30

My wife has a baby shower coming up in a month or so and we are not religious, but both of our extended families are Christian. We've seen other members of her family receive religious items, like crosses to put over a crib, at their baby showers and we want to avoid that since it would be wasted money. We don't try to hide the fact that we are atheists, but not everyone knows that we are because it's not something that comes up in conversation.

Should we say anything on the shower invitations or registry about this? I was thinking something along the lines of "we are atheists and are not planning on raising the child with religion, please respect that" but I don't know if some people would find that offensive.

  • 9
    "we are atheists and are not planning on raising the child with religion, please respect that", in my limited experience, will definitely come across as offensive to many and will put them on the defensive. I find that 1-to-1 firm but gentle discussions as the topic arises (any it will come up many many times with the same person) works ok. They may become mad at you so be prepared. Rationality and personal beliefs rarely, no matter what those beliefs are, come hand in hand, but I'm sure you probably have already exp this. – scrappedcola May 8 '15 at 18:14
  • 6
    Technically, if someone is offended by that and stops talking to you… I would consider it a good thing! – o0'. May 8 '15 at 23:33
  • 6
    Personally I think the risk of "not planning on raising the child with religion, please respect that" is that it's too vague. You just mean you don't want the accoutrements of religion as gifts, but someone might understand it to mean you're asking them never to mention their religion anywhere near your child, and feel this shows a lack of respect for them that you probably don't intend. – Steve Jessop May 9 '15 at 1:40
  • 10
    I don't think the gift-givers would consider it wasted money, even if you don't use the items. In such a case, it really is the thought that counts. What you should do is accept the gifts for what they are: Signs of care, concern, support, congratulations, friendship and love from people coming from their own personal outlook on the world. Just accept them graciously as the acts of kindness that they are, and not the physical manifestations they appear to be. – user11394 May 9 '15 at 5:39
  • 10
    Sort of related: Aside from radios and electric piano-keyboards, we are anti-electronic toys. We glued this poem to the party invitations: Jacob and Andrew need no PRESENTS, Jacob and Andrew need your PRESENCE. If, however, you should choose to get something small and nice, please consider something with no batteries, sounds, or lights. – aliteralmind May 9 '15 at 11:37

11 Answers 11

41

As the other answers suggested, it's very likely that whatever you put will come of as weird. Still, it's an honest and reasonable sentiment, so it's kind of frustrating that it can't be expressed as such. Here's my best effort (to be placed in relatively small print at the bottom of the invitation):

Gifts are welcome, but not necessary. If you would like to buy something, to avoid the gift going to waste, we would like to ask you to make sure that all gifts are baby-safe. Also, since we are not practicing Christians, we are unlikely to make use of any religious items.

The language is a little stale, but I think it's a reasonable start. At the very least you want to avoid anything that comes off judgmental towards Christians; saying "we're atheists" is too blunt, it only matters what you're not. Also, I've started with a selfless message to soften the blow, and couched it in other language about what gifts are likely to be used. This way, it hopefully comes across as an afterthought: something you might as well put down, since you're mentioning gifts anyway.

It's probably better to risk insulting people by not using their religious gift than to risk insulting them up-front by telling them to keep it at home, but for what it's worth.

  • 17
    +1 for "Also, since we are not practicing Christians, we are unlikely to make use of any religious items." That's about the least abrasive way to state it. – Brian Robbins May 8 '15 at 19:46
  • 2
    I consider telling guests that their present could go to waste rude and disrespectful. – lejonet May 9 '15 at 7:56
  • 2
    @lejonet I see your point. Something like, "to avoid gifts we won't be able to use" might be better. But that's really the heart of the problem: you're telling people if you give me this thing, I'll throw it away. You can only smooth over that so much. – Peter May 9 '15 at 10:02
  • 8
    It depends on the country you are in. In the USA its mostly about Christians and atheist, but in Europe people wouldn't say "we are not practicing Christians", they would say "we are not very religious" and that would carry the message without confusion The first might imply you are Jewish. – vsz May 9 '15 at 15:44
  • 2
    "Not a practicing christian" is often also considered to mean "we believe in god, we just don't go to church", which might still give the wrong idea. Unfortunately there exists no tactful way to say "I just don't think your god really exists", but this phrasing might still give people the wrong idea (if that matters to you) – Erik May 11 '15 at 13:16
24

I don't think you can really tactfully put it on the invitation. In fact, many would say the invitation shouldn't refer to gifts at all. Registries are quite often communicated by family members and not the invitation - although I find that silly, personally, and certainly would add it to mine.

