.

“As any mother can imagine, her heart was shattered, as were mine and my father’s, but she soldiered on,” Johnson said. “Always the brave face. Always the kind word to lift a spirit.”

When Johnson’s first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, her mother was again heartbroken. However, her second pregnancy instilled a new joy in her mom.

“The women she worked with loved her and wanted to celebrate this new joy she earned after years of heartache,” Johnson said. “And the outpouring was amazing. Some people may think a grandparent is trying to steal the spotlight from a new mother, but that was not the case with my mom. The people that loved her were as thrilled to see her happy as she was to welcome my daughter.”

Of course, grandparent showers aren’t just for grandmothers-to-be.

“My dad’s work threw a ‘Grandbaby Shower’ for him when the first grandchild in our family was born,” Tammy Long told HuffPost. “He was as excited as the parents, and it was a sweet gesture!”

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Etiquette experts have mixed opinions on the subject of grandparent showers, but they mostly agree on one thing: Tread carefully.

What do experts say?

Etiquette experts have mixed opinions when it comes to grandparent showers, but they mostly agree on one thing: Tread carefully.

“It’s really awesome to celebrate new grandparents,” said Emily Post’s great-granddaughter Lizzie Post, co-host of the Emily Post Institute’s “Awesome Etiquette” podcast. “But we caution people against throwing parties like this and having them get out of control.”

Post attributes the practice ― which she says she first heard about in 2014 ― to the fact that many grandparents are becoming primary or secondary caregivers to their grandchildren. Indeed, with changing family structures, growing financial insecurity and more women in the workforce, grandparents are stepping up to help care for their grandkids.

“People would realize that their friend was becoming a grandmother or grandfather, but didn’t have a lot of the gear to be able to babysit easily without just sharing constantly with the parents,” Post said. “So the friends would get together and say ‘We can help with that!’”

“Unfortunately, we have a tendency in this country to really go after any type of party and gift-giving scenario we can and make a reason for it to become a tradition,” she added.

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“It’s really awesome to celebrate new grandparents. But we caution people against throwing parties like this and having them get out of control,” said Lizzie Post, who suggested a small gathering of friends for cocktails or tea. 

Gathering a group of close friends or co-workers to celebrate a grandparent-to-be can be a nice gesture, but such celebrations should not mimic the baby showers people throw for expectant parents, Post said. She suggested instead getting together for drinks, sending a card or having tea.

When it might be appropriate

If a grandparent is going to play a major caregiving role, receiving gifts ahead of the baby’s birth can be appropriate.

“You can’t expect a mother to constantly move her crib over to Grandma’s house, so practical gifts the grandmother might use would be a crib, car seat, stroller, books, wipes or bottles,” international etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore told HuffPost.

Still, Whitmore recommended making gifts optional for this kind of informal celebration. Post echoed this, noting that gifts should generally only be part of the event if the caregiving grandparents need help to afford the essentials for caring for their grandchild.

“There are ways to handle it nicely,” she said. “The host might get on the phone with the guests and say something like, ‘I know that Carol is planning on taking care of her granddaughter a lot once the baby is born, and as we all know, it’s been a tough year for her.’ Of course only if that’s information all the friends on the guest list know about and have openly discussed with Carol present. If this close-knit group wants to get together and do this nice thing for her by helping her buy necessities, that’s one thing.”

Both Post and Whitmore said that making an official registry is a no-no.

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Some grandparents go so far as to register for gifts, but Post and Whitmore cautioned against this. 

The most important thing

Perhaps the most important advice Post and Whitmore offered with regard to grandparent showers is to always consult the expectant mother.

“By all accounts on the internet, it seems like lots of moms-to-be are not too thrilled about these kinds of parties,” Post said.

“Given how many moms-to-be are upset and voicing their displeasure with these types of parties or how uncomfortable they are with them, I would think that if I was a grandma-to-be and caught wind that my friends were planning to do this for me, I would want to talk to my daughter or son first and make sure the couple felt OK about it,” she added. “They might pipe up and say, ‘Mom, we’ll get you set up. You’re going to be babysitting, we can handle buying the car seat for you.’”

Post also noted that expectant parents are often inundated with gifts and hand-me-downs and may have extra items that could go to the grandparents’ house.

If the parents say the idea of a grandparent shower makes them uncomfortable, Post said, it’s important to respect that.

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If the parents say the idea of a grandparent shower makes them uncomfortable, Post said, it’s important to respect that.

“It’s wonderful when grandparents feel sheer joy and excitement, and their friends are so supportive of it,” Post said. “It’s tough to tell people, ‘Don’t do this!’ because it is generous. But saying no to a big party is not to not make grandma feel special. It’s just that we have ways of making people feel special in our culture that don’t involve parties of honor and gifts.”

Another aspect that requires consultation with the expectant mother is the timing. Whitmore recommends asking about appropriate dates for the grandparent celebration, and not scheduling it around the same time as the mom-to-be’s shower. As far as the expectant mom’s attendance at the event, that depends on whether she lives nearby and on the nature of the party, as she may not want to join her mother or mother-in-law for cocktails with friends.

“I would also only hold it with the first grandchild,” Whitmore said. “I wouldn’t do it with every single grandchild or else it looks like a gift grab type thing.”

Ultimately, Post doesn’t believe the grandparent baby shower will become a popular custom in the vein of traditional baby showers or wedding showers.

“Given the reactions from moms and from other etiquette experts, I think that we have yet to absorb this as a comfortable cultural tradition,” she said. “Celebrating people and congratulating them on the good things that are happening in their lives is always good. It’s just you don’t want to turn it into an obligation or an expectation.”