Writing Thank You Notes: A Lost Etiquette
Personal Written Expressions of Thanks Are a Rarity
Emily Post would probably have turned over in her grave a thousand times by now if she was been able to witness from eternity the shallow, negligent, impersonal, ungrateful world we live in today.
In bygone days, it was a given that when a person received a wedding or baby shower gift, they sent the gift-giver a hand-written thank-you note within one to three months. When being a guest in someone's home for a meal or celebration, a card or note of thanks was an ingrained, automatic response. Children sent letters of thanks to their grandparents and aunts and uncles for Christmas and birthday gifts. Manners, gratitude, respect, and thoughtfulness were normal.
Today, there is very little gratitude, and this is evidenced by the absence of personally written or delivered notes or calls of thanks. Modern grandparents often say they don't know if their grandchildren received a gift they sent because there was no communication from them. I know someone who says she calls a few weeks after sending gifts to the grandkids. "Josh, did you get the legos I sent you for Christmas?" Josh's response is always the same—a very distracted and unenthusiastic "Yeah." End of conversation. In all fairness, if a child has not been taught to say a sincere thank you, they cannot be blamed.
Peggy Post, Emily's great-grandson's wife, has taken up the baton her great-grandmother-in-law passed along, and she now writes about etiquette. Unfortunately, the people who need to listen to her the most are likely clueless about her existence.
“Appreciation can make a day—even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.”— Margaret Cousins
"Thx" Is Not Enough
The advent of electronic media like email, text messaging, and social media sharing has impersonalized communication. Using media to communicate is wonderfully fast and convenient, but it has caused a great chasm that prevents us from relating to one another in a personal, meaningful way.
Sending a text, email, Facebook post, or tweet offers the convenience of not having to take time to think about what to say in the most heartfelt way (email might be an exception at times). Communication media such as these can be likened to written sound bites or short, flippant little snippets. We type letters on a screen and hit send with lightning speed and no forethought so we can get it done quick and easy and get back to me, myself, and I.
Today, we send hurried texts that say "Thx" when someone has taken the time and care to give something significant to us. "Thx" lacks sincerity, sensitivity, and thoughtfulness if it's about things that really matter. "Thx" says "that's all I have time for you. I am too busy to even write the whole word, let alone how deeply I appreciate what you've done or given." "Thx" is more appropriate in situations like, "Oh, you forgot your book while you were here. I will put it on your desk."
Is Electronic Media That Different Than Writing a Letter?
Since the technological media I mentioned involve sending messages, one might ask how it is different than writing a thank-you letter, card, or note. Consider the following. Sending a thank-you message via email can sometimes be appropriate, but there is always the risk of it being deleted accidentally or landing in a spam folder.
Purchasing or making a tangible thank-you card, on the other hand, requires thoughtful consideration and choice. You look at the image and think about how much the recipient might like the roses, the puppy, or the scenery pictured. If you choose to get one with a written sentiment, you search through the many cards to find one that expresses what you'd like to say the best. This is called thoughtfulness. It shows the recipient that they matter and that you are grateful.
Sending a card, letter, or note of thanks is an investment of time and energy in contrast to the hurried, flippant, instant process that technology affords. It takes time to sit down at a desk and think up a meaningful way to say thank you. And yet, most people don't think twice about spending hours on the computer surfing the net or reading tweets.
When Should We Send a Thank You Note?
Thank you notes should be sent when someone has gone out of their way for you to show you that they care. Following are standard occasions to send notes of thanks:
- Shower gifts
- Wedding gifts
- New baby gifts
- Graduation gifts
- Any gift where the giver is not present
- After an exceptional kindness or favor
- After a job interview
- Condolence notes or gifts
- When you've been a house guest
- Parties or events thrown in your honor
- Variety of events you've attended
- Benevolent gifts or charity of some sort
- Donations to your favorite charity
Exceptional acts of kindness can be anything that has helped or encouraged you. There are a million and one reasons to write notes of thanks.
Email and Telephone Thank Yous
Email thank you notes are perfectly appropriate in casual situations with people you are very close to, such as a friend, family member, close co-worker. It also depends on the reason for saying thank you.
