Service of Acknowledging Gifts

December 31st, 2012

Categories: Manners, Thanks

Erica Martell brought Philip Galanes’ Social Q‘s column in The New York Times to my attention. He responded to grandparents whose nine “wonderful” grandchildren [as described by their relatives, not Galanes], run from 10 to 22. These children don’t live nearby so the grandparents ship the gifts. The children have never acknowledged a single Christmas or birthday present. They ask “Isn’t commanding thanks awkward?”

Galanes suggests: “Be direct. Call the parents of the younger children and speak with the older ones yourself. Say: ‘We’d like a phone call, an e-mail, or even a handwritten note letting us know that you received our gifts and whether you liked them. Otherwise, we will find more appreciative recipients.'”

This is tough to do if the parents are divorced for a range of obvious reasons starting with which parent do you approach without causing more trouble. If you are a stepparent, the rules are simple: Stay out of it.

While I think that divorce has a lot to do with why so many no longer acknowledge gifts sent them for Christmas, Hanukkah or birthdays, my husband has a different idea: He says the recipients would rather not receive the gifts.

These days if you send by UPS or FedEx, or pay a supplement to the US Postal Service, you can trace whether or not the gift has arrived so that’s an option. Why should this be a different model than any other–more and more of what we buy is do-it-yourself. If you want to know if the gift arrived, trace it yourself.

I have other ideas for these grandparents and any aunts, uncles and family friends similarly frustrated:

**Send donations to charity in the names of each child. Charities generally acknowledge gifts.

**Take a gift-giving vacation one year. Maybe the recipients’ parents will let you know that your package didn’t arrive so at the least, you’ll hear from somebody and realize that somebody noticed that you’d sent stuff before!

**Don’t take care in choosing appropriate gifts for each child [the grandparents who wrote in from New Canaan, Conn. claim that they do] and spend as little money as you can. Go to a dollar store and see what you can find.

**Send each child only a card and donate what you would have spent to a children’s charity, noting this inside.

**Give an anonymous gift to needy children who have written to Santa c/o the post office or pick names off a giving tree that organizations and charities sponsor. You can’t expect acknowledgement in this case so you won’t be disappointed.

Which of these ideas would work best? Would you dare follow through with any? Do you have other suggestions?

22 Responses to “Service of Acknowledging Gifts”

  1. Mervyn Kaufman Said:

    Too often I’ve had to contact parents to ask if their kids had received whatever gift I’d sent for whatever occasion. Thus I’m one of those fuddy-duddies who believe that children should be taught from an early age to send thank-yous to anyone who gives them presents.

    One recurring problem: so many of the gifts that kids receive are not items they particularly want—like sweaters or socks—so they have to be taught (by parents, one presumes) to be gracious, no matter what they’re given and no matter what they feel about it.

    A bride I know, a distant cousin of my wife, Nancy’s, took a whole year to finally getting around to sending out thank-yous. She’d never done this chore—as an adult or as a child—and hated the prospect. Meanwhile, we bothered a retailer more than once to make sure that (1) the gift had been shipped, and (2) that it hadn’t been mysteriously returned.

    Not every gift is ideal or suitable, but all of us have to realize that the gift-giver was trying to make us happy…trying to recognize a birthday or other special occasion. Too often I hear people grumble about the gifts they’ve received. My advice would be: if you can’t use the item, give it to someone who can or pack it off to HouseWorks or Goodwill. Don’t bitch about it!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You make such a good point. My grandmother knitted me exquisite sweaters when I was small and I hated them because they didn’t look like anyone else’s. What I would give to have one of those sweaters in my size today! Regardless, think of all the time and effort she took to make the garment.

    As for grownups who whine about the gifts they received–I know or knew some of them as well–I wonder what those people gave to others and if they thought that for some, giving a gift means they’ll be eating eggs and beans for months. I’m with you–keep a lid on the complaints.

