Obviously I had fun at your shower if I was there, but I don’t much miss going to bridal and baby showers IRL. The fun of seeing your friends and family and celebrating a new chapter in their lives was often tempered by the lurking shadow of patriarchal values. Funny traditions like putting on Spanx and makeup to eat a weird light meal and watch an adult human open presents and play embarrassing games could feel like a cosplay of a type of womanhood from long ago. I rarely felt like I could be myself at a shower because if I were myself I’d be saying “This is a bit weird, right?” Let’s put it this way—my husband never seemed jealous that he wasn’t invited to showers.
Now, it’s not easy to do a fun virtual event of any kind but it can be done, and when done well, it preserves what’s important about a shower (connecting a family to its network, supporting them and wishing them well) without having to give up 3 hours on a Saturday or Sunday attempting to make pleasant but superficial small talk while agonizing over the temptation of the mimosa bar, if you drove (just me?)
Here are 3 stories of successful virtual celebrations, one of which was witnessed myself, in case you need to host or help with a party honoring a friend or family member and still want it to be enjoyable:
1.) The express shower
Around the holidays last year I received a cute paper invitation to my cousin’s bridal shower with a Starbucks gift card attached, telling me to buy myself a coffee and a treat while we Zoomed in. My cousin didn’t open gifts on the call but showed us a couple she had already received. She introduced us all to each other and we asked her questions about her fiancé and their engagement and wedding and their family and honeymoon. The bride was visibly touched by us all showing up. It was over in a half an hour. Perfect.
2.) Pay a company to do it for you and do what the guest of honor wants
As told by my friend Maeve Donnelly in Massachusetts:
“I wanted my sister to have a nice baby shower—she’s been through so much stuff this past year anyway. I cheated and just hired a company called WebBabyShower.com.
I didn’t want to make people feel trapped on Zoom for two hours. I had old people and young people coming; my sister is eight years younger than I am. She’s infinitely cooler than I am and so are her friends. There were people from over the country who couldn’t travel. I wanted to find something that would be successful for everybody.
Cait posted a welcome video to everyone, and people could watch that ahead of time. We had a bunch of cheesy baby shower games planned like “complete the nursery rhyme,” “what are the baby animals called,” and people could play those at any time before the shower. I have aunts who play solitaire on their computer and that was perfect for them, a good way to get engaged participate ahead of time instead of time and having something to do.
There was a baby shower guest book where people could log in and write something nice to my sister which can be printed out and turned into a memento for her. There was another link where you could look at her registries and I put some pictures of the nursery so they could see the themes. You could see a lot more than you normally do when you’re at a shower a a restaurant. People got more in touch with her actual experience of expecting.
When we did the actual Zoom meeting she sat in the nursery (so I told her to clean it up.) She hates opening gifts in front of people so we skipped that. Instead, she gave a little nursery tour. Her mother-in-law had painted a fresco on the wall, and she showed us the crib and the things she had set up.
Her friends had surprised her by dropped off a little baby shower cookies for her and balloons for the nursery and everyone ooh’ed and aahe’d about that. We also had a dinner delivered to her so she and her husband could have a meal after.
I did a little segment I called “Ask Caitlin” with all the typical questions that people would ask and small talk about “What are you craving, excited about, worried about?” I also asked guests to come prepared to share advice or a happy wish for her.
All the moms and aunts were talking over each other and all my sister’s friends were typing in the chat box, which we could later print out. It was this multi sensory outpouring of good wishes. My mom’s friends were so happy to see her. They probably wouldn’t have come to her shower in real life.
I’m a professor so I’m used to teaching on Zoom. I was making quizzes, telling guests ‘Please be prepared to play.’ My husband was like ‘Stop—this is a party. Don’t teach them. Don’t make them turn their cameras on.’ I ended up doing little poll called Which Parent? with questions like “Which parent was born early? Which loved their blanket more than their stuffed animal as a child? Which loved Campbell’s chicken star soup?” and vote if it was Caitlin or Seth. Caitlin revealed the answers on the Zoom.
About 30 people came and it was one hour long. It felt complete. There were also before and after activities people could do like the poll guessing the baby’s due date. We’re going to send e-gift cards to the winners of the quizzes and the cheesy baby party games. I toyed around with the idea of sending everyone a big box of stuff, but it was too much. I didn’t even know who was going to come.
It cost $29 to join the platform and you can do a month to month membership. You can have this throughout your whole pregnancy and people will update it like a blog. It was a tenth of what I’d spend on a regular baby shower.”
3.) DIY Awesome Zoom Party Tips
I was chatting my friend Erica a bit ago and she mentioned that she recently attended a fun Zoom Christmas party, which was not a thing I hear a lot. I asked her to put me in touch with the host, a nice lady named Shannon Rose-Peterson, who at her day job works to develop the University of Oregon Alumni Association’s digital events strategy and who who loved throwing parties in pre-pandemic time.
Here were Shannon’s tips on throwing a good virtual party of any kind:
1 - Breakout rooms are a great resource! Zoom now allows participants to choose their own breakout rooms, so they can navigate to join different groups and chat with people on a more intimate level. Depending on the type of party, you might want to have enough breakout rooms so that people can gather in groups of 2-3 people. I like to give custom names to the rooms like “living room, library, kitchen, front porch, back deck, garage, music studio, etc.” in an attempt to try to mimic what it’s like to navigate through a house party. My dream is to have a party with a dance party breakout room - I’ve yet to get that one to work. The technology works fine, but people are more interested in talking to one another than dancing to a streaming playlist.
2 - Plan your invite list to include pods of people who know each other. Zoom meeting allows for people to register in advance for the party/meeting, so you can track RSVPs. I did a bunch of outreach to people to let them know who I invited from their social circle to encourage them to attend. It’s also a great opportunity to connect with friends and family - everyone could benefit from hearing from a friend these days.
3 - Set expectations. Once you’ve planned out what you want your party to look like, let people know what they can expect. Will there be games? Will there be breakout rooms so people can talk to one another in small groups? Do they need a reminder to upgrade their version of Zoom? Your guests will want to know. I like to send out a timeline so people know how they’ll be expected to spend their time.
4 - Start the party with some open breakout rooms so that people can practice navigating the space. As host, you can provide the welcome as people “arrive” and then encourage guests to go visit a breakout room or two. I suggest giving at least 15 minutes at the beginning for that open navigation, then calling everyone back for either a little huddle or for some sort of program. Keep the rooms open for the entire party so people can duck out and visit with each other whenever they like. Not everyone likes to play games.
5 - I like putting together a nice program or activity for everyone so that there’s some structure and not just a bunch of people trying to talk to one another. This also gives people a common topic to chat about in breakout rooms. Consider the possibility of hiring some talent to perform. So many artists, actors, and musicians are at home right now and not touring. Why not try booking them to perform? It’s not like you’re spending money on catering!
The party that Erica came to had three musical performances, a little poetry, a holiday themed scavenger hunt, and a gingerbread house competition with prizes - I wanted to pull together my own little holiday variety show. I also organized a party for my extended Sicilian relatives where we played “Guess that Ragona!” For that one, family members emailed me old photos of our relatives (the Ragonas) ahead of time, then during the party I shared my screen with an image of one of the photos, and everyone had to guess who was in the photo. This was a big hit because it also got people telling some really nice family stories none of us had heard before.
6 - The same rules for party hosting still apply to virtual parties. Send reminder emails to RSVP. Send thank you emails for attending. Do some prep work to make sure everything is running well. Try to talk with everyone who joins. And don’t be offended if some people just aren’t interested in attending or if they drop off early. The virtual party world is not for everyone, and Zoom fatigue is real.
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