Childfree & Still Raising Other Peoples Barns

barn raising is an event in which members of a farming community band together to, ahem, raise a barn.

I'll raise your barn if you raise mine Wink, wink, nudge, nudge...

I’ll raise your barn if you raise mine
Wink, wink, nudge, nudge…

Technically it could be to repair an existing barn as well, so there you go. It’s not all in the name.

Anywho, the point is that the community gets together to help each other accomplish a task that an individual or single family would be hard pressed to accomplish on their own. Now it’s important to note that in this context, building a barn is not a whim or desire. For farmers, the barn is a critical piece of infrastructure and without it they will fail.

This is a perfect situation for a reciprocal help arrangement to arise. Specifically IF we’re all farmers AND we all need barns AND we can’t build a barn on our own THEN we help each other build barns.

This type of arrangement works because everyone knows each other and everyone keeps track of who has helped who over time. I can guarantee you that the guy who never shows up for the other farmers’ barn raising will not be getting any help for his.

So why am I talking about barn raising on a childfree blog? Well, it struck me not too long ago that there’s an analogous situation that those of us who are childfree face on a regular basis. That is, the baby shower.


My following commentary is based on US baby showers. I’m sure that around the world the arrival of a new child is handled in many different ways. I’d love to hear about that in the comments!


When attending a baby shower all attendees – including the childfree – are expected to bring a gift to “shower” the expectant mother with. Attendees typically are told what to bring, if indirectly, as most soon-to-be parents register for the items they need. Makes sense…no one wants to give an unwanted gift, right?

But here’s where the barn raising analogy is relevant. (I’m pretty sure) baby showers arose out of a situation similar to the barn raising situation. Historically I’m guessing that most new parents did not have the means to acquire all the items that they would need for a new child, at least not all at once. And since pretty much everyone had children back then – “back then” being before effective, widely available birth control at a minimum – it made a lot of sense to essentially spread your costs out over time by participating in baby shower gift giving extravaganzas, i.e. baby “barn raising”.

Like barn raising, the baby shower’s roots lie in reciprocity whether people see it or not. Of course things are different now. We generally don’t help each other raise barns because most of us don’t need barns. Likewise, it seems that we childfree shouldn’t all be obligated to participate in a ritual that we know we’ll never be on the receiving end of. But we are…we’re expected to “help raise everyone else’s barn”.

I bet you can see where this is going…

What’s a Childfree Person To Do?

One reaction to this is to get annoyed or angry as there’s nothing in it for the childfree, right? Wrong.

For me it’s less about the baby and more about caring for the people already in my life. If I care about the expectant parents, there’s much more in it for me than reciprocity for a few baby gifts. There’s celebrating a major event in their life. There’s extending care and support. There’s sharing joy about their impending arrival…hopefully they have joy to share. 🙂

It’s no different to me than if my family member or friend was in a play or performing in a band. I’d pay money to support them and I would enjoy doing it. So with that in mind, here are a couple of ideas for the childfree to ponder when choosing a baby shower gift for your expectant loved ones.

  • Do they really need stuff for the baby? If your loved ones don’t have a lot of money, your gift makes a real difference in their life. Pick out something they will absolutely need, like diapers. Skip the 3ct Diamond Pacifier and the Barcarola Gold Regal 5 Piece Silk Suit and the Nike Trainers the kid will outgrow in 14 days.
  • Are they pretty well set? Are your friends financially secure? Have parents and friends that have already bought them everything they need? Is this not their first child? Then maybe gift them with something more meaningful like a sapling to plant in their yard or in Brazil. Or maybe donate to a charity that means something to them like this or this or this.


11 Responses to Childfree & Still Raising Other Peoples Barns

  1. Gini July 27, 2014 at 10:27 pm #

    I don’t usually have an issue with baby showers, just because I don’t want any kids doesn’t mean I won’t gift something to my friend/family member who is having one. My issue is the friends that have baby after baby after baby and expect a shower for each kid and expect that I am in attendance. Um…NO. Anything after the first kid is greedy and annoying. Others shouldn’t have to support their habit to keep popping out all those babies.

  2. Shara July 27, 2014 at 11:15 am #

    While I am proudly childfree, baby showers and wedding showers have never bothered me. I like congratulating my friends on what is a special time for them, and a big deal for them. My usual thing is that if I get an invite to a baby shower–say, a coworker who is not a close friend, I just don’t go, nor do I buy a gift. But for close friends? I go all out. There’s a line between feeling imposed upon because I didn’t choose to have children and just being a jerk. Of course, I don’t have trouble saying “no” to people either. Maybe the people who feel imposed upon by these things do?

  3. TaraDactyl July 27, 2014 at 9:28 am #

    My niece (who is 3 mo. younger than me), is having a baby and her shower is coming up. I thought about the whole reciprocity thing, and feel okay with it. She’s famous for having amazing parties and I think I’ve drunk enough of her alcohol to warrant a baby gift, lol.

