WASHINGTON — Times change, but good manners are forever.
We are an emoji generation. And as such, many of us have reduced our communications to a text message of icons meant to reflect our feelings. But a question from a reader recently made me realize how important it is to communicate, especially our gratitude, the old-fashioned way.
“I’m an 88-year-old great-grandmother who has always been frugal and now enjoys a comfortable life — not wealthy,” the reader wrote.
Here’s her issue. She sends $100 to each of her grandchildren for their birthdays. But she rarely gets a response upon receipt of her gift.
“At Christmas, I also give each of them $300. I give $300 to the spouses of four grandchildren who are married,” she said.
Included with the holiday gift is a question attached to the envelope — e.g., “Who besides family had the greatest influence on your life?” or “What do you consider the greatest accomplishment so far?”
The Virginia grandmother says some respond with thanks about the money and even answer the question. But the silence from the other grandchildren makes her feel disrespected.
“I expect some acknowledgment and a response to my question,” she wrote. “I would appreciate your thoughts. Should I discontinue the gifts, or continue the gifts with no expectations? Besides this issue, I think that I have a good relationship with my grandchildren.”
Many of us have given up on thank-you notes and have released people from the obligation. “Hearing you say thanks is good enough for me,” is what I tell my friends and family. I certainly don’t think less of someone when they don’t send a thank-you note. A call or text is fine with me. If I’ve given the gift in person and been thanked, I’m good.
Still, isn’t it nice when you do get a card or letter?
Perhaps in our efforts to understand how time-crunched people are, we are moving too far away from a gesture that is fundamental when people have sent you a gift.
Think about this grandmother. She’s not rich. She’s being very generous and just wants to know her grandchildren are grateful.
Readers often ask, “What Would Michelle Do?” Here’s what:
It’s time for a talk. This bothers the grandmother, so I told her to share with her grandchildren that she’s feeling disrespected and unappreciated.
A sample opening line might be, “I’ve been concerned that I don’t hear from you after receiving my gift.”
Then get to the point with no condemnation. Make it about etiquette: “Honey, it matters that you send a letter or card after you get a present. I know I’m old school, but for me it’s so nice to get a written acknowledgment. I so treasure the notes.”
At no time should you berate the gift recipient. No nagging. No fussing. The act of giving is its own reward.
If these were young children or teens, you might enlist the help of their parents — your adult child — to communicate how important it is to let people know that you’ve received and value their thoughtfulness. Etiquette is taught — not inherited like brown eyes.
I spent about a month trying to get my daughter to send thank-you cards for her high-school graduation gifts. I thought it was necessary because she didn’t open her gifts at her party and hadn’t thanked people personally.
“People don’t do this anymore,” she argued.
“People don’t get to go out with their friends if they don’t take the time to send people a thank-you note for their generosity,” I replied.
She got the notes done.
No response, no more money. Start fresh after your talk. However, if you give another gift and you still don’t get a note — or at least a call or text — I would stop sending money. Love doesn’t mean being taken for granted by ingrates. You have every right to expect an acknowledgment of some kind. Even late is better than never.
Forget the home assignment. As for the question sent along with the money, I’d stop doing that. It’s seems forced and it may be why you aren’t getting a written thank you. The fear of writing anything can terrify many people into procrastination. The expectation of an answer to an essay question might be intimidating. If you’re interested in their thoughts about such matters, bring it up naturally when you visit or during a phone call.
Our styles of communication change, but showing gratitude is something that never gets old.
Michelle Singletary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SingletaryM.