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Etiquette Questions Answered

New Baby Thank You Notes: How Soon Is Not Soon Enough?

By Amalah

I sent a baby gift for a newborn – father is second cousin, never met him or his wife – a month ago. Is it too early to expect a thank-you note? Had a falling out with baby’s grandfather over this. Please respond ASAP.

Yes, it is too early. I mean, it is too early to be actually getting up-in-arms level offended, or picking fights with extended family members over it. (Although I admit I’m unclear who is on what side of the argument here; if you’ve taken it as a slight or if the baby’s grandfather thinks the new parents are slacking off. Either way, this is not a hill either of you should be dying on!)

The ruling etiquette for thank-you notes for baby shower gifts (which are usually received by the parents-to-be about four to six weeks before the birth), is that notes should go out no later than two months after the birth, unless there are extenuating circumstances like a rough delivery or health problem. Most etiquette guides suggest that gift recipients send them out BEFORE the baby arrives, just for their own sanity’s sake, because obviously thank-you notes (while absolutely the polite thing to do!) are definitely going to shift into the Low Priority Category while they adjust to life with a newborn. (Sort of like how brides-to-be are advised to get shower thank-you notes out before the wedding and another wave of gifts roll in, thus causing even the most well-intentioned bride to fall behind or feel overwhelmed by the task.)

But it doesn’t sound like this was a baby shower gift, but something sent after the birth? Or close to it? If so, I think AT A MINIMUM, you need to give the new parents the original four-to-six-week timeframe PLUS the two additional months of leeway. Honestly, I’d cut the new parents even more slack and be happy to get my card within six months. (Basically, plz just acknowledge the baby gift I sent before inviting me to his or her first birthday party, where I am expected again to bring ANOTHER gift, okay?)

If you know for a fact that the gift was successfully delivered, that’s enough for now. If you’re concerned it got lost in the mail, there’s nothing wrong with making a polite inquiry — to your cousin directly, not via the family grapevine — just to make sure. A quick email adding your congratulations on the baby, just wanted to confirm that such-and-such gift arrived, you didn’t have tracking info or don’t 100% trust it, etc. This should not be a thank-you note fishing expedition, but just a friendly check-in to make sure the gift actually made it to its intended recipient.

But is is important to acknowledge that yeah, some people are really, really bad at thank-you notes. They’re disorganized, they forget to document what they receive and from who, they don’t have an up-t0-date address book that includes second cousins that they’ve never met before and keep forgetting to ask someone. Or they just weren’t raised with the expectation that yes, you send thank-you notes to people who give you gifts. Maybe the baby has colic and they haven’t slept more than two hours in a row this month and won’t get to thank-you notes until the baby starts solids and they can come up for air. No matter WHAT the situation is, though, it’s been a month. That’s far from egregiously rude, and sooooo not worth stoking the flames of family drama over. Definitely disengage from any and all further thank-you note discussions, especially with people who neither sent nor received the gift in question.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Cass

    Spot on! Even in the most ideal of circumstances a thank you note right after having a baby is the last thing the new mom is thinking about getting out. This is actually a great reminder to me as I have two gifts that showed up after baby announcements went out and I still haven’t been able to sit down to write them.

  • cindy

    It sounds like the OP has never met the new parents, and it makes me wonder why a gift was sent at all? I don’t understand sending a baby gift to people I’ve never met, no matter if they’re family or not.

  • abby

    When I had a baby thank you notes stressed me out so much. I actually told multiple people I would prefer they didn’t give me a gift because writing thank you notes in a timely fashion was causing me such anxiety. I know that sounds so stupid but I found it completely overwhelming to track gifts, buy stamps, get cute notes, and think of something clever to say to all the well meaning people who sent gifts (especially those from people I had never met – I too received some of those from relatives that came out of nowhere). In hindsight I was acting ridiculous but at the time the feeling was real. Please allow your second cousin a pass for at least a couple more months.

