I recently organised a baby shower for a friend so practical, her ideal present was a month’s supply of wet ones. “Don’t feel you need to make a fuss,” she emailed. “Simple food, a few games, no frills.”
Diligently, I threw myself into research mode, i.e. Pinterest over a glass of wine. I emerged three hours later, drunk on images of women gathered around cake, rubber duck centrepieces and pastel coloured mason jars. Even though I have children of my own and been to many a shower, I was intrigued by how many sites assumed baby showers are only for women. Why aren’t men included in the pre-baby hoopla? Who is giving the dad-to-be a crash course in how to change a sodden nappy half blind at 3am in the morning? Amidst the fun, does the gendered nature of the traditional baby shower reflect what parenting looks like today?
With more mums in various forms of paid employment, the reality is that parenting in 2014 is a team effort. According to recent ABS figures, the number of Australian stay-at-home dads has almost doubled in the past decade to 106,000. Even men with full time jobs can change nappies and rock a baby carrier. After I gave birth to our first child, my husband and I – collectively possessing the parenting experience of a whelk – shared most roles (minus the ones that involved lactating nipples).
So it makes sense that an increasing number of women are choosing to include men in their baby celebrations. When Meg was expecting her first child, she and her husband threw a baby shower for both sexes. “It always seemed bizarre to deliberately set out to create an event that sought to exclude a male partner from all things baby before the child was even born,” says the mother-of-two. “While there is a very long way to go, we are increasingly a society that seeks to embrace shared parenting and shared primary care. A single sex celebration simply reinforces a division between male and female domains.”
For other couples, throwing a mixed sex baby shower is a conscious effort to include men in the lead up to birth. Although Mila Kunis bemoans men who speak of ‘our’ pregnancy, dads-to-be can experience the same mix of emotions as their partners, yet have little in the way of support. Thora, a Sydney based mother of two, chose to include her husband in a “joint celebration” so that he would feel more involved in the pregnancy. “My husband felt one step removed from the pregnancy, almost like it wasn’t real,” she says. “A joint shower was another thing he could be a part of to make it more real.”
But before you chuck out the bunting, throwing a mixed shower doesn’t mean boycotting games or decorations. While some couples opt for a casual barbeque (that’s ‘babyque’ on the invitations if you’re feeling cute), others like to get creative. Meg and her husband threw a literary themed afternoon tea. “The food was inspired by our much loved children’s books: turkish delight from the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, carrot cake from There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake, pavlova from Possum Magic. We encouraged those guests, who felt that they wanted to give, to bring a book to start our baby’s library,” she says. “One week later, our baby was born and it was such a happy memory, that we’d spent that day with all of the people special to us before we were plunged into the wonderful whirlwind of parenthood.”
As for my practical friend, her party was an eclectic mix of potluck dishes, mocktails, chilled music and yes, both men and women. And true to her personality, there was not a rubber duck or painted mason jar to be seen.