Should you make your grown-up children send thank-you cards?

If you read this blog or follow my tweets, you’ll know I’m a big believer in thank you cards, the old-fashioned handwritten ones, not the e-mail versions that are so popular nowadays.  But, as I’m not a complete Luddite, I realize that many people don’t write cards any more and I’ll take an electronic thank you over nothing at all, which is also sadly becoming commonplace.

A while ago I wrote a blog post about five occasions that require a thank-you card so I won’t list them here but suffice to say, a proper thank you is required anytime someone gives you a gift.  As a mother of young children, I consider it my responsibility to ensure that my sons write cards of gratitude for most gifts they receive.  If five friends come to their birthday party and leave with loot bags, the thank-yous are said when the gift is received and I don’t feel a more formal follow-up is required.  However, if grandma or another friend or relative takes the time to give them something special, and especially if the gift is sent through the mail, thank-you cards are mandatory.

Before they learned to print, I wrote their thank-you cards on their behalf, but since kindergarten, they’ve been writing out their own.  Despite this, I still encounter resistance every time I bring it up.  While my boys are only too eager to rip the wrapping paper off a present, they’re decidedly less enthusiastic about formally thanking the gift-giver.  Nevertheless, cards are dragged out, pencils are shoved in little hands and, with some guidance from me on the right words, the task is (somewhat begrudgingly) completed.  I had hoped that, by starting this ritual early, it would become second nature by now but it still hasn’t sunk in.  That’s okay for now.  At their age, they are still more or less under my control so I can still “make” them do things they don’t want to do.

But what about later on, when they’re teenagers or even young adults?  Will they voluntarily continue the tradition I’ve started or will it fall by the wayside?  Since I probably won’t be able to force them to sit at the table and actually write a thank you card or send a thank-you email, how do I know they’ll “do the right thing”? Maybe they’ll live in a society where thank-you cards are about as common as the buggy-whip or eight-track.

The subject came up recently when an old friend’s daughter had a baby.  I’ve seen this girl grow up and consider her part of my extended family.  She lives about two hours away from me so when I heard about the new arrival, I bought a lovely gift and card and sent it to her by FedEx.  Months later, I haven’t received so much as an acknowledgement that the gift was even received (although I verified with FedEx that it was delivered), never mind a thank-you card, or even an email or text message.

“It’s the mother’s fault.  She should encourage her daughter to use proper etiquette,” said another friend of mine when I shared the situation with her.  While I do agree that it’s up to parents to teach their kids proper etiquette, I don’t like the idea of mothers being blamed for the shortcomings of their adult children (it’s never the fathers of course) and I wonder how feasible it is for a mother to tell a 20-something child how to behave.  The conversation forced me to admit that my own fear of being judged as a “bad mother” is probably partially behind my insistence that my kids write thank-you cards.

I saw my friend, the new grandmother, recently and was planning to ask if she knew if the baby gift was received but I decided against it at the last minute.  Raising the topic would only make her feel uncomfortable and I didn’t want to compound one etiquette faux pas with another.  No doubt, the baby has now grown out of the newborn outfit I purchased and I’ll probably never know if it was liked, loved, loathed or even worn at all.

Do you have adult children?  Do they send thank you cards?  Would they listen to you if you suggested they need to do it?

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