However, what I would typically do is ask your parents or someone you're reasonably close with who also has connections across the extended family to remind people on your behalf. In some cases it may not work, but you do your best. What we did was ask our friend (who was the organizer - see below) to let people know about our registry and ask that items please come off that or be handmade, as we had a small space and couldn't fit extra items. That works nicely both to remind people to not go off-list in general, and allows you to limit the religious gifts to some extent.

This does vary by the way if the shower is being held by someone else on your behalf (which is at least in my experience more common). That person is free to mention gifts, and can tactfully include on the invitation "X and Y are registered at BabyStoreCentralMart.Com, and we ask that any gifts be selected from that list to ensure they have room for everything."

Either way, I would be prepared for the fact that not everyone will listen, and just be okay with either discarding, returning, or regifting items that you're given that are not appropriate - for this or other reasons. That's part of life as a parent unfortunately; people will constantly give your kids stuff that you don't particularly want. Accepting with a smile and moving on is a learned skill, and a useful one!

  • 3
    Jinx. You owe me a coke! – anongoodnurse May 8 '15 at 17:26
  • 1
    Haha. Clearly you need to improve your typing speed (or pay less attention to your patients) ;) I beat you by nearly thirty seconds there :) But coke happily gifted if you ever are in the Chicago area. – Joe May 8 '15 at 17:27
  • 6
    Reminds me of getting socks for Christmas. You smile, give Grandma a hug anyway and don't get worked up about it. – Becuzz May 8 '15 at 17:31
  • 3
    @Becuzz I mostly agree. Baby showers are a slightly special case, because of their purpose - specifically to give a couple with a new baby a start. As such I think there's a little more justification to asking for specific presents than in other situations (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.). – Joe May 8 '15 at 17:49
  • 1
    Enlisting the shower organizer to be the go-between is a pretty useful idea. "I know you've often given our family members those lovely Christian artwork for their nursery in the past, but I don't think Peter and Mrs Peter would appreciate it as much" (etc.) – Acire May 9 '15 at 0:23
21

I personally don't think it's polite to invite people to a celebration while telling them how they should and shouldn't gift you. While I am not an atheist, I would still be somewhat taken aback by that kind of announcement on an invitation.

The gifts at celebrations are certainly appreciated, and baby showers in particular are supposed to be oriented towards what the baby needs. If you want to give your parents a list of what you need for your baby, that would be fine; leave crosses, religious art, etc. off the list. People often ask parents of adult children what the expecting parents need. Same thing applies if you have a registry.

If someone insists on pushing their religion on you through a baby gift, be polite, thank them, then quietly try to find out where they bought it.

  • Right, I don't want to be pushy about what gifts people can and can't give, but it would be a shame for someone to purchase a religious token that we definitely won't use. I was hoping there would be a magic formula of words I could put together that would suggest that we respect people's religions but aren't religious. It may be the least trouble for everyone if we just accept, thank, and move on. – Egg May 8 '15 at 18:11
  • 4
    I agree with this answer more than any other. A baby shower is an opportunity for others to express their love and support for a new child and their family. Rejecting specific gifts out-of-hand may seem "rational" and "efficient", but it denies one of the purposes of the gift - the expression of love and relationship between the giver and the recipient. So even having the organizer or parents spread around the message that some gifts of love are simply not welcome is lacking in tact. The gifts are gifts - what you do with them after is up to you - but be very gracious about receiving them. – Adam Davis May 8 '15 at 20:13
8

The title of your post "How can I..." asks a slightly different question from the content, "should we say..." I will answer the latter.

In a word, no. You should not mention it.

Look at your fundamental motivation. You want to avoid causing your friends and family to waste money. That is an admirable desire, but how your extended family does or doesn't waste their money is not really your business. In most cases, gift givers are satisfied that their gifts are accepted--they don't check up later to make sure they are being used. You accepting the gift will make them happier than any small savings of money.

You should graciously accept the gifts, and thank the givers. "It's the thought that counts." They are giving these gifts in good faith (pun not intended), and you should receive them with that in mind.

Then, because you are not religious, you can immediately dispose of them. Depending on your personal outlook and your knowledge of your relatives, "dispose" might mean "throw away," or "donate," or even "put in a box in the attic so they can take it back after they find out we don't want it."

(Note: you also needn't throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water. Your desire to not display overt religious symbols is reasonable, but something like a blanket with an image of the three wise men is a perfectly fine thing to have and use without overtly endorsing Christianity.)

Essentially, you should continue your existing strategy here. You said you don't hide your atheism, but you don't put it in anyone's face, either. Continue to do that.

