Thanks, but No Thanks

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Writing thank-you notes for the piles of gifts young children receive for birthdays and holidays is a little like the last burning leg of a marathon. After the wearying whirl of activity preceding a celebration (food preparation, gift-buying and decorating), there is a final post-celebration duty to perform: the ritual showing of gratitude.

Yes, the dreaded thank-you note.

The job nags and gnaws at parents (mostly mothers, let’s be honest) who must enlist a child’s participation. Accomplishing the task may require outright manipulation, bribery . . . or total capitulation (in the form of writing the letters themselves).

“Thank-you notes have been the bane of my life ever since I was a little kid when my mother would say, ‘Did you write that thank-you note to your grandmother?’ ” said Heather Brown, a graduate student and mother of two children. “You have to do it. It is that little pink thing that would take a few seconds to write and the next you know, it has been a year.”


Brown, who describes herself as a “recovering procrastinator,” is still looking at the thank-you notes she bought for her daughter’s birthday party in August. Worse, Brown said, she still hasn’t sent thank-you cards to friends who attended her own 30th birthday party--which she celebrated nearly two years ago.

“I have good intentions,” said Brown, who lives in Mar Vista. “But people know that I am a notorious flake about thank-you notes. I want to do it. I feel guilty when I don’t. It is not about me not appreciating what people do for my children or me. I just can’t seem to do it.”

Carol Kole, a Manhattan Beach mother of three young children, also thinks a child’s post-birthday party thank-you notes are redundant . . . if not ridiculous. “I mean, you give a party,” she said. “They give you a gift, and you give them a gift [bag]. (I also despise gift bags.) Then you have to write a thank-you note. I just dread them.”

Nevertheless, overwhelming feelings of social obligation drive Kole to conclude that not sending thank-you notes is unacceptable.

Some mothers are Martha Stewart impersonators, making others feel inferior, perhaps without meaning to.

These are the mothers with an artistic bent, who have the nerve and skill to make their own paper and create their own fabulous thank-you cards, often even enlisting their children in the project.


“I like doing it,” said Donna Hanson, a West Los Angeles mother who makes thank-you cards so beautiful that recipients feel compelled to frame them. “I think thank-you notes show kids a way to be appreciative and thankful. I make them. I usually write the note and they sign the card.”

Hanson said her four sons (the oldest of whom is 8) complained initially about being forced to write the cards, but the battles have subsided as each has gained greater writing skills.

The best way to inspire children to put pen to paper, offered one mother, is to use psychological coercion.

“I say, ‘OK, I am going to hold the gifts until you get them done,’ ” said Debbie Mund, an Encino mother of four who has enlisted her children from the age of 3 to at least stick stamps on the envelopes.

For one Venice 10-year-old, writing thank-yous is so tedious and painful that her mother and father agreed to handle the letters, allowing the child to apply return-address labels, sign her name or fill in names and gift blanks in computer-generated thank-yous.

“It is so laborious for her [to] print and now she is learning cursive,” said the girl’s mother, Janie Hewson. “I found it was excruciating for her to write the whole note. The most important thing, we told her, is that she say thank-you to each child individually at the party.”


Hewson’s daughter has internalized the concept. At her last birthday party, she opened each gift in front of the giver, told the child how much she loved the present and offered sincere thanks. Still, Hewson would never fail to send a follow-up note.

But Brown, who still aspires to a life of prompt and eloquent thank-you-card writing, wants to know: When is it too late to send one?

“It is never too late to send a thank-you letter, but it is best if you can do it within a month,” opined decorum maven Letitia Baldrige author of “Letitia Baldrige’s More Than Manners! Raising Today’s Kids to Have Kind Manners & Good Hearts,” (Scribner, 1997). “Parents have to teach a child what it is to be a host so it will be instinctive. Mom has to buy the juvenile stationery, take the child to the post office to pick out stamps and make the writing corner festive. When mom starts doing that, she just might start writing thank-you notes herself.”