In Defense of Thank-You Notes
“But Mom, nobody writes thank you notes anymore. But Mom, Gramma was here when I opened it and I said thank you then. But Mom, I can e-mail her. But Mom, it’s bor-ing! But Mom, I hate writing notes. But Mom, I don’t even like that red sweater she gave me.”
You can probably already hear my responses: “You’re not nobody. Grandma deserves much more than a hug. E-mail is impersonal. Only boring people are bored with thanking someone who loves them so much they gave them a gift. I don’t care if you hate it. It’s the thought that counts.”
From this mom’s point of view, the ritual of thank-you notes is a completion of the season. After the candles are extinguished; after the tree comes down; after the holiday meals and gifts and treats, whatever the tradition, whatever the holiday, it’s time for us all to acknowledge those who have extended themselves to make our holiday bright.
It’s not about duty. It’s not about form. It’s not about doing what Grandma expects so she’ll come through when birthdays roll around. Writing thank-you notes, and helping our children write them, is about establishing and maintaining a habit of appreciation that is an important part of loving relationships.
Gratitude doesn’t come naturally to most children. We have to teach them. Gratitude is too often put off by adults. We have to take the time. It is up to us to gently explain to our children that kindness is not something to take for granted; thoughtfulness is something to be valued. Thank-you notes are a way to appreciate that someone made the effort to make or purchase, wrap, and deliver a gift. Even if the gift isn’t a thrill, the effort matters.
So, parents, here’s the simple rule: New things can be tried out on the day a gift is received. But the very next day (short of travel time or catastrophe) is a day for giving thanks. No new outfit gets worn. No new video game gets played. No new book gets read or sled gets slid until a thank-you note goes into the mailbox. The not-so-simple rule is that it isn’t a chore. It’s an act of loving back the people who love us.
Good modeling and working together is the key. Kids take it in if our attitude is one of thoughtful pleasure. Kids take it in when we demonstrate that something is important enough for us to take time away from other things. Kids take it in when they see us write a note with care. By making an evening of thanks part of the family annual holiday tradition, it will become as matter-of-fact as other rituals.