Best I can tell, the custom started as an add-on or substitute for the dowry system, a time when the bride's father was expected to provide financial assets or property to the groom at the time of the wedding. An ancient custom for sure but Target and Bed, Bath, and Beyond and, if you are more posh, Williams Sonoma sure aren't complaining.
Even today the wedding shower makes some sense. Couples who marry young, perhaps before or just out of college, may have never lived on their own. And even those who have may have been making do with household items from Goodwill or dog eared hand-me-downs from Mom. And even those who have lived a bit higher on the hog, so to speak, may want items that are not "yours," or "mine," but "ours."
That said, there are certainly situations where the wedding shower is less of a necessity and more of a formality. A tradition. Professional couples who have lived together may not need anything at all. The showering of gifts is really more of a celebration.
I'm not complaining at all about the existence of wedding showers. They are certainly needed at times and almost always wanted, to some extent. But I want to propose that weddings aren't the only time to shower people. And there are times when we need to shower people even more.
One is when a single person is setting up her (I'll use "her" for simplicity's sake) own household. She needs all the things, too. I'm sure the thinking is that she can make do until she gets married and then she'll get showered, but there is no guarantee. And why wait? Why should a single person on a single income have to make do with what she can scare up when her friend over here who is getting married gets all the goods?
You're getting married? Congratulations! Let's give you MORE! You are setting up a home on your own? Nothing here to celebrate. The reality is that most people want to get married. And it is hard when those who are getting what they want most, get more, while those who, for whatever reason, have not found the right one, stand back and watch, making do with what they have.
The other time is when a marriage ends. This is a time when emotional encouragement and financial assets are even more crucial.
Divorce is a death. The death of a marriage. The death of a dream. The death of a family. The death of a household. And with that death comes a division. It's called Equitable Distribution of the Assets. What was ours becomes yours and mine. And even what stays mine can often be saddled with hard, hard memories. Mine may end up being the dishes I was showered with at the wedding 18 years ago. Mine could be the Pyrex I baked his favorite cake in. Mine are the sheets we slept on. Together. Before he slept with her. While he slept with her.
At the time when she may be having to set out on a new life, a single life, perhaps with children, she has fewer resources than ever. She may be going from a two to a one-income household. She may be taking a job for the first time since she had children, typically meaning her income prospects are considerably lower. She may have used up all her savings (if she has any) on attorney fees. She can't afford the luxury of replacing household items. She may not even be able to make ends meet. And then, all too often, there is the shame.
While the universal wedding shower pours out support in the form of good cheer and material goods to the lucky couple, what if we had a divorce shower? If you don't like the sound of that (you are afraid it sounds like a celebration of divorce), we could call it a New Beginnings Shower, not necessarily a party but an outpouring. We could shower her over time with gift cards and offers of babysitting. We could fill in the gaps left by the loss of so much.
I have watched so many people that I love dearly enter into the New Beginning with grace and courage. It is incredibly hard. It takes guts to stare the great unknown in the face and move on. It takes stamina to work day in and day out, helping your children navigate the tumultuous world of shared custody. It takes resilience to put one step in front of the other while mourning the death of what you had. I say we ease that burden just a bit. Let's be the cheering section for the New Beginning. Let's shower her with love and support, both emotional and financial, and celebrate the New Beginning.