Thank You Notes Are Overrated

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
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Did Michael receive our Amazon gift card? My text read.

Yes! Sorry, we haven’t had a chance to write thank you notes yet, my fellow mom-friend and mother of four responded.

Full stop right there. If you are forcing your 8-year-old to sit down and hand-write 20 thank you notes, please, for the love of God, don’t make him do ours. I love your kid, and I’d love to hear about what book or Nerf Gun or video game he bought with our gift card next time we see him. But for me, just a simple “Got it! Thanks!” text is more than enough to ease my fears that it didn’t get lost in the mail.

Here’s the thing: I’m not anti-thank you note entirely. I’ve written my fair share and will likely write a few more in my lifetime. My kids may also jot down a couple thoughts of gratitude from time to time. But in general, I think they are overrated and unnecessary.

Now before Sanctimommy Susan comes at me and says I am raising ungrateful kids, let me explain. If you gave my kid a gift in person, he/she obviously said thank you. Probably gave you a hug. And gleefully played with said gift in front of you or with you. That combined, in my opinion, is all the thank you-ing required.

If you sent my kids something in the mail, that’s a bit different. I usually take a picture of them opening and/or playing with your gift. If it’s a new outfit for my daughter, I’ll snap a pic of her wearing it and send it over. My kids love to text with my phone, so they’ll probably shoot you something like “Thank for my lightsaber!” with 65 emojis. Again, that’s their thank you. Because we are a busy family who sees the importance of showing gratitude, but also revels in the benefits of it being 2018.

Honestly, what does a hand-written thank you note achieve? An exhausting battle between mother and child? Does the child feel more appreciative of the gift after writing out 14 thank you notes? Probably not. He probably wishes at this point that he never got the stupid magic kit.

Another common effect of the dreaded thank you note obligation is stress. Are they sent out in a timely manner? Did you put enough emotion, detail, thought into them? Did you use nice handwriting?


Remember post-wedding? Or even worse, post-baby? Remember those thank you notes? Yes, that’s exactly what I want to do — send a letter to Aunt Kathy to say “thank you for the onesies” as my baby poops up his back and milk leaks through my last clean nursing bra.

So yeah, maybe it’s the years of mandatory thank you notes and the stress of judgment that they weren’t good enough. Or weren’t sent out quickly enough. Or I wasn’t “thoughtful” enough, although how much emotion can you include when showing appreciation for a silverware set? “Thank you, Uncle Steve! I can’t wait to… eat with my new knives and forks…” I mean, come on.

Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m well aware of what happens the second you receive our thank you note. I know that even though I had to bribe my child with fruit snacks, and even though he erased his J four times which tore a hole in the paper and made him cry, and even though we spent money buying thank you cards and postage (and buying stamps required an extra errand because who buys stamps anymore?) that you read it and then promptly tossed it into your recycling bin. And that’s okay—I’m not judging—because it’s exactly what I do too.

For all of these reasons, I don’t make my kids write them, and honestly, I lose zero sleep over it.

Telling my child to sit at our dining room table the day after his birthday and write the word “thank you” over and over until his hand cramps doesn’t make him grateful. Teaching him to say thank you, to share, to care for his things, and to help the less fortunate—those are the ways we teach gratitude in our house.

In the end, a thank you note should be something you want to do. It should be meaningful and written from the heart. That’s hard to achieve when you’re forcing yourself to churn them out in batches of 20. If your great-grandmother sends you a gift and you think it might be a kind gesture to pen a thoughtful letter of appreciation, do it. Spend the time to write a heartfelt letter to a 97-year-old woman who might be lonely and loves getting mail. Or if your kindergartener needs to work on his writing skills, have him write a thank you note to someone to practice his “s” and which way “b” goes vs. a “d.”

But the obligation to churn out a thank you note to every single person who attended your kid’s birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese? Nah. We said “thank you” when you handed my child the gift. We said “thank for coming!” as the party ended. And that’s just going to have to be enough from this crew. And I certainly don’t expect them from others. I don’t expect them from a new mom who just birthed a human. Or from my children’s teachers who are inundated with 25 Starbucks gift cards and mason jars full of chocolates every December and June. Or from my friend who has four kids.

Save the postage. Save the trees. Shoot me a text. Or don’t. We’re good either way.

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