  3. ASK Said:

    I still vividly remember my mother’s prodding (and embarrassing) me when I was child to say “thank you” whenever someone gave me a gift. I soon learned to do it automatically, although some child psychologists today, I’m sure, would say she risked traumatizing me for life. Galanes is right, be direct. There are no excuses for not saying thank you; the rest is just applesauce.

  4. CLC Said:

    I think this is something most of us encounter these days. I have nieces and nephews who do not acknowledge gifts unless we happen to be there when they open them. I also have nieces and nephews who do write thank you notes. A lot of it depends on parental teaching and prompting. On the other hand, I’ve waited for acknowledgement of wedding gifts for nine months or longer and know that the parents of the bride and groom were mortified. I’ve had people over to dinner who did not take the time to call, email or write a note of thanks. But I also have close friends who write formal notes of thank you for almost anything. So courtesy isn’t totally dead but it has certainly become more the exception than the rule, especially among younger generations.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    So is it the impact of child psychology for the past 22 years–the age of the Ct. Grandparents’ oldest grandchild–that caused the darlings’ silence? God forbid they should do something they don’t want to do even if it involves choices: a phone call, email or note?

  6. Lucrezia Said:

    Failure to show appreciation for a gift sends the following message: Contempt of both gift and sender. So would I “dare” to show displeasure by sending to a charity and letting the offending party know? Why not, but why take time and trouble over someone who doesn’t give a rats ass about you? After snubbing a close relative for just that reason, I recently received an apology. Return message was apparently received.

  7. Kathleen Fredrick Said:

    I, too, read the column on Sunday and commiserated with the grandparents. We have several young cousins now ranging in age from 5 through early college years, whom we remember at birthdays, Christmas and graduations. A rare few we hear from on a regular basis. It all goes back to their parents, who must insist, starting at a young age, to respond to a gift, whether it’s liked or not. We’re slowly cutting out presents for those who don’t respond. We dislike sending a check, but at least if one does that, one knows it’s been received when you see the cancelled check!

  8. ASK Said:

    No, I don’t really blame the child psychologists, but I do blame the parents for not instructing their little darlings, or setting a good example. I read the Galanes column and I can’t believe the grandparents continued to send gifts under the circumstances. What I’d like to know is the back story…the writers are the parents of the father, the mother of those children? Was he or she taught to say “thank you”?

  9. Debby Brown Said:

    For years, I have sent a selection of scratch off lottery tickets, the one dollar kind, to my Godchildren. They cover all ages, genders and it’s fun to anticipate a big win of $25! I only hear back when they win and want the out-of-state tickets cashed in by me! Maybe it’s time to bring back the old saying that you can’t use it, wear it, spend it or play with it until the thank you note is written. For this, I hold the parents responsible in teaching, what I consider, “manners.”

    I think the charity donation in the child’s name is a brilliant idea for next year!

    Debby Brown

  10. Claire Coleman Said:

    I’ve been fuming for the past week that even my daughter-in-law didn’t say thanks when we chatted shortly after Christmas, let alone any of her four children whereas, my grandson by my other child wrote a funny,charming note (typed by his mother) that I will probably save forever. It’s up to the parents, the mother usually, to set the example for her children and to train them early.I have to presume that the negligent daughter-in-law was not taught by her parents but an adult should know that it’s important to be gracious and appreciative.It’s basic good manners.

  11. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I don’t think people are born with empathy for others. Someone must tell them that Grandma or Uncle Fred would appreciate a note or email or phone call.

    I wonder how many parents have asked their parents to no longer mail gifts to their children because their children refuse to acknowledge them.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You are right about the check but why reward bad behavior!

    I prefer dropping the silent from the gift list–give them a taste of their own medicine!

  13. Jeanne Byington Said:


    What a great point! What happened to the grandparents’ children!! We all missed that!

  14. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I love your idea–postage + wrapping gone! Do the people who win thank or just ask you to cash in the winnings?

