Are etiquette "rules" set in stone, or do they change with the times?

Patricia S. York

Baby showers are joy-filled parties where friends and family celebrate the new family addition. It can be an intimate gathering with the mom-to-be and a handful of her close girlfriends, or the shower can be a Jack and Jill party, which would include the father-to-be and male friends and family members. But before you get down to setting a date, planning a menu, and sending out invitations, one question needs to be answered. Who gets to host the party? 

The concept of a baby shower is a relatively modern American invention. In 1937, high society author and manners guru Emily Post included a fleeting description of “stork showers” in her book Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage. (Baby showers were not mentioned in either the 1922 original publication of the book or in her 1927 enlarged edition, so historians date the baby shower to the 1930s era.) In the 1937 edition, Post wrote that, “…A stork shower is always given in the early afternoon and only intimate girl and women friends of the mother invited.” She further elaborated that; “presents given at a stork shower include everything for a new baby.” By the post-World War II era, the baby shower was an established social tradition for all expectant mothers.

When an event becomes a tradition, then there are bound to be etiquette rules. But what exactly is etiquette? Quite simply, etiquette is an unwritten set of guidelines to help us navigate the tricky waters of proper behavior in today’s society. Whether meeting your new boss at the office, encountering a stranger at the grocery store, or deciding whether or not to attend a wedding, if you are familiar with the established “rules” of etiquette, you can feel confident that you will choose to behave in the socially accepted manner. What is considered proper etiquette in one culture, region, or even family, however, may not be the same as what is followed elsewhere. 

There is no end to etiquette guidelines when it comes to throwing a party and, in particular, hosting a baby shower. Close friends, cousins, aunts, sisters-in-law, and coworkers of the mother-to-be have traditionally been the appropriate parties to host a baby shower. But should the Mother of the mother-to-be host her own daughter’s event? Is it proper? This question stirs up quite a debate.

Initially, Emily Post frowned on the immediate family (of the parent’s-to-be) hosting the party. She felt that because gifts are, quite frankly, the main reason for throwing showers, it appears rather self-serving for the Grandmother-to-be to throw a party for her own child. Another etiquette expert, Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, agrees, having stated over and over that, “…relatives are not supposed to be the host of showers.” She even went so far as to say, “there should be token presents only-- which is what a proper shower meant before the outrageous expectation that outfitting the nursery is not the responsibility of the parents, but of their friends.” Well, we know how she feels!

Over the years, Emily Post has softened on her views as to who should or should not host a baby shower. She feels that, along with close friends, cousins, and coworkers, it is now appropriate for anyone to host a baby shower as long as there’s a good reason. Some expectant parents live far from their hometowns, and their mothers and sisters host a shower so that old neighborhood friends can attend. A military couple may suddenly get orders to transfer, so the parents or in-laws throw an impromptu baby shower before the move. However, it is still unusual, and even considered tacky by some, for a mother-to-be to host her own party.

Tell us what you think. Who should host the baby shower? Is it acceptable to break or bend established etiquette guidelines? Does a changing society mean that etiquette changes, as well?

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Most of us just want to do the correct thing and not create any "bless her heart" moments. But it can be difficult to know what is right when so many of the traditional etiquette guidelines don't seem to apply in today's world.