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Oh Baby! Tips For Celebrating Parenting Milestones

July 01, 2008
Once upon a time, welcoming baby meant throwing a shower for the expectant mom and sending a congratulations card with a gift to the happy couple after the little one arrived.

But today's parents are putting their own personal spin on stork deliveries by spicing up many time-honored traditions. Inspired by Web sites, blogs and e-zines that are overflowing with an endless supply of information on emerging decor trends and niche products, many first-time parents add their own personal flare to their celebrations as a way to define and differentiate their new family as they welcome a new member.

"We've noticed that parents-to-be of today are changing traditions to be more relevant to their lifestyles," explains Angela Thompson, American Greetings trend spotter. "Just as they celebrated their weddings in unique ways, it comes as no surprise that moms and dads of today are putting their own spin on starting a family and all of the celebrations that surround this exciting milestone."

More involved fathers

The landscape of family dynamics has changed in recent years, resulting in more dads being involved in both pre-baby and new parent responsibilities. From attending showers alongside the mom-to-be to arranging for paternity leave, dads of today are nurturing their relationship with their new infant son or daughter from the start.

"Recent national studies show there's a shift toward a more egalitarian approach in many marriages, ranging from homemaking responsibilities to childcare to decision-making in the family," Thompson says.

This trend extends to baby showers, too. What used to be considered a "girls only event" where the expectant mom was showered with gifts from her friends, is increasingly becoming a couples activity. Many new baby shower cards reflect this trend, and are geared to the couple, not just the expectant mom.

Thompson noted that several cards from the Target collection illustrate this trend, including a cream-colored card decorated with orange topstitching that reads, "4 out of 5 babies agree ... You'll be terrific parents." Another is inscribed with the words: "mommy-to-be," "daddy-to-be" and "baby-to-be" on the front, and the message inside says: "I now pronounce you mommy and daddy-to-be, and soon, you can kiss the cutie pie."

Planning vs. being surprised

Some couples prefer to plan every detail in advance while others prefer the excitement and delight of being surprised. Medical technology has long made it possible to determine the sex of the baby before birth, and today's advances even allow for 3-D images of the baby's facial features and other details while still in the womb, but research shows about 30 percent of all prospective parents are opting to be surprised.

"From play dates and planned activities for the kids to jam-packed schedules at work, our lives can be pretty regimented these days," Thompson says. "Waiting until birth can be a fun way for prospective parents to dream and anticipate together during the course of the pregnancy, and to heighten the wonder of the miracle on delivery day. And we've also heard that some parents are waiting so they can focus on celebrating the birth of a healthy baby, regardless of the sex."

The nature-inspired hues of soft apple green, yellow, aqua and melon that are abundant in home décor are also showing up more frequently in the nursery, and since they are gender-neutral, these colors work especially well for parents-to-be who are holding out until delivery day.

"Gender-neutral colors have several advantages," Thompson says. "Not only are they ideal for baby shower decorations and infant clothing when the sex of the baby is unknown, but they can make the transition from nursery to toddler's bedroom much easier by avoiding a complete decorating overhaul. When you see the baby department and card racks at places like Target, you'll see just how popular these colors are now for infant toys, apparel and gifts."

Part of the joy for the 70 percent of couples who choose to know the sex is shopping ahead for adorable outfits and nursery accessories in pink or blue. "When friends and family shop for the parents-to-be and the new baby, they tend to look for items with little 'extras' that add a keepsake quality to their gift, so many of the cards at Target this year are beautifully embellished with pink and blue gingham or calico baby-quilt fabrics, attached button decorations, velvet and satin ribbons—even lace and crocheted trims," adds Thompson. "They're designed to be saved in a scrapbook or special box for the child to look back on years from now and feel the excitement and love felt by all when they were born."

Creative shower ideas

When it comes to welcoming baby, today, it's all about creativity and personalization. Thompson recommends tailoring baby showers to the personalities and lifestyles of the expectant couple. Here are a few of her favorite ideas:

Couples showers

• Skip the pastels and stuffed animals and opt for a more neutral setting for mixed gatherings. A shower barbecue, picnic or brunch would be a good choice for showers where men will be invited.

• Theme the decorations around important life stages of the young couple. Borrow a few comical baby, childhood, high school, college and wedding photos of the mom-and dad-to-be from their families and make color copies to create fun centerpieces, invitations and mobiles.

• For a much-appreciated surprise gift, consider having everyone chip in on a "babymoon" for the expectant parents so they can relax and enjoy some time for themselves before the new baby arrives. Depending on budget, this can be as simple as a one-day spa getaway or as lavish as a week-long resort trip. (Consider creating "vouchers" redeemable for the babymoon so the couple can determine the best time to get away.)

Second and third babies

• Traditional etiquette says baby showers are for first babies only—to help new parents stock up on all the necessities. However, the impending arrival of any baby still deserves to be celebrated. For "repeat parents," consider having each guest prepare and freeze a special meal, so that after the baby is born, the couple will have more time to spend with their expanding family.

• Parents with more than one child will be exceptionally busy. While they might not need more "things," they would certainly appreciate the gift of extra time. Host an informal gathering and ask each guest to create a coupon redeemable for a personal service, like a free babysitting session, or an "errand afternoon" to drop off dry cleaning and pick up groceries.

First babies:

• If the expectant mom or couple is into crafting, a scrapbooking shower can be fun and helpful at the same time. Chip in on a blank scrapbook, and ask each guest to bring a supply of papers, trims, appliqués and embellishments for creating a baby scrapbook.

• In today's digital age, make sure Mom and Dad-to-be are prepared with the latest equipment for capturing every early moment by throwing a tech-themed shower. Divide up the cost of a high-quality digital camera or camcorder among the guests, but hold off giving it to the couple until the end. As they unwrap the accessories, like a carrying case, memory cards, discs and photo or video editing software, be sure to capture all of the action on the camera or camcorder as the photos or video from the shower are an extra special gift. Not only will you be sure the couple can record everything that happens with their new family, but you'll also know that the photos or video from the shower are a permanent reminder of their excitement at this special time.

• Pick a specific baby theme for your shower like a "baby bath time shower" or "baby safety shower" and ask each guest to bring gifts supporting that specific theme. This is an especially good idea for parents-to-be who are having multiple showers.

For the single parent, adoptive family and other special situations:

"The great news about welcoming baby is that the rules have changed to accommodate today's diverse lifestyles, needs and personal preferences," Thompson says. "There are single parents, adoptive parents and blended families to consider when welcoming new babies. And there are more twins and triplets these days, too. The Internet is a great resource for shower and gift ideas that will work for a variety of special pregnancies."

"American Greetings has cards for every kind of parent and family, and there are even cards for big brothers and sisters so they don't feel left out with all the excitement over the new baby," Thompson says. "But don't forget about offering words of encouragement during the last few weeks leading up to the birth. We now have special cards that acknowledge how stressful and uncomfortable the last few weeks can be on moms but still celebrate the excitement to come."

There is a series of baby cards that are blank inside. These can be used for congratulating parents on the birth of triplets, announcing milestones like baby's first steps, sending thank-you notes for baby gifts or expressing gratitude to friends and family for their support.

"The most important thing to remember these days when welcoming a new baby is to consider the needs of the couple, and then tailor the arrangements accordingly," advises Thompson. "Browse the Internet for inspiration, and then add your own personal spin to shower theme or gifting ideas. Stores like Target make it easy to stock up on shower supplies and unique gift items in one convenient location. With all the choices available today, it's easy to create an event to remember."

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