My kids (ages 15, 13, and 9) have not been good about sending thank you notes to two out of state relatives for birthday cards and Christmas gifts. Yes, I know that even very young children can send a simple note, and they have sent some. I also know that as their mother, it is my fault that they have been permitted this breach of decent manners. But the question is, what is the proper way for these relatives to respond?
A year or so ago, the Uncle mentioned (through Grandma) that he would really like thank you notes. Eventually he stopped sending gifts. Understandable. We still send gifts to his child, and always get nice notes back.
The Aunt pointed out the problem but did not stop sending gifts. For my daughter’s 13th birthday, she received a box of thank you notes and an angry letter calling her inexcusably rude, among other criticisms. She was crushed, mainly because the attack was in her birthday card and so unexpected.
My son (15) requested she not send a gift, but Auntie had already purchased thank you notes and a book on how to write them.
Is it acceptable to berate nieces and nephews for their breaches of etiquette? Is this a case of the pot calling the kettle black?
We would really like her to stop sending gifts and have asked her to stop, but she’s committed to forcing us to comply or face her ire.
— Family Drama
Dear Lord, what a terrifying aunt!
As you’ve already acknowledged, your children should have been writing thank-you notes all along, but that’s no reason for a relative to berate them (on their birthdays or any other day).
The uncle responded reasonably (if a little huffily), although perhaps he should have discussed it with you instead of involving grandma. The aunt, however, seems to be enjoying the opportunity to make your children feel bad.
The next note needs to come from you. It should go something like this:
Dear Aunt So-and-So,
In the past, my children have been remiss about sending you thank-you notes. Please accept our deepest apologies.
More recently, you’ve taken to sending gifts that illustrate this point. We understand your perspective, but see no need to escalate this into a larger family issue.
I suggest we turn the page and stop sending each other gifts altogether. This way, both parties get a fresh start.
The goal here is to diffuse the situation rather than making it worse. If she persists in sending gifts, you should open them in advance rather than risk upsetting your children. If they’re reasonable, have your children write thank you notes. If they’re hurtful, send them back.
P.S. You mentioned sending thank-you notes for birthday cards. No need to do so unless there’s a check enclosed!
Got an etiquette question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org!