Emily Post offers examples: "Email is okay to thank for a coffee or meal that was casual or whose invitation was extended by email in the first place. It’s also okay for very small favors. But for dinner parties, big favors, an actual gift, or being a houseguest, handwritten thank-you notes are your best bet for an expression of warm, heartfelt thanks."1
I have written email thank you's many times to close friends where I wanted to say more than just a few words that fit on a card and wanted to get the message to them quickly. You can still take the time to consider what you will say and write a thoughtful message. Again though, you always run the risk of it getting deleted or lost somehow. Take time to cut and paste and save onto a word document in case it is somehow lost. There is nothing wrong with asking "Did you get my email?" If they didn't, you can try again, or send it snail mail.
Telephone thank you's are wonderful at holiday times and birthdays. It gives you and your family a time to chat and catch up and verbalize your gratitude that they will hear in your voice. Few parents have their children write thank you notes anymore when family members send them gifts, and that's okay as long as the child calls the family member and offers a proper thank you. Personally, I prefer this when it comes to the grandkids. It is important for parents to teach their children how to do this and why.
Having children say thank you is the polite thing to do. It teaches children to be thankful and find joy in saying thank you. It helps children to become "other" oriented.
Do You Write Thank-You Notes?
Teach Children to Write Thank-You Notes
It is wonderful to receive a thank you note from a child. I have helped my children's teachers and taught Sunday school off and on for many years and received many cards and letters of thanks, complete with drawings. May is teacher appreciation month and a good time to have your child and/or his class write a note or a poster of thanks. These are treasures teachers will always hold dear.
It is important also for parents to model gratitude in the home. Not just in written form, but as a way of life. In fact, it is the modeling of gratitude that will make the greatest impression and impact on the children. It will cause gratitude to grow in their hearts.
Do you have your children write thank you notes?
Is There Hope?
The ethos of communication in America today is defined and driven by the desire to get things done as fast as possible, as easy as possible, and as conveniently as possible. It is sad that communicating gratitude in written form is viewed as a prehistoric practice by most people today. Barring a miracle, it will probably not return any time soon. The die has been cast. We can only hope that this mindset will wear itself out or that the emptiness of it will cause a hunger to find connection and thoughtfulness once again. Wouldn't it be wonderful if note cards one day became best selling items?
Giving thanks shouldn’t be a chore—and doesn’t have to be if you make the effort to keep it interesting.— Emily Post
1Emily Post, Being Thankful: Thank-You Note FAQs. The Emily Post Institute. Accessed 6 June 2020. https://emilypost.com/advice/being-thankful-thank-you-note-faqs/
Questions & Answers
If grandchildren do not write me thank you letters and do not call to thank me, is it appropriate to just not offer gifts to them?
It's up to you. It's a tough call. On the one hand, it's justified, and it could have the desired effect in changing their attitude and actions. On the other hand it could stir up discord. You know your family, go about your decision prayerfully.Helpful 6
What if you send your grandchildren confirmation that you sent a donation to St. Jude's or another charity under their name and 1 gift?
Are you asking if those gifts are acceptable? If so I would say yes.Helpful 3
I am very hurt that all 5 of my grandchildren (able to write) never send thank you notes. I ask them if they liked their gifts. They complain that their pj's were too tight, etc. I cannot believe they do not know this simple manner. It comes from the parents - they don't write thank you notes either - what to do? I feel I put so much time into personalizing their gifts.
I feel your frustration. Been there, done that. It can be hurtful. My grands have never complained but I simply don't hear from most of them and I have 14 of them. Some of the adult grands will text a thank you and I can tell they are heartfelt. You are right about it coming from the parents. I have grown weary of asking if the kids received the gift in the mail. In my experience if the parents don't teach them they are not going to do it. It's sad and it hurts. At this point, it would be wonderful if I could just get a phone call, which to me is even better than a note. It is sad when you put so much time and effort on choosing their gifts. Some people have given up and quit sending gifts or spending a lot on gifts. That's an individual choice. I hope things turn around.Helpful 3
I bought my grandchildren thank you cards a while ago and expected them to use them. They never used them. What do you think?
I would say that if the parents have not focused on or prioritized teaching them to write thank you notes then the children are not likely to see their importance either. But I would also add that if the kids are older and you gave them the cards (and I assume you had some sort of conversation however brief) then whether the parents have taught them the value of the practice or not they are still able to make the choice to use them, it's their responsibility. The fact is that it's very difficult for a grandparent to change things. Lecturing doesn't usually help. WhatGetting on the parents has not worked for me. What you might do if you have an opportunity is sit down with the child or children and have them write some after an occasion which warrants a thank you note. Make it fun. Have them be creative, draw pictures, decide what to say.Helpful 2
© 2013 Lori Colbo