  • Jennifer

    THIS. I got hassled by my mother about not having sent thank-you notes six weeks after my shower. My daughter was born exactly a week after said shower. At 31 weeks. She would be in the NICU for two more weeks after said nagging event. Did I mention that I had severe preeclampsia, and had to be readmitted 5 days PP when I almost had a seizure, and had to be on blood pressure medication for three months? Yeah. Suffice to say I did not take kindly to this topic. And I even finished the thank-you notes before she came home – but not because of my mother. Jeez, my daughter’s 5 1/2, and this still ticks me off!

  • Amy

    I was pretty quick with baby gift thank you notes before my daughter was born, but when she was a newborn finding the time to get stamps, find notecards, write a note, and walk it down the street to the PO box seemed laughable. If I had a moment of free time I was either sleeping or shoveling food into my mouth. I usually ended up just sending people a quick thank you email, ideally with a photo of the baby wearing/using the gift. Not as good as a handwritten note, but having the note thing hanging over my head felt awful and I wanted people to at least know that we received and appreciated their gift. People understood.

    I do get irked by people who never send thank you notes; for example, we’ve bought multiple gifts over the years for the children of cousins we’re close to and have never received a note. My parents always had us at least sign our names to a note they wrote if we were too young to write it ourselves. But people with a newborn get a pass in my book.

  • C

    My first baby was a preemie (that breastfeeding in the NICU post is about me). All my showers happened after the baby was born and I wrote thank you cards at the hospital every day. After that experience, I now do not expect (and let expectant mothers know) a thank you card. I do not give gifts with the expectation of a showing of gratitude, but with the hope that I’ve made a new family’s life easier. That includes not fighting through sleep deprivation/stress to tell me they are thankful.

    • bookworm81

      It has never occurred to me to expect a thank you card for a new baby/new parent gift for exactly that reason; I would never want to create more work for them.

  • Myriam

    In my family and group of friends, we tend to give gift in person, and thank the people in the same fashion. No thank you notes from anybody (ok, maybe weddings, but I don’t go to many of those. In Québec, most people simply don’t get married anymore!).

  • Tracey Prevost

    My ILs are the types who get all bent out of shape if a thank you note is not received, and I can tell you, it makes the gifts they give a downright burden sometimes. We do our best to write thank you notes, but we’ve genuinely forgotten a few times…and then we heard all about it. To the point of my ILs saying they won’t send gifts anymore, which was actually a relief to hear. I still remember sitting down 12 years ago, to write a thank you note to someone who sent my baby a beanie baby toy via my ILs, in an utterly sleep deprived new mom state, nursing my daughter at the same time, because she howled whenever I put her down. After that, I stopped expecting thank you notes from new parents, they have enough on their plates already, I’m giving a gift to bless them, not so I can have warm fuzzy feelings from a thank you letter.

  • tracelp

    My ILs are the types who get all bent out of shape if a thank you note
    is not received, and I can tell you, it makes the gifts they give a
    downright burden sometimes. We do our best to write thank you notes,
    but we’ve genuinely forgotten a few times…and
    then we heard all about it. To the point of my ILs saying they won’t
    send gifts anymore, which was actually a relief to hear. I still
    remember sitting down 12 years ago, to write a thank you note to someone
    who sent my baby a beanie baby toy via my ILs,
    in an utterly sleep deprived new mom state, nursing my daughter at the
    same time, because she howled whenever I put her down. After that, I
    stopped expecting thank you notes from new parents, they have enough on
    their plates already, I’m giving a gift to
    bless them, not so I can have warm fuzzy feelings from a thank you
    letter.

  • Kat

    I’m with several posters – I don’t give gifts with expectations. I give gifts because I like the recipient. Come to think of it, I don’t actually know if I’ve ever received a thank you note from a new parent! And I have many polite, “traditionally” raised girlfriends. Maybe it’s because we know each other? See each other often enough to just say thank you then and there? But more importantly – if the new parents have never met you, I wonder how much of a priority you are in their world? You didn’t attend a wedding? Never a birthday party or any other event where the couple was there? I think no gift required in the first place, but hey, nice of you to do? But maybe then it ends there. Also – lol family feuds over thank you cards. Forgive me but that seems a bit petty. Just don’t buy them any more gifts, if it’s that big of a deal.