Thank You Notes - From Children

What 4 year old is "too busy" to write a thank you note? Exactly. While in some fabulously over-scheduled circles, thank you notes may have become passé, people who know, know that this will not do. Like coaching a child to have passable table manners; training a child to write thank you notes can be excruciating. For younger children, drawing a picture, or signing a name to thoughts dictated to a parent can suffice, but by the time children write complete sentences in school, they are old enough to write their own thank you notes. Some rare children have a natural gift and can toss off charming and honest thank you notes from a young age. Many other children may lay their heads on the table and moan like a colony of lepers at the mention of thank you notes. Best results are achieved when a parent sits with the child and walks her through it. Find a sizable chunk of time when you are relaxed and focused and your child is awake and well nourished (not bedtime). Talk about the gift and the person who gave it: “What did aunt Betsy give you? Did you play with it in the basement yesterday? Does that complete your collection of Magic Tree House books?” The well-mannered mother guides her child to the material for the note, getting the job done, and teaching her children that writing thank you notes is a manageable and possibly enjoyable task. With luck, she will liberate her children to write thank you notes on their own when they are older and less amenable to parental meddling. Though it is tempting to allow children to wallow in the ignorance of a thank-you-note-free life, would you really want your child to become so entitled and boorish?

Over the river...

… and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go. Oh no! Now that the modern mother has finished being "crazy busy," taken off her spandex and put on her best foundation wear it is time for the truly trying test of all well mannered mothers: the trip to the in-law's house. Despite the many potential pitfalls and tensions, the well-mannered mother tries to maintain a congenial relationship with her husband's family. For some, this might mean cajoling her children to don the “adorable” (and itchy) lederhosen that Granny brought back from Germany. For others, this might mean easing up on the “no processed foods” rule so Grandpa can whip up his signature scrapple and Velveeta egg breakfast. For most, fostering this relationship will likely involve shared dining, excessive table manners, reminding children to speak politely and thank you notes. While this can be irritating and exhausting, the well mannered daughter-in-law remembers that this will pass, her in-laws mean well (usually) and if she is fortunate, she will someday be someone’s mother-in-law.

Crazy Busy

It’s that time of year, not “the holiday season” but the “crazy busy” season, in which everyone from your dog walker to your neighbor will impress upon you just how busy she is. This can be especially true for mothers as they try to balance run-of-the-mill parenting chaos with additional parties, shopping, recitals, visiting relatives, holiday cards and letters. Ask, “How are you?’ and look out for the laundry list response: “Great, but things are so crazy, yesterday was Emme’s holiday concert, but I also had to pick up teacher gifts, and then there was the office holiday party and then today I had my cookie swap. It’s just been crazy busy.” Hmmm. You’re “crazy busy” because of a cookie swap? What exactly is a cookie swap? We all know this variety of mother, who seems to “out-busy” everyone. Mention you’ve got a conflict with a holiday gathering? She’s got two conflicts that very same night! Hard to find time to sit down a get those cards sent out? She’s got it worse! Maybe some mothers view busy-ness as a benchmark of success. Or, perhaps enumerating such busy-ness soothes a mother’s confusion that these many small tasks could make her feel so frantic. Others may use their proclaimed busy-ness as a cover  for lapsed manners such as not RSVPing or writing thank you notes. The well mannered mother does not compete over whose schedule is more hectic. Nor does she use her packed schedule as an excuse for avoiding proper etiquette. Rather than bore her listener with a litany of events attended, gift purchased, etc., she will engage her companion cheerfully as befits the season. Maybe then, she can take a deep breath and actually enjoy a good cookie swap.


Too often these days, not so well mannered mothers include their children in all occasions and impose them on hosts who have not invited them. The well-mannered mother should never take a child to an event if the child’s name is not written on the invitation. Nor is it acceptable to phone and ask to have one's children included. We can assure you, the hostess did not forget to include your offspring on the invitation - she has planned an adult party, so no chicken nuggets, no juice boxes, no crayons, no videos, and no one ready to entertain a 5 year old, no matter how adorable. Please trust that your hostess knows what she is doing and who she intends to receive in her home. The well mannered mother or her spouse must forgo the event if she can or will not find a sitter. And think about it: would it really be fun to stand around at a cocktail party, trying to keep darling Emma and brother Max from coloring the couch, sticking their fingers into the dip, or pulling down the curtains? Really.

