Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How thankful are you? Thoughts on talking turkey...

Thank you notesthe lack of themwas one of the key complaints about children in a recent conversation with a remarkably varied series of mothers I'd been speaking to.

Mommie Dearest aside, you don't have to be an abusive parent to expect a child (or anyone) to respond to a gift with appreciation.  I wasn't allowed to go out and play if I hadn't finished my thank you notes for Christmas presents by the first week in January. While it was tedious, I really didn't see it as an inappropriate expectation of my parents.  Now I send my thank you notes as Valentine cardsa little late, but decorative!

And when I got old enough to actually send presents, it became very clear how nice getting a note wasif only to reassure you that your gift was actually received!  With no response, one can spend months vacillating between resentment toward the recipient, concern that the package had been lost, and angst about whether one should contact the person & ask the embarrassing question:  

"Did you get the present I sent months ago?" 

"Oh, yeah.  Sorry!  I guess I should have said something..."  

Yeah.  That would have been nice.

Even as one mother was complaining of the effort she made to find her nephews and nieces things she thought they'd like and how ungrateful they were and unthanked she was, I was thinking of the presents I'd given her children for which I'd never gotten any thanks or acknowledgment. Funny how easy it is to notice failures in others and not in yourself, isn't it? 

I asked her if she'd written thank you notes herself as a child.  She'd written some, but mentioned that her godmother used to give her beautiful treasures that she still cherished, but had never thanked her for.

Suddenly, after complaining about others, she realized she'd been just as guilty. She wondered if the statute of limitations had expired, but in my opinion thanks have no expiration date. You can send a thank you years later, and it will still be freshand possibly even more appreciated. Go for it. And she did.

In these days of endless communication options, there's no excuse, but remarkably little activity.  And really, not much is required:  "Just got your lovely giftthank you so much for thinking of me!" is really all that is needed.  Yes, it would be nice to reference the actual object & mention why it will be enjoyed (if indeed it is).  But details are not required, and neither are falsehoods.  

I believe in telling the truth, but not necessarily the whole truth.  So if you hate the gift for whatever reason, all you need to do is thank the giver for the kind thought.  Note, postcard, email, voice mail (hey, you can even call when you know they won't be there!). 

It was interesting to note that this issue of lack of acknowledgement has been the subject of articles with business interviews as well.  

So just as we may wish for Christmas cheer to last beyond the holidays, it is worth asking...can you be thankful all year long?

Did you have to write thank you notes? Do you write them now? Did you raise your children to write thank you notes?


Lee Hyat said...

Growing up, we always had to write a thank you note the very next day for any gifts received. I wasn't allowed to enjoy my presents until the deed was done and though like so many kids, at the time I grumbled, today I appreciate that my mother instilled it in me. It's just basic good manners, isn't it? I've tried to pass it along to my children though they prefer to text or email their thank you notes. A sign of the times, perhaps!

Happy Thanksgiving! :)

Isabel Swift said...

Text or email counts! Format is just a vehicle for communicating the story--it's the story that counts. Or in this case, the acknowledgement.

I think thank you notes are one of the early moments in one's growing up that forces you to acknowledge someone other than yourself. As a child, so much is given to you--food, shelter, clothing, etc. And not inappropriately--one didn't ask to be born, after all. But there is a necessary shift to realizing that not only are there others to be considered, but that you have a personal responsibility to acknowledge their efforts on your behalf.

Being able to sit in the nest with your mouth agape doesn't last forever. At least not with birds!

So I'm off to make some thanksgiving thank yous!

Happy Thanksgiving!