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