What new parents really need isn’t on a baby shower registry

Breakfast beats a onesie.
Breakfast beats a onesie.
Image: AP Photo/Matthew Mead
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Meghan Markle made headlines, and perhaps started a new etiquette trend, when she declined to open gifts at her baby shower. As a mom to two small children though, I want to advocate for an even more radical change to expectant culture—I’ve stopped giving baby shower gifts altogether.

Yes, they’re a lovely tradition that celebrates the imminent arrival of a new human, while also spreading the cost of baby gear across a community. But the real truth is that once the baby arrives, there are gifts more precious than a onesie. Food. Coffee. A moment to oneself. That’s what new parents really need.

It’s a slight exaggeration to say that I don’t give shower gifts. I take great joy in picking out a favorite children’s book and writing a little inscription in it. But I don’t even look at registries anymore. After both of my children arrived I never wanted for cute clothing, burp cloths, or any of the other gear I had so painstakingly selected. What I wanted was to be fed, to take a long shower, and to have a moment to myself when no one needed me to do anything for them. This remains true, if less intensely so, now that I have a pre-schooler and a toddler. I would much rather have a free night of babysitting or an afternoon to myself than flowers for Mother’s Day.

For friends with new babies who live far away, I like to send a package a week or two after the baby arrives. I make homemade granola, include a pound of coffee from my local roaster, and if I’m feeling especially ambitious, or happen to have cookie dough in the freezer, I send cookies, too. If they live nearby, I bring over dinner they can put in the freezer or the fridge—soup, lasagna, shepherd’s pie, hummus, and delicious pita. It has to be easy to heat up, delicious, and hearty. Breastfeeding is very hungry work. In addition to being tired, new moms are also ravenously hungry, and very thirsty, all the time.

Don’t worry about sending your gift right away. It’s actually better to wait a couple weeks in some ways. After the initial flurry of Instagram likes, congratulatory texts, and welcome gifts, new parenthood can suddenly feel shockingly lonely. A box that arrives in the mail, or a text saying that you’re going to drop off a casserole, or a loaf of bread and couple quarts of soup when the baby is three weeks old feels like the most amazing gift.

The ultimate gift though, is two hours. Wait until the baby is a couple weeks (or even months) old and then offer to come and babysit while the parents go out. By themselves. Tell them you know that the baby might cry. Assure them that you are prepared to pace their apartment patting, bouncing, shushing, and singing to a wailing infant for two hours. Tell them it will be okay, and that they should not worry. They’ll go out for coffee, or lunch, or maybe even a drink. They’ll try to string sentences together, and remember how to have a conversation—and why they liked each other enough to have a baby in the first place.