  15. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You may have hit on it: The grandparents are related to the fathers + don’t want to cause a fuss for their sons who no doubt would hear it from their wives. “Your so-and-so mother should keep her nose out of our business! Tell her to keep her measly gifts!”

    It’s early yet–give the other mother a chance! Four kids. That’s a lot of kids!

  16. Linda Kulla Said:

    I too am always annoyed that my brother’s family never says thanks for anything. I have sent presents, checks for wedding presents and birthdays that were cashed but not acknowledged by my step-niece, step-nephew, sister-in-law and extended step-family. I even gave my step-niece a carload of baby items including a stroller, a pack-n-play, tons of clothes, etc, when she was pregnant, and not a call or email of thanks. I always had to call and ask my sister-in-law if the presents had arrived and she always said, yes, didn’t they tell you? I have stopped giving to them all togther.

    My brother’s own kids never acknowledged a thing when they were young unless I was there, so I started asking my brother if they had gotten the gifts. They had. Then I started asking to speak to them and asked them straight out. Then I got a reluctant and un-enthusiatic thank you, even though I had bought them exactly what they had asked for, and usually something expensive. Now that they are older, they usually remember to call or text a thank you, but not always. I blame the parents although my brother was brought up better.

    I too am a fuddy duddy, Merv. I always call immediately to thank anyone for a gift and follow up with a hand written thank you note. My daughter is not yet 4 years old, but I put her on the phone to thank her grandparents or aunt and uncle for any gift and I follow up with a thank you note that she adorns with colorful scribble. She will be brought up properly, like I was, and no one will blame me or my parents. There is no excuse for bad manners!

  17. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Where are all the Linda Kullas? That’s today’s question.

    Could it be that the people who don’t ask their children to acknowledge gifts or who themselves don’t, never send gifts?

  18. Linda Kulla Said:

    Sadly Jeanne, we seem to be a dying breed or just out of step with the times. That’s ok, I am not sure I was ever really “in step” anyway.

    Interesting question whether those who do not acknowledge gifts actually send gifts. When I call my sister-in-law to thank her for sending whatever to my daughter and telling her how much she liked the gift, she always seems genuinely excited and happy to get that information. Somewhere there is a dis-connect.

  19. D.J.C. Said:

    I send birthday and Christmas gifts to my son daughter-in-law and two children and for the past 20 years have yet to get a thank-you unless I ask if they received the gift. This year I sent a gift basket to the family and each one also got a personal check. Checks only cashed by the dad. No thank you notes or phone calls. However I get nice gifts for all occasions. I feel sad that they see no reason to let me know if they got my gifts. I always send them several thank yous for my gifts.This year I turn 80, I may just start making donations to charities.

  20. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You have found the answer: Make it easy for yourself and make yourself feel great by giving to charity which clearly you have done. You found the solution! We should all follow your lead.

  21. Misty Said:

    For five years I have been sending gifts to my sister-in-law and her twin daughters, who never, not once, have said thank you. If I want to know the gifts have been received, I have to call or email my mother-in-law. This year, entering our fifth year of marriage, I decided to free myself from this frustrating situation. My husband came into some money and we set up a college investment fund in each girl’s name, with my husband as the custodian. Now, at each holiday, we add to the fund and I have done away entirely with mailing cards and gifts. I have advised my in-laws as to our new plan for the girls and given them the information so that the entire family might contribute, if they so wished. Again, no response, no acknowledgement, no thank you, from anyone. The worst part is watching how it hurts (but doesn’t surprise) my husband.
    At least we feel like we’re doing something positive in such a negative situation.

  22. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You and your husband are saints. I am the last to suggest that you stop giving the twins another cent and maybe not even a birthday or Christmas card as I have not cut off some who should long ago have been deep sixed from my gift list. However, I have deleted a few and with others, I spend as little time, thought and money as possible so as not to irritate myself. Who wants to feel disrespected or like a chump? My husband says that no acknowledgement means that the person doesn’t want your gift. Sometimes I wonder.

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