Sense of Responsibility...

C’est Une Tâche Ingrate – A Thankless Task

This blog goes out to all the mothers who have ever posed this dreaded question to their children…

“Have you finished your thank you notes?”

You hate to ask…you already know the answer…you build up to it…you hope beyond hope that they remember the last time you harped on them…you certainly remember the last time you harped on them…their last birthday, holiday, first communion, graduation.

You receive the standard responses to your question after the pained sigh and the obligatory eye roll. Responses come in five standard forms…

…the delay

  • “I’m working on them”
  • “I’m taking a break”
  • “I can’t find a pen”

…the denier

  • “You have up to a year to get them out and nobody expects them anyway.”
  • “I’m too busy right now”
  • “We have no pens”

…the defiant

  • “I didn’t ask them to send me anything”
  • “I’m in the middle of this video game.”
  • “I hate pens.”

…the clueless

  • “What thank you notes?”
  • “What gifts?”
  • “What is a pen?”

…the liar

  • “Yes”

Now, those of you out there who have the perfectly polite child who wouldn’t think of accepting and using a gift without first sitting down and neatly writing out a lovely personalized note:

“Thank you Aunt Mimi for the birthday cash. The $25 dollars couldn’t have come at a better time. I plan on giving 10% of it to charity, and the rest I plan to put into an interest-bearing account to be used purchase a bus pass to get to school. You are the best Aunt Mimi.”

Well, good for you! You have won the parenting award.

But the rest of us…well…it’s complicated. I picture an ice age mother imploring her youngster, “Have you finished your cave drawing thanking your uncle for dragging that sabre-tooth tiger in for you?” Or the pioneer mother with “Johnny, the courier from the Pony Express is here, have you written your thanks to Pastor Caleb for the soap horse he whittled for you?”

What our children do not understand…yet…is that their procrastination is our shame. We all know that sinking feeling that comes when someone…a sister, a friend, a second cousin…asks whether your child has, in fact, received the gift. This comes in a couple of forms as well…

…the “ I really don’t need a formal thank you note. I just want to make sure the gift did not get lost in the mail.” This is translated to “I didn’t get a thank you note from your kid, what a lousy mother you are.”


…the “Did Peter like the baby dress I weaved from the cotton I grew and spun into thread, then lovingly tailored and smocked?” This is translated to “May you never have a night’s sleep again because you raised bad children, you lousy, lousy mother.”


Now, while a thank you would certainly be appreciated for those simple no-brainer gifts of small amounts of money or gift cards; these are not the type of gifting that spurs that guilt-inducing phone call from the aforementioned sister, friend, or second cousin.

So you say…

…“Oh yes, she received it and really loves it. Se has been soooooo busy getting ready for college and all that.”


…“Oh, the dress is so wonderful! Yes, yes, he loves it and the baby looks so precious in it. He has been sooooo busy, you know what it is like with a new baby in the house.”

AUUGGHHHH! I want to scream “Call my children directly and ask THEM that question. Shame THEM…not me!”

I tried. I really tried. I thought I was a good mother. I bought the thank you notes that actually said THANK YOU. I  bought the stamps. I stood over them. I begged. I cajoled. I wrote the names and addresses on the envelopes for them.  I GAVE THEM THE PENS!


I come from a long line of thank you note writers. My paternal grandmother was an expert at writing a note that not only acknowledged receipt but spun a beautiful story of how she would use the particular gift.

My dear Grace,     

You can imagine my surprise when I received the post and your package was in it. It was so wonderful of you to think about me on my birthday. The pickle fork is superb. How did you know this was the one piece of my collection that I was missing? I cannot wait to open that enticing jar of pickles in my icebox and pull out a delectable morsel using this exquisite fork. Others who like pickles will share in my joy as I display the beautiful utensil amidst my other serving forks.

With dearest affection,


My mother was a whiz at thank you notes as well. But, she was also a whiz at not accepting the shame of non-produced expressions of gratitude from her nine children. That shame she passed on to us. My mother was a whiz with Catholic guilt. Our notes got done. Often we thought we needed to send thank you notes to those who sent us thank you notes! No, no, I thank YOU!

Yet, I accept the shame. I must be a bad mother. I must have bad children.

But wait…I am decidedly NOT a bad mother. And my children are NOT bad either. Their lives are busy. They are not lazy. They are not intending to be rude. They really did appreciate the gifts. But times have changed. Carefully hand written thank you notes may be a thing of the past, like the carrier pigeon, the pony express and the 4 cent stamp.  These formal expressions of gratitude come from a time when loved ones required communication through airmail, a time when long-distance phone communication was wildly expensive. Maybe our errant children just need some permission to use different ways of saying thank you.

Never in the history of communication has it been easier to thank someone for a kindness proffered. Where there are some purists out there that expects a hand-written note, I really believe all anyone wants is just to be appreciated for taking the time to think about, carefully shop for, and oftentimes take the extra effort, time and money to personalize that special gift.

So for the gift recipients who have yet to compete their thank-you notes, let me introduce you to a very simple tool that has endless capabilities for communicating with people who thought enough to want to send you a gift – the SmartPhone. I suspect you understand how to use it for games, file sharing, posting cat videos, etc.

So, instead of the dreaded thank you notes, how about a simple “thanks”? Here are a few simple and quick ways to use that smart phone to thank others:

  • A Facebook post

 “This is the funniest cat video, and if you look in the background you will see the beautiful pillow you sent us for our wedding. Yes, kitty is tearing it up as it has all this fine embroidery that you did, and she just loves to pull threads. Thanks for thinking of us. Fingers crossed that this will be a viral hit!”

  • An Instagram picture

Here he is! The first day of summer

enjoying his new Slip and Slide!

Thanks Grandpa!

  • A text

  • An email

From: Peter Parker                                                                                                                                                                                           To: Aunt May                                                                                                                                                                         Subject: THANKS!

Aunt May, I did not want another crime-fighting day to go by without thanking you for the new spidy suit. It is comfortable and stretches with me when I swing from side to side.                                                                              See you next Sunday for dinner.                                                                                                                                              Peter

  • A snap chat
  • A photo sharing program

 “Here is a picture of the baby with her new bunny! She loves it and has to have it to sleep. Thanks you so very much.”





  • And finally, a simple phone call

“Sue, just wanted to call you to let you know I just received your package. OMG! The purse is just beautiful. Wow! Thank you so much!”

Now, in my humble opinion, there is a certain situation that, while a personalized acknowledgement might be nice, it is not necessary – when the “giftee” opens the gift in front of the “gifter.”… and the giftee falls all over him/herself showering praises on the gifter for the new fangled pickle fork.

So, there you go. See? It is easy. It is fun. It is important.

‘Nuff said.

Photo credit: LN via / CC BY-NC-SA

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