Dear Hobie & Monk,
Do you keep giving gifts to teenagers who never write thank you notes? And on the flip side, we recently hosted a birthday party for our 13-year-old daughter and one gift had lost its card, so we have no idea whom it was from. About five of the 15 guests aren’t represented in the gifts already accounted for; how should we handle finding out who brought it?
– Presented with two problems
Hobie: In terms of the unintentionally anonymous gift, I’m guessing that you have email addresses for all of your daughter’s birthday party guests and/or their parents. Ideally, it will be your daughter who sends out a group email to all of her friends (including those who’ve already gotten handwritten thank you notes from her for their gifts) saying, “One of my birthday presents was a beautiful silver necklace, but there wasn’t a card attached. I’d love to thank the person who gave it to me, so please let me know if it was from you!” Follow up with a similar email to the parents, only if no one steps forward.
With that, let’s move on to the larger issue of giving gifts even in the face of continued non-thanking. By now, I’m sure you all know where Monk and I stand on the issue of writing thank you notes when presented with a gift: You write them, and you help/teach/force your children to write them because the world needs generosity to be met with graciousness. (A few of you will understand this only by substituting “your grandmother” for “the world,” but this absolutely shouldn’t be a generational issue.)
From the other side, however, my personal rules get fuzzier. Let’s consider the two most-likely scenarios. First, would I continue sending gifts to teenaged relatives in the absence of thank you notes? Yes, but maybe with a note saying, “Hey, do me a favor and call when you get this so that I know it arrived.” Gentle nudge.
Second, would I keep sending gifts to birthday parties for my son’s teenaged friends if presents are still the norm but thank you notes aren’t? Yes, but when a note doesn’t arrive after a few weeks, I’d probably email one of his parents to make sure the card didn’t become unattached from the gift (see how handy your other problem becomes?). Gentle nudge.
It really comes down to whether you want to be generous with that person, regardless of whether graciousness follows.
Monk: I have to answer this question with a question: What do you do when your fellow advice columnist kindly assumes your children write thank you notes?
Monk: It’s true. I have to be honest; my kids’ grandmother might be reading this. The truth is that we often write and send lovely thank you notes, but sometimes the nagging and reminding are ineffective and the notes never get sent. The gentle nudge is a gift of sorts, too, because it prompts us to be the gift recipients we aspire to be, the grateful kind — the kind that says thank you and means it.
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Hobie and Monk are two Alexandria women with husbands, children, dogs, jobs, mortgages, unmet New Year’s resolutions, obsessions with impractical shoes, English novels … and Ph.D.s in clinical psychology. Their advice, while fabulous, should not be construed as therapeutic within a doctor-patient context or substituted for the advice of readers’ personal advisors.