  • 2
    I don't necessarily think there was dissonance with the original version, but I do agree that the aside needlessly detracted from the focus of my answer. I've edited it to be more on-topic. Thank you for your advice! – GrandOpener May 10 '15 at 5:32
  • 1
    This answer is a very reasonable and understanding approach to this situation. I won't bother with my own answer, because this is what I'd want to say. I've been hard-core anti-theist, devout fundamentalist, and now just non-religious and I've come to an understanding about other people's exercise of their right to religion that allows me to be incredibly accepting of their beliefs without it at all affecting me personally. +1 For treating people like people, and not focusing on their differences. – user11394 May 10 '15 at 5:40
  • You kind of make it sound like the non-religious have an obligation to get rid of religious items by stating " because you are not religious, you should immediately dispose of them." I agree with the overall answer, but this part seems a bit forceful as it stands. – Erik May 11 '15 at 13:20
  • That part is intended to reference the original poster's objection to displaying overtly religious items. I've edited "should" to "can" to soften it a bit, but I think it's an important part of the answer. – GrandOpener May 12 '15 at 7:01
  • 1
    (b) Baseball ISN'T a religion. People are more likely to be offended if you denigrate their religion than if you denigrate their favorite sport. Attacks on ethnic groups, cultures and religions can be offensive. Attacks on personal preferences, not so much. "I hate lasagna" is unlikely to offend anyone -- unless you say it to your host who has just served lasagna. But "I hate Italians", yes, that will offend. – Jay May 12 '15 at 13:25
8

If you have a registry, I assume that you will simply not include religious items on it. If people mostly buy from the registry, problem solved.

I think it would be rude to say you don't want a certain type of gift, whether that is religious or whatever. Like if you said, "Please, no orange shirts, because I hate the color orange", I think that would be poor taste. ESPECIALLY if you're saying this because grandma just loves orange and is always buying orange sweaters for the grand kids. Doubly so if you say you don't want a category of gift that reflects on the culture, heritage or beliefs of others. For example, if the family of one member of a couple was, say, of Italian ancestry, to say "No Italian-themed gifts" would surely be potentially insulting.

Frankly, I'd say that if someone gives you a gift that you have no use for, you thank them politely and then stuff it in a drawer or return it to the store or throw it out. My family and I have gotten lots of gifts over the years that we had no use for. No point making a big deal of it.

  • Strictly speaking, it is common to give a color scheme that Baby's room will be painted in to guide gift giving... but i'm nitpicking here, largely agree. – Joe May 8 '15 at 19:07
  • 1
    @joe Sure. There's a difference between positive and negative requests and between hints and dogmatic rules. Like, "We're decorating the nursery in a Victorian style" would hint that gifts that fit that style are particularly welcome. People might not like that style, but they're feelings wouldn't be hurt. But, "No non-Victorian gifts" would be at least border-line rude. And as I say, statements that sound like personal attacks, "No redneck gifts -- this means you, Uncle Bob" are a problem. – Jay May 8 '15 at 20:11
  • 5
    @Jay "We're decorating the nursery in an atheist style." Problem solved! :-) – David Richerby May 10 '15 at 22:11
6

"No religious gifts thanks!"

I don't know what your friends are like, but I think many religious people would not be offended by knowing your preferences.

  • Interestingly enough, this reads as one of the most tactful ways to do it, because it simply refuses to take into account that this might be in any way an offensive thing to say. I like it. – Erik May 11 '15 at 13:23
  • @erik "Refusing to take into account" that your statement might be offensive is not at all the same as saying that it isn't offensive. – Jay May 12 '15 at 13:30
  • I know. But for some reason all of the other answers I've read here go out of their way to avoid stepping on toes and all it seems to do is amplify the offensiveness of the statement. This sounds like the kind of thing that would sting for 5 seconds and then you'd think "rude, but whatever". – Erik May 12 '15 at 13:51
4

Possibly something along the lines of:

Gift are welcome, but not necessary. If you do wish to bring a gift, please consider something from our Baby Shower Registry or a contribution to the baby college fund.

3

Money to start the college fund is a simple gesture that crosses all of the boundaries and leaves everyone unoffended. Not to mention, it is always the perfect size, regardless of who and where it comes from.

  • 2
    Welcome to Parenting.SE! Can you rephrase your answer so it is more of a direct response to what the OP needed to know -- how can a parent request just college fund money? Also, how would such a request allow them to get adorable baby clothes, useful baby accessories, but not decorative religious objects? – Acire May 8 '15 at 21:57
3

Hmm, if you have to have things for a baby, I would recommend a gift list for the baby, along with the following :

  • Donations to baby college fund
  • A donation to a hospital of gifts for newborns and moms in need.

All gift-givers can either get gifts from the gift list , or even donate to the fund, since the child would want to get to a good college one day.

