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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 humor 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?


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.

Adjust your expectations

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.

What to do instead…

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.)

More about Thank-you Etiquette from Alpha Mom:

  1. Is the Thank You Note Dead?
  2. Thank You Note Nightmares 
  3. The Etiquette of Gift Getting 
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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 [email protected].

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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