With graduation well behind us, I feel the need to apologize: If you are one of the generous friends who gave my daughters a graduation gift, you can stop holding your breath for that thank-you note. It’s probably not coming. I’m sorry.

I have moved my daughters in and out of dorm rooms enough to know that the tidy boxes of note cards I gave them upon high school graduation have barely been touched, and the lists of gifts and givers we made together are certainly lost — likely used as scratch paper for keeping score at drinking games Freshman year.

My children’s spotty thank-you note habits are some of my most embarrassing failures. I still cringe when I see someone who attended my daughters’ graduation parties. Odds are, they gave my kid a gift or a check and have not heard from them since.  And when I recall that I received a thank-you from THEIR child, the humiliation is worse.

Of course I REMINDED (nagged) my girls to send notes when they were under my roof. But as we know, with that first change of address goes any parental control we thought we had. (It takes a few years, but you’ll get used to it. I promise.)

To be fair, my daughters weren’t total slugs. I know they TRIED to write notes before they left for college, because I found several to-do lists in their handwriting beginning with:

  1. Write thank-you notes.
  2. Buy stamps.

Thank you notes

And I know they STARTED a note or two, because as I cleaned out their childhood desks, I came upon evidence of their efforts: I found notes artfully scrawled that had not made it into an envelope. I found completed notes sealed in addressed envelopes, merely missing a stamp. And I discovered stamped envelopes that never made it out the door for want of a complete address or zip code. (We’ve all been there, right?)

Not completing thank-you’s should be particularly embarrassing to MY daughters, because I actually wrote about it in a book, Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening.

I put it this way.


It will always be difficult to know what to do and say when someone disappoints or hurts you. But when someone makes a good difference in your life, the one right thing to do is to make absolutely sure that she knows it. Say “thank-you.”

Say it like you mean it — with sincerity, details, and reasons that will convince your recipient that she is Nobel-worthy and that you did not merely recycle the note thanking Aunt Ruth for your birthday cookie bouquet.

Every once in a while, write a “thank-you” note as if you’re competing for a prize. Compose it with care and purpose and literary flourish, as if your future depends on it. Make it something that the recipient will want to keep on the nightstand or tucked away, like a treasure to cheer her when she thinks her life has not mattered.

Isn’t this the real point?

We shouldn’t want our kids to send “thank-you” notes merely because we taught them to or because it’s good manners. We want them to be truly grateful — and to know how gratitude expands when we express it. But, alas, much of that lesson may not happen on a parent’s watch.

As with so much that we mothers drill into our children, at some point we have to stop wondering if they listened and stop looking for evidence that our rants “took.” Manners will always be in style, but we will not be around to be the style police. And deeper lessons await them on their journey into adulthood.

So, my friends, I’m not judging you by your kids, and I hope you won’t judge me by mine. I join scores of mothers the world over in assuring you that I know my children appreciated your gift and the part you played in their lives. And, if you didn’t get a thank-you note, or if they put their feet on your furniture, or if they didn’t put their napkin in their laps, of COURSE, I raised them better than that.

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Part of this article was excerpted from the book Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give If She Thought You Were Listening.

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do your laundry or die alone author becky blades

Becky Blades, Author of Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone, and contributor to Huffington Post, Oprah.com, Scary Mommy, and Grown & Flown.