Teacher Gifts

"A nice note or a picture from a student" is what one teacher said when asked what she most liked to receive around the holidays. Another teacher suggested "Spa treatments are always welcome." Another reasonable response might be, "Cold hard cash - do you have any idea how little we get paid to deal with these crazy kids?" but we couldn't find any teacher ill-mannered enough to admit it. The well mannered mother should trust her instincts and knowledge about the teacher: if the teacher maintains an avid interest in all things British, give some English tea and clotted cream; for an avid film-goer, give movies passes; and of course chocolate for the chocolate lover. As with hostess gifts, if you feel the need to give something tangible, try to keep teacher gifts useful, tasteful, and consumable. (Nix the "world's greatest teacher" coffee mug.) Some of our favorite ideas include: teas or coffee, itunes gift cards, book store gift cards, vouchers for a carwash, or a gift card to a store you know she frequents. Whatever you choose, remember to comply with the social norms around you. For instance, if everyone is giving $20 for a Starbucks gift card, do not rush out and buy the teacher an espresso machine. The objective is not to impress other parents or garner favoritism for your child but to thank the teacher for his hard work and wish him a happy holiday. Keep in mind that it is not the gift that matters, but the manner in which it is delivered. Make it personal. Wrap it up with a note, a picture, or card, made by your child and attach your own genuine note of thanks.

Hostess Gifts

Being invited to a friend's house for a party or dinner is a treat in these busy times. Perhaps it is for this reason that guests have taken to giving such unique hostess gifts. It could be the economic downturn or the easy availability of cheap goods made in China driving this trend. Hostess gifts we have heard of recently and can not recommend are: a set of elf bowling pins, massage oil and a singing bass (Christmas edition). In each case "you shouldn't have" could not be more true. According to those who know, a guest is under no obligation to take anything at all and often a nice smile and pleasant conversation is more welcome than any knickknack. If she feels compelled to take her hostess something, the well mannered mother is best off turning up with a consumable such as wine, champagne, the hard stuff, cocktail napkins, chocolate, candles, soap or flowers. The goal here is to give the hostess something useful and tasteful (nix the Santa toilet paper) that will not end up in a rummage sale or land fill.

The truth about the tooth fairy

We all know the parents who feel the need to disabuse their children of the existence of this childhood staple. For those who do, it is the perfect opportunity to teach children to practice discretion. One should impress upon the darlings not to spoil what others consider fun, by loudly declaring, “There’s no such thing at the tooth fairy!” to the entire 1st grade class. Such behavior will not only rob the child’s classmates of a family ritual, it will also irritate other parents when word leaks out that a spoiler is on the loose. Should you be present when your own child informs a friend of the tooth fairy's actual status, you may laugh nonchalantly and whisk her away for a private conversation. Should someone else’s child ask you about the tooth fairy's existence, you can always employ a deflective question, such as “Is that what your mother tells you?” Same goes for Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Great Pumpkin, etc.


What a wonderful invention! Yet, under no circumstances should any mother expose her spandex covered bottom to the world at the grocery store, library or school pick up. Would she show up at these places wearing just a pair of pantyhose or a bathing suit? We hope not. Unless engaged in physical activity, a mother, well mannered or not, should ensure her spandex clad bottom is covered by a long sweater, trench coat or simple sweatshirt tied around her middle. Better yet, once her activity has ended the well mannered mother should shower and put on regular clothing, time permitting.

Trunk Shows

A trunk show is a retail event hosted by a friend or acquaintance at her home disguised as a social gathering. The naive and uninitiated mother will discover after her second glass of Chardonnay that she cannot reasonably leave this “party” without spending more money than she wanted to on things she will rarely use, wear, or put on her children. Naturally, there are exceptions. Smocked clothing springs to mind. Kitchen wares, jewelry, beauty products, hand bags, cleansers and lotions do not. Often the cute invitation will say “no need to shop - please stop by for a glass of wine and a nibble” or something friendly and harmless. The well informed mother should know that while her friend may genuinely mean this, the vendor behind the trunk show is banking on the fact that nice ladies might feel a certain amount of pressure to purchase something, anything, once in a friend’s home. Even some free range angora. While everyone likes to be invited to events, the well mannered modern mother should, upon receiving an invitation to such a gathering, check out the product on line and determine whether she has a desire or need for it. If not, a timely and polite response such as “So sorry to miss all the fun!” will suffice. Additionally, the kindly mother who is feeling pressured by someone she knows to host such an event and invite her friends should think long and hard about whether this is a product she is comfortable endorsing. Finally the modern mother who wishes to get her friends together should buy her own invitations and invite them over for drinks and nibbles just for the heck of it. After all, who has ever heard of anyone declining a party invitation because there wasn’t going to be any shopping there?

Holiday Letter

Some people genuinely enjoy catching up through a family update letter, but these odd missives rank just under fruitcake in the list of Christmas-related jokes. For those who feel the need to include a letter with their annual holiday card, we offer a few words of advice: (1) Keep it short: even those who like to read those letters won’t make it past the first page. (2) Avoid excessive bragging. Though you might want to report that Hayley will be attending Harvard, do refrain from reporting that Hayley has chosen to attend Harvard since she “was admitted to every college she applied to!” Not only is that excessive bragging, it is also incorrect grammar. (3) Avoid referring to yourself in the third person unless you want to sound like Bob Dole or Elmo. (4) Keep things in perspective. A blow-by-blow account of your cat’s surgery is definitely too much information. Just say you are thankful that she made it through successfully. Keep these suggestions in mind and all your readers will be thankful and maybe even make it through your letter successfully.
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