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Would It Kill You to Just Say Thank You?

Would It Kill You to Just Say Thank You?

By Amalah

Hello Amy,

First lets get the fangirl part over: LOVE your blog, your family is adorable, and your sense of humour is top notch.

Now my question. You seem very well versed in etiquette and how to conduct yourself in a rather non-douchey way. And I truly appreciate that. Manners and basic decency are mandatory in our family and extremely important.

I have 2 boys, they are 3 (4 next month) and 1 years old. My brother also has 2 boys the same age. We do not live close by, are generally not close, and were not raised together. We basically didn’t have any involvement in each other’s lives until the last 10 years or so. No sinister reason, we were just raised apart.

Ever since his first was born I’ve sent him baby gifts (times 2 now), birthday gifts for each boy and Christmas gifts for each boy. He’s sent me exactly one gift for my oldest and that’s it. Also not once in the past 4 years has he (or his wife/boys) ever said thank you or even really acknowledged that I got them something. And quite frankly it’s starting to bother me. Sometimes we do get invited to the birthday parties but it always is super last minute (almost like an afterthought) and because of the distance we can never attend. I know that the kids wear their gifts and play with them, I see the photos online, so I guess there’s that. But honestly, is it too much to expect a thank you? I honestly don’t care that they don’t send us gifts, it’s more about the lack of gratitude.

When my oldest turned 3 he wrote thank you cards to people for his gifts. He will do it again next month because I feel it’s important he not take his advantages for granted. We always show gratitude, say thank you, text/email/call long distance relatives to say thank you but it’s starting to irk me that no effort is being made in the other direction.

This past Christmas he was even reminded to thank me (by other relatives local to him – and completely unprovoked by me I might mention) and still nothing. When I asked him if he even received the gifts (since I sent them in the mail and without any acknowledgement on his end I wasn’t sure they even got there) and all I got was a “yay we got them”. Gee, swell.

So I guess my question is when is it acceptable to no longer send gifts because they are ungrateful. I feel bad for the kids because it’s not their fault that their parents are like this, but there’s consequences to not being nice. Or is there? I’m not sure anymore. Am I expecting too much?

Ugh

I imagine we all have a family member like this. Or several! Or maybe some of us might even be that family member once in awhile — full of good intentions but utterly crappy on the follow-though. I have no idea if we can even give your brother that small credit — he seems to be almost willfully blind to his serial lack of gratitude.

Not that it makes it “correct” or “polite,” but I have to disclose that my entire sibling network basically operates like this.  As do my husband and his brother. We aren’t particularly close (like you, nothing sinister, just big age differences and geographical scatter), and I admit that I’ve been both the “did the gift even arrive???” unacknowledged gift giver AND the aunt who looks at the calendar and has to Amazon Prime a belated gift in a panic. If a birthday gets missed in our house, that’s okay. My kids get enough crap from the family we ARE close with to notice that an uncle who hasn’t seen them in three years forgot to send a gift card. If I send a gift, I’m happy to get a quick email or text, but even that doesn’t happen all the time. Likewise, I try to always email/text/send/post photos of my kids enjoying/wearing their gifts, but I’m sure we’ve even let that fall through the cracks some Christmas mornings.

That might surprise anyone who has read my columns on shower thank-yous or my support of kids writing notes post-birthday parties, but I guess…it’s just different with family. We cut each other a lot of slack and generally have kind of low expectations of each other because we KNOW we’re not that close, we  rarely see each other, and everybody is consumed with their own busy lives. Again, this DOESN’T  mean we’re NOT just a collective pack of rudeness monsters, but it’s just what works for us, and keeps the distance and cracks from growing larger via resentment.

In your case, I  think you need to permanently adjust your expectations of your brother, and ALSO separate/differentiate your relationship with him versus your relationship with his children. He’s not going to change. For some reason even the barest show of gratitude is not in his wiring.  That’s lazy and yes, understandably infuriating when you’re just trying to get confirmation that the gifts even arrived in the first place. He’s NOT GOING TO CHANGE. But like you said, that’s not his kids’ fault. And refusing to send them a birthday present in some kind of principled retaliation strikes me as sad. You don’t fight bad manners with meanness. Especially if the person affected isn’t really your main target. Don’t send HIM anything, but maybe try to see your nephews as separate from him, and your relationship as their aunt as its own thing, free of any baggage you and your brother might share.

