The XX Factor

Co-Ed Baby Showers Are a Terrible Idea. Men: Keep Out.

“Oh, no, dear, the mesh underwear is wonderful.”

A writer for the Hairpin has a “bold notion” for baby showers: Make them co-ed. Megan Borgert-Spaniol thinks that dads should be invited to baby showers “for a very plain and uncomplicated reason, and that is it’s his goddamn kid, too.” How can we expect dads to get the message that they’re just as responsible for the baby’s care when we don’t include them in the baby shower?

Borgert-Spaniol is not the first to float this idea. See earlier encouragement of co-ed baby showers on Jezebel and in the Seattle Times, co-ed baby shower boards on Pinterest, and advice on throwing co-ed baby showers in Baby Center. Co-ed baby showers are already a thing. But are women-only baby showers really sending the message to dads that the “baby and any baby-related items and ass-aches are ultimately the woman’s domain,” as Borgert-Spaniol writes?

In my experience, baby showers aren’t about the gifts or about telling women that the baby is only their business. The baby shower is a space for women to get real talk from their moms, and from their mom’s friends, about having a kid. There will be talk of chafed nipples. There will be a discussion of the pros and cons of episiotomies, and your aunt will say, “tearing.” There will be labor stories and jokes about breast pumps and advice about lactation consultants. When men are present at the shower, there is none of this talk, to the detriment of the mom-to-be.

Borgert-Spaniol addresses a straw woman in her post, a person who would argue that “the bond between a mother and her baby is unlike any other, and so to be surrounded by the support of other mothers is an invaluable part of preparing for a baby.” I don’t think the bond between a mother and her baby is any more special than the bond between a father and his baby (or between a mom and dad and their nonbiological child, for that matter). But before the child is born, there is a difference between being the person carrying the baby and being the person lying in bed next to the person carrying the baby. (Lying in bed in whatever position you want, I might add.) What the shower is honoring is the fact that pregnancy is the only time when parenting is by definition unequal. No matter how involved a dad is, the biological mom is the one carting that load around for nine months, and maybe she deserves a little something for herself. The kind of dude who wants to go to a baby shower is the kind of dude who refers to the fetus as “our pregnancy.” No. It is our baby. Unless you’re pushing it out through your nethers, it’s not your pregnancy.

The real cultural change that would encourage dads to be equal partners in parenting is not including them in some lame baby shower. It’s paternity leave. A 2013 study from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that fathers who take two or more weeks of leave are more likely to be involved with child care than fathers who take less than two weeks of leave. Right now, only 11 percent of American workers have access to paid leave—of that 11 percent, women get an average of seven weeks off, men get an average of three. Closing that gap between men and women’s leave is what might actually change our cultural perceptions of parenthood.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t shake up some baby shower traditions. Anyone who has ever attended one knows that watching a very slow-moving pregnant woman open 45 pairs of baby socks is boring as hell. May I suggest replacing the gift opening with a spa day, or a spelunking expedition or whatever would entertain and delight the mother-to-be and loosen up Grandma so that the real talk express can pull into the station.