September 12, 2013 Leave a comment
Our small family (myself, my husband and my two sons) have a reputation in the larger families (mine, my husband’s and my ex’s) for being bad about sending thank you cards. My sons are generally known for being exceptionally smart, respectful, fantastic boys, and my husband is known as a generous and helpful man. But in this one area, all of the families are united in their disapproval.
Years ago a family member sent gifts to my sons for Christmas. When the gifts came, I had the boys (ages 2 and 5 at the time) call her to thank her in their sweet tiny voices and genuine enthusiasm. Months later I found out there was a huge scandal in the family because she was upset that we had not sent a thank you card. I was shocked. Who would choose a thank you card over hearing those sweet voices? I can’t imagine being upset for months about not getting a thank you card. But even more confounding was that it came with two distinct types of disapproval. The disapproval for me was about my mothering and the disapproval for my then husband was connected to him not getting me to live up to family expectations.
All of the major players in our families have made hints and even demands. They’ve used diplomacy and downright guilt to try to get us to make the boys do thank-you cards. The disapproval over the cards is aimed mostly at me, even though my husband has never written a thank-you card in his life—even when his mom was the boss of him. Yet everyone also seems frustrated with him, not because he isn’t writing thank-you cards, but because he, like my ex, does not “make me” do “my job.”
When my husband was single, he never once wrote anyone a thank-you card and his family took it in stride. His family was lucky for the most part if he got gifts for them on traditional gift-giving holidays. If he did show up with gifts they were given in the bag from the store. If he was being extra fancy there might be an extra Target bag tied around it so there was less see through.
My husband sucks at expectations. He sucks at “shoulds.” If you tell him that he should call someone back, he will automatically have a block against doing it. What he rocks at is random acts of kindness and generosity. According to him, he “pretty much always” missed getting gifts for his family for Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and birthdays. On the other hand, he once spent almost two years designing and building a custom art piece light fixture for his mom.
I have joined him on many covert surprise gift giving missions just because he got an idea for something a friend would love. I once came home to find he had somehow planted a tree in our yard. It wasn’t for a holiday, it was because I had described how much that kind of tree reminded me of my Papa. He doesn’t usually do anything really special for Valentine’s Day but he once drove 50 miles with a giant glass vase of roses in his lap (to keep it from spilling) just to bring it to me on a random work day.
I get that my family and in-laws believe that if we make my sons do thank-you cards every time that they will learn… something. I’m just not sure what they want them to learn if they do not expect them to write thank you notes when they are grown. We work hard teaching them to do things mindfully, to do things because they are kind and sincere. That is a lesson I expect they will take with them into manhood.
We do send thank-you cards on occasion. Just not, it seems, enough to satisfy The Family. Thankfully my husband is much less sensitive about his family’s expectations in that way than my ex was. He does feel bad for missing birthdays and not doing thank you cards. But he doesn’t feel any shame for not being able to control me, a concept he finds ridiculous. He feels equal responsibility for sending thank-yous, and we are equally bad at it. We’ve only been married for 6 years, there’s still time to send out the thank-you cards right?
If you expect thank you cards with such determination that not getting one causes you suffering, or if getting a gift on a set date each year is more important than receiving a thoughtful show of love or affection when the feeling strikes, you may be missing the point of giving. I am at peace with our families values and actions in regards to gifts and thank-you cards. I also think that my ability to accept gifts as my husband naturally offers them, instead of being angry that they aren’t on a schedule, is a gift to both of us.
What I’m curious about is, why does it seem that mothers are expected to make boys write thank you cards, but men are not expected to write them? What is going on in our gender training that creates this odd dynamic? I have seen articles about job searches that encourage men to send thank you notes after an interview, do we expect men to be thankful for job interviews but not for personal gifts? Why in this day and age is there still an expectation that a husband should be able to control his wife in certain areas?
I would love some insight into this, please leave comments about your experiences and your thoughts on our expectations of men and boys in regards to gifts and thank you cards.
Photo courtesy of author.