If you’re wondering if your gift was received, pick up the phone or Skype and ask to talk to your nephews. Ask them about their birthdays and what they got and start putting a voice/face to the person who they don’t see very often but occasionally sends them cool stuff. Say “You’re welcome!” when they mention what you sent, even if the exact phrase of “thank you” isn’t uttered.

On the other hand, your brother might not care if you stop sending gifts (hell, in his mind, he might prefer you did if it meant people would get off his case about thanking you), and your nephews are so little they probably won’t really notice either. So I guess before you make any big “last straw” decisions about this, think of it strictly in the aunt/nephew dynamic instead of sister/ungrateful brother. Or think about the relationship you hope your children can have someday with their cousins.

And hey, maybe a long-distance, once-a-year gift exchange is enough. Maybe just send them gifts because you want to make them happy, and stop giving a rats’ ass about your brother’s lack of verbal/written gratitude. Or stop sending them “stuff” but find other ways to be involved in their lives.

(Either way, when you send them a generous gift for their future high school graduation, I would NOT expect a thank-you note.)

(But make sure your own kid sends them, because honestly.)

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

  • Kerry

    My mother is the most gracious person on earth if you give her a gift in person, but absolutely sucks at thank you notes. This was a big point of contention with my paternal grandmother as I was growing up. There was the looming guilt of knowing that we hadn’t sent a thank you note yet. The time I wrote a thank you note and found it a month later because my mom had somehow gotten derailed in the search for a stamp. The time I got the F-off-you’re-never-getting-a-birthday-present-from-me-again letter from my grandma, which was way past the  point at which getting gifts from grandma had just stopped being fun (partially because she just didn’t have the kind of open communication with my mother that would have helped her pick things out…being the long distance gift giving relative is just hard). As an adult, I see that my grandmother was more in the right than I realized as a defensive little kid and teenager, but it still makes me sad that it became a war the way it did. 

  • Myriam

    “the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result” as Einstein supposedly said. I think, as Amy said, you should lower your expectations, without “punishing” your nephews. However, don’t feel you are obligated to send them gifts, if it doesn’t make you happy. Or maybe don’t send them Birthday and Christmas gifts, but just random gifts when you find something you know they might like. They might be more “grateful” and surprised, and that might elivit a bigger reaction…

  • K

    My mom used to have this issue with regard to sending birthday cards to her nieces/nephews, and she complained to my dad about how her/his siblings never sent us kids birthday cards or mentioned the ones she sent. So he asked her, why are you doing it? Are you doing it for the recognition or because you think it is the right thing to do? She realized that whether they acknowledged or reciprocated or not wasn’t the point — it made her feel good to do it, she thought it was the right thing, so she kept on doing it and didn’t worry about what she got back. I’ve taken on the same philosophy — I LOVE sending people birthday cards, and once it’s in the mail, I don’t worry about it (and the only birthday cards I get are from my parents, husband, and grandma, and that’s okay). So I say either Let It Go, or stop sending the gifts. 

  • The P

    Is there also a way that you could focus more on the cousin relationship?  I know, hard if you don’t see them often. But perhaps FaceTime or Skype between the kids?  Have your boys start making them cards or writing letters. 

  • C

    I guess I don’t get what the OP is so hung up about.  I’m a big believer in unconditional giving, meaning that I don’t respect anything in return.  Personally, I write thank you cards and I expect my husband and children to do so as well.  But if someone doesn’t write me one?  Oh well, I didn’t give a gift to get a reaction.  Side note, I tell people to NOT write me a card after they have had a new baby.  I think that is a gift in itself.  My family also does not send thank you cards to siblings are immediate parents.

  • Georgie

    This would drive me nuts. I’d quit sending gifts, because i don’t believe that not-sending-gifts is “punishing” them. I mean, is the brother not-sending-gifts “punishing” the OP’s kids? No, he’s not reciprocating and the adults are stung!  I’m a quick and reliable TY-note writer, and I would stop sending things at this point, lest this turn into a long moral high ground pattern where you’re almost enjoying your brother’s crappy manners. But your relationship with your nephews can and should be as warm and involved as ever! Just cut the gifts. They’re not working out. 