3

A great way not to offend religious attendees would be to adopt a religion yourself, preferably one that isn't culturally compatible with theirs. This might help others refrain from procuring gifts of their own religion, whilst not offending them all the same:

My wife and I would like to thank you for attending. We would like to use this opportunity to remind everyone that we are devout followers of Lathander and hope to raise our child in the same faith.

  • 1
    The primary risk is that more open-minded and well-intentioned friends and family will want to know more about your particular faith -- which, if it is not serious, may be a challenge :) – Acire May 11 '15 at 1:01
  • While I find this answer amusing - and doubtlessly would be very effective if applied - it is hard to take seriously. For this reason, a comment is more appropriate. You have sufficient rep to leave one under the question. Welcome, btw! :) – anongoodnurse May 11 '15 at 4:42
  • 1
    I am happy that you've found yourself amused and unoffended, but I meant it not as a jest. While it may seem to be an impromptu solution to the OP, with the imminent approach of the baby shower, this is still a viable solution to those who can preemptively plan against the future. – Filip Dupanović May 11 '15 at 8:40
  • 1
    To clarify my position, I publicly express myself as being ignostic and a follower of Lathander. I am able to covet faith and aspire towards constructing and subjugation myself to a perfect, omnipotent presence; unlike an antitheist, I do not openly dismiss anyone's beliefs as being fallacious, but, rather, I share the same concerns in my own form. Religious people can derive respect from being understood and accepted and this is one way of how you can deal with both not offending other people and freeing yourself from inappropriate gifts. – Filip Dupanović May 11 '15 at 8:54
  • 1
    For many atheists, especially the ones who are open about it, "adopting a religion" is the exact opposite of what they want to do. "raising our child in the same faith" doubly so. – Erik May 11 '15 at 13:22
1

Speaking as a person from an extended family whose religion is different from my own, I think you have to decide whether you want to bring out into the forefront the fact that you have "strayed from the faith". In my case, my family is Catholic and I'm Protestant. Our cases are similar; Catholics don't believe anyone is going to heaven unless they are Catholic (since they don't confess, don't take the Eucharist, etc) so in the eyes of my parents I am close to being an atheist.

Last Christmas, my parents gave us Catholic bibles. I understand their motivation; they are trying to save our souls. I try to show them the same tolerance that I would want for myself, and just smile as I receive their gifts. I could have made a fuss, but what would that have accomplished? They are well aware of my choices, but they keep hoping I'll change my mind and this is the only thing they can think of to do it without starting up a big fight. Maybe if you give in to them in little ways you'll give them an outlet so things don't spill over in big ways (this has worked for us).

Does your family know you are atheist? If so, blatantly telling them you don't want their crosses or Bibles or whatever you are anticipating they might give you, will at the very least make them feel rejected. If they don't know, is the firestorm that might result worth the dubious benefit of maybe getting something you want more? This is something you need to decide how you want to deal with now, as it won't go away after the baby shower. There is Christmas (assuming that you celebrate it), your child's birthdays, etc.

Ask yourself; what is my goal? To get better stuff? To get them to accept my choice? The first is possibly attainable, but at a cost. The second, not so much. Saying that you are doing it so that they don't "waste money" is kind of a dodge; they're going to be spending the money no matter what they get. If you want better stuff there's no great shame in that; "own" your own motivations and you'll be more comfortable with your choices.

When we adopted my daughter, we gave her the middle name "Maria" because we knew it would make my parents happy. It is a family tradition to give middle names after a child's "patron saint". My Dad's middle name is Maria (pronounced MAR-ee-a) and my sister's also (pronounced Mar-EE-a). Do we believe that the mother of God is especially watching our daughter because she is her "patron saint". No. But it makes my parents happy to think so. Same thing with the icon they brought back from Italy; it sits over our daughter's bed. It was a present from Grandma. I don't worry that she's going to "turn Catholic" because I put a picture up over her bed. And I know how happy it makes my mother to see it when she comes over, as she feels that the picture somehow protects my daughter. Why would I want to deny her that just to prove some kind of theological point?

Does it make you upset that they might think there's still a chance that they can save your soul? Then maybe you might want to think about whether you are really secure in your choice. If it doesn't upset you, then why deny your family the comfort of thinking that you are still redeemable? If I had parents who were atheists and they gave me a book about atheism as a gift I would probably roll my eyes in private but be gracious toward them, if I felt they genuinely had my best interests at heart. Now, if they were pushy about it, trying to intimidate me into their point of view I'd be more inclined to be upset...but that's a problem a lot bigger than "what gifts am I going to get at this baby shower?"

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.