  4. Wilma April 9, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

    It’s not the baby shower so much that upsets me re:non-reciprocity. It’s the “my kid is in dance class & they need to fund-raise, so which of these pails of cookie mix are you going to buy?” that really gets my blood pressure up.
    Dance clubs, football teams, hockey teams, girl guides (yes, I like their cookies), Jump Rope for Heart, figure skating club, even the local day care etc. etc. all come knocking on my door, expecting me to just hand over cash for some crap I don’t need or want. And when I refuse, I get the “What do you mean, you’re not buying anything?” stare.
    How about this: you pay what it actually costs to run the programs that your kid is involved in, & leave me out of it?

  5. Banner February 20, 2014 at 1:48 pm #

    It’s not just baby showers. I think of bridal showers the same way. They are both outdated traditions that now just verge on greed. And let’s be honest: nobody really enjoys those ridiculous games. Personally I find them to be absolutely torturous.

    I did not have a bridal shower. I didn’t feel right asking my friends to buy things for me which I could buy for myself. I can afford my own towels, thank you very much.

    • Lance February 20, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

      I was wondering how long it would take for someone to make the connection to bridal showers. 🙂 I thought of that while writing the post but didn’t have time or space to go down that rabbit hole.

      I agree that things have changed dramatically on that front as well…many people marry when they are older and after they are established in their careers. So, in those cases, the “need” for those gifts is less.

      I think the ideas I present about what to do still hold up. It does raise a good point about the responsibility of the folks getting married or having the baby. Should they be more active in declining gifts or redirecting those funds to more meaningful causes?

      Thanks for the comment!

      • Jessie July 27, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

        I got married two years ago, and didn’t want a bridal shower (I was having a very small, immediate family only wedding, and felt extra weird asking people to buy me gifts that weren’t even invited to my wedding). So I told my mom and future husband NOT to have a shower. What did they do? They planned (an awesome) surprise shower! I felt guilty about it, but the family that came told me over and over again that they insisted my mom have a shower because they wanted to celebrate this moment in my life and spend time with me, and for many of them, giving a gift was fun. I appreciated everything. There were some who came to the shower and/or the wedding, that didn’t give us gifts. I didn’t care – I enjoyed spending time with them, sharing the special occasion. The only reason I created a registry was so that IF people wanted to give us something, they had a better idea of what we would like to have.

        My husband and I have chosen to be childfree, and I’ve attended quite a few baby showers within the past two years for friends and family, even helped plan a few. Again, for them it was a celebration of an important moment in their lives and I was happy for them. For really close family/friends, I actually have the tradition of making a personalized baby quilt for the newborn – for me it’s a fun way to be creative in my hobbies without having a ton of quilts sitting around my house, and they appreciate a home-made item that they can use for years. For others I’m not as close with, I don’t spend as much money. I’m also invited to baptisms (I’m not religious either) and birthday parties – yes it gets to be a little much to buy gifts for their kids forever, but usually I get something small for the kid to play with that’s age-appropriate and educational, and give the parents bonds or money specifically to be put away towards their future (college, etc). The parents have always appreciated this, and I feel like my money is investing in a brighter future for the kids I care about, rather than an outfit that will be worn once and given away.

        The important thing is to remember that no matter what the situation – whether it’s a baby shower, bridal shower, kid’s birthday, adult’s birthday, Christmas, or other celebration – a gift is A GIFT and the amount is at the sole discretion of the giver. I aim to make my gifts to people meaningful in some way or another, and if I feel that gifts are not appreciated and just expected, I’m much less likely to give anything.

    • TaraDactyl July 27, 2014 at 9:25 am #

      Ugh. I get twitchy about Bridal Showers. Baby shower’s I am way more okay with, since it’s for a baby and you can get the practical items. I’m getting married soon to someone I’ve been with for 8 years, living together for 6. We’re not registering, we have pretty much everything we need. There’s three items I am fairly desperate for, that are larger ticket but I am in no way registering for those items. I was just recently IN a wedding and it was probably one of the worst experiences of my life. And expensive. Two months after the fact, I haven’t heard from my friend and I’m left feeling used. I will never be in a wedding ever again.

  6. Samantha February 20, 2014 at 11:22 am #

    I don’t personally have a problem with attending baby showers, though I know some childfree people do. Mostly that’s because I’ll only attend baby showers of people I’m close to, so as you said, I like celebrating a life event with them. However, I think we childfree need to make non-baby showers more of a thing. Just last week I had a tubal ligation and am considering having a non-baby shower once I’m fully recovered. I won’t be asking for gifts, but it’s the same idea as a baby shower…having your friends and family celebrate a big life-changing decision. We have as much right to celebrate as they do.

    • Lance February 20, 2014 at 11:23 am #


    • Elizabeth @ The Bare Midriff February 20, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

      Couldn’t agree more – I’ve thought about hosting a no baby shower, but am afraid that too many pronatalists would think it rude or disrespectful. Whenever I see anything pertaining to a baby shower, I think of an early episode of “Sex and the City” where, after attending a tediously stereotypical baby shower, Samantha returns to her fabulous life and hosts an “I’m Not Having a Baby” party – which looks like WAY more fun!

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