It's the irritant that won't go away: A good number of readers--of my blog and of advice columns--have vented deep anger about not being thanked for presents they send. Some have considered calling a halt to the gift-giving or, in the case of gift cards or cash, cutting down on the size of the gifts. Some of us hold out for written missives on fine-grained paper but many of us have evolved and accept a thank-you via email, text or phone message. All we want to know is that our gift was received and, even more, that it was appreciated. For one reader of Carolyn Hax's column, the gift-giving was not just about bringing pleasure to a loved one. They were her way "to let them know we love them and that we are not going to forget that they are part of the family."
And therein lies the rub. In her reply, Carolyn Hax zeroes in on a larger issue that she calls "the diminishing relevance of gifts for the emotional purpose we generally intend." Hax remembered receiving gifts from various relatives when she was a child and that the feeling of love for the sender was not from the gift but from year-round efforts to have a relationship with her.
The reflection leads her to look at the issue from the recipients’ point of view. And therein lies some explanation for the lack of response from our big and little loved ones.
... anyone buying gifts as emotional outreach is using steeply devalued currency. Another sweater/toy/tchotchke! Thanks?
Which doesn’t excuse the death of polite thank-yous — I will defend and urge and send them to my last breath — but may help explain it.
This is clear from the anguish I hear from the recipients’ side. Anything but the most useful, imaginative, sustainable or apt gift, small or large, risks incurring an obligation on the recipient. To find a use or place for it, to regift or dispose of it responsibly, to show somewhat unfelt gratitude for it, to tamp down the guilt of costing someone money and being a helpless party to natural resource depletion. Call these recipients killjoys or ingrates or both, but you can’t say they’re wrong.
Thus my advice: Think carefully about what you want these gifts to say to the children in your family. Try to think of a different, more personal, non-holiday-stuff-pegged way of saying whatever it is; adopt that way.