Living with parents – a lesson in good manners for my kids

1. Thank  2. You  3. Notes.

Three little words from my childhood that made my brothers and me groan, and caused my mom enough frustration that her eyes would cross.

My dear mother is a stickler for good manners, always has been.  She is not discriminating about any one particular form of good manners – she likes them all.  Some of her favorites –

  • holding a door open for the next person walking into a building
  • pushing buttons for everyone if you are first to get on an elevator
  • men walking closest to the street while on a sidewalk
  • “thank you” and “please” to wait staff at ALL restaurants
  • offering a glass of water to every guest who enters your home

She patiently weathered the youth of my two brothers and me as we violated every one of the rules.  I recall us placing elbows on the dinner table, chewing with open mouths, and contributing to conversation with a range of bodily noises – mostly just to annoy her.  Even though we misbehaved terribly, we all learned the basics of good manners.

And without exception, the basics include the “thank you note.”  Witty, brief, personal, and appreciative – those are the basics of a well-written thank you note.  One was to be written after birthday parties, Christmas, holidays, trips, special outings, and the monster of all – a wedding.  I even got a book about that one… I have written hundreds of thank you notes.

And now it is my daughter’s turn.  She recently turned 7 and finished 1st grade.  (Don’t worry, my son will also be tortured upon his 7th birthday…) After a flurry of birthday parties and end of year gatherings, she had several thank you notes to write.  I now know the agony that I inflicted upon my mother because I got it back in spades from her – complete with whining, moaning, and groaning.  Sound familiar?

But this is where I own my mom a debt of gratitude and have one more reason to be thankful my parents live in the same house with me and my family.  When my daughter trudged downstairs to complain that her mean mommy was making her write thank you notes, her grandmother would have none of it!  My mom essentially told her, “too bad, so sad, get upstairs, and finish the notes.” 

I want my daughter to appreciate why thank you notes are important – as I do now – knowing that a well written thank you is an act of gratitude and says “I appreciate what you did.”  Not to mention that it is simple common courtesy.  But like me at that age, she was unmoved by it all.  In the end, I did what my mom did, I cajoled, pleaded and begged.  She finally wrote them, begrudgingly, annoyed the whole time.

That night, as I sipped my gin and tonic, I wondered if the thank you note was passé?  Do we ONLY communicate electronically?  Can an email take the place of a lovely written thank you note, on fine Italian stationary?   No I realized, the sheer force of nature is more powerful, my mom tortured me with those damned notes, and now I get to pass it along!

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