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Dear Care and Feeding,
I need a gut check about thank-you notes. An outmoded convention? Or still required? I am trying not to be hurt by/resentful of/angry with a friend (not a close friend) who threw a baby shower for herself and didn’t open the presents then and there—which I appreciated, by the way, as sitting through the opening of a mountain of presents is incredibly boring—but then never sent thank-you notes for the gifts people brought. By now (the baby has arrived and she has her hands full as a single mother), it’s pretty clear they are never coming. I spent a lot of time picking out a thoughtful gift. I’d like that to be appreciated! Is that petty of me? There were some people, mutual friends of ours, who didn’t make it to the shower but sent gifts directly to her home—and one of them has grumbled to me that she doesn’t even know if her gift ever arrived. Are we hopelessly old-fashioned to expect an acknowledgment of our gifts? At least an email or a text if not a traditional written one? As a hopeful future parent myself, I’m also interested in whether people are still teaching their children what I was taught: that a thank-you note is absolutely required, always. I’ve heard tell that they are not. So, am I a relic?
—Irritated, but Should I Be?
Alas, I too have heard tell of this shift in etiquette education. And I hate it. If thank-you notes are “on their way out,” they absolutely should not be. Please do teach the children you may someday have to write them.
It is of course too late to teach your friend to do so. Not that it’s your job to teach your friends the good manners and graciousness they should have learned long ago, or to remind them (I’ll give the new mother’s parents the benefit of the doubt) what they were taught as children. Still, you are not wrong to be irritated.
That said, I not hopelessly old-fashioned. I won’t insist that thank-you notes be written for gifts given and opened and acknowledged warmly in person. In such cases, a spoken, “Thank you! I love it!” or “It’s just what I wanted!” is sufficient—unless, as Miss Manners herself says, a gift is so extraordinary (and extravagant) that a deeper expression of gratitude is called for. But failing to thank those who have been generous to us—whether we are children whose relatives have sent gifts, or full-grown adults whose friends have piled gifts on a table for the recipient to open later, in privacy (I agree with your assessment of this excellent practice)—is a moral failing. Allow me to quote Miss Manners (the estimable Judith Martin, my advice columnist guru) once more: “In a world in which there were no presents, favors, good deeds or thoughtful words, there would be no need for serious expressions of thanks. [I] just wouldn’t want to live there.”
I’m sorry your friend has been so thoughtless. Please do not take one person’s non-acknowledgment of her friends’ kindness toward her as a ruling about how the world works now. It need not work that way. Yes, single mothers are busy. Your friend should have written thank-you notes before the baby arrived. But since she didn’t, she should be acknowledging the gifts given to her and her child so generously in some fashion.
P.S. No one should throw themself a baby shower. A shower is something others throw for one.
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