  • Ali

    I’m a Southerner and definitely big on manners and etiquette, but I also think the expectations here may be too high. It isn’t the kids’ fault that their parents aren’t big on thank you notes.  I think the notion of giving gifts should be separated from receipt of a thank you.  It’s nice to feel appreciated, but gifts should be given out of a spirit of generosity.  Also, I try to err on the side of giving people plenty of leeway. You never know what else is going on in peoples’ lives, and it may be that they just can’t get around to writing thank yous because they are so swamped in other aspects of their lives. 

  • Robin

    I’ve said this before in previous posts, and I know that this is not a popular opinion, and is not considered proper etiquette…BUT: Thank you notes are antiquated and unnecessary. I see no point in sending a present if you are in it for the thank you notes. The gifts should be for the kids, not for your own acknowledgment. Just let it go and think about the kids, not sticking it to your brother.

    • Maree

      I completely agree, I say thank you in person or by phone.

  • K

    I’ve never understood long distance relatives sending gifts, especially when it’s clear that the two families aren’t close. I mean, it’s a nice thought, but if you hardly know the kids themselves, and you aren’t particularly close with their dad (your brother), then why bother? The kids might think the gifts are nice, but at 3 and under, they might not even be real clear about where the gifts are coming from. If you want a relationship with the kids then work towards that with some visits or family vacations, not gifts a few times a year and high expectations for thank you cards. Not to make it seem like that wasn’t a nice idea, but there are other ways to create relationships. And to make myself sound even more judge-y, if the OP is fixated on whether her somewhat estranged brother sends thank you cards or not, perhaps there is more to their not being close than she realizes.

  • Caroline

    I would stop with the gifts. The kids definitely won’t notice and the parents clearly are entirely uninterested. I factor your sister-in-law in here actually, because she is one of the parents. My own (much older, half) brother is entirely useless, never remembers my birthday, certainly has zero interest in our lives, we’re never invited there (have done plenty of inviting here by the way), so now I just… don’t. It is hurtful, but he and his wife are not going to change. So I adjust my expectations and also, crucially, adjust what I am prepared to give. It’s not a childish tit-for-tat, it’s just preferring to put my energy into people who do operate in a vaguely similar way to us, who reciprocate from time to time, you know, the ones who show they care. You can do that too. Yes it’s sad, but why waste money and mental energy? In my view, there is no such thing as unconditional love except between parent and child. Norms of reciprocity exist in every culture. There’s a reason for that!

  • Kari

    Sometimes you just have to accept that someone doesn’t want the same relationship with you that you want with them. I get being upset that he’s not acknowledging your gifts, but concidering the fact that he’s not sending any back and isn’t making any effort to keep in touch otherwise, he’s all but flat out telling you that he’s fine with you not being that close. If you want to keep sending gifts to his kids, fine, but you can’t make him want to have a kind of relationship that he obviously doesn’t want, and you can’t really be mad at him for not wanting the same thing you want.

  • Jennifer

    I send gifts to my nieces who live in another part of the country gifts 5 times every year (Birthday, Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, and Halloween). I almost never receive even an acknowledgement, The only time I receive a thank you is when I inquire if they received the items. I’ve even sent handmade items and received no thank you. At first it really bothered me. However, I decided that I was going to continue on the way I believe is right regardless of my BIL and SIL’s actions. I love my nieces and will continue to send gifts 5 times every year. My own daughters are 9 months old and always send at least a text saying thank you for their gifts. When they are sent something homemade I always make sure to send a picture along with the text with them wearing the item. This is how I want to be treated so that’s how I will treat others, even if it’s not reciprocated.

  • Kat

    Agree with the folks that see a bit of a message in brother not responding with gratitude – perhaps he doesn’t want the gifts? If you’ve never been close, maybe he’s not even sure why you are suddenly interested in sending gifts? And this – “This past Christmas he was even reminded to thank me (by other relatives local to him – and completely unprovoked by me I might mention)” – kind of looks like a red flag. So, not only are you annoyed that he didn’t thank you, but you are annoyed enough to mention it to someone else who then mentioned it to him/”reminded him”? Sounds kind of gossipy/passive aggressive to me, even if you didn’t mean for the relative to “remind” him. Maybe just spend your energy on people who reciprocate in a way that makes your efforts feel appreciated and let this one go. Not because he/they aren’t “grateful”, but because maybe your attentions aren’t particularly desired by your brother/his family. Now you are free to focus more on family members who do want to engage.