DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband’s family is wildly different in how they view familial relationships than I am accustomed to. I would like Miss Manners to help me work out the propriety of thanking one’s own parents.
My in-laws expect a lot of recognition for their gifts and time, and are very formal with us, sending thank-you cards for perfunctory gifts and favors -- for instance, if we take care of their cats for a day or two while they are away. We know they expect the same in return.
I come from a family that finds the idea of getting a thank-you card from one’s own child, or vice versa, preposterous. Such cards are reserved for major life events or extraordinary favors, and are only considered appropriate for people beyond your immediate family. Instead, a verbal thank-you is the norm. It is also accepted that occasional forgetfulness in this regard will be forgiven, as long as there is generosity going both ways.
I actually found my husband’s family charming at first, as I have a love of stationery that surpasses the number of gifts I receive. However, we now have a toddler (and therefore less free time), and after over a decade, I find my distaste for the formality of the gratitude compounded by my disappointment over the emotional distance that accompanies my in-laws’ expectations.
My husband agrees, and has decided we will stick to fewer, but more intimate, displays of thanks -- such as heartfelt messages and gifts on birthdays, and in-person thank-yous when they help us do something particularly unpleasant, such as lay a patio.
I know my MIL in particular is not going to take this well, and I would like to know how improper we are being before I decide how contrite to be. I really don’t want to take them for granted; I just want the relationship to be more causal and also more genuine. I hope the same for my child in the future.
GENTLE READER: Do you? The problem is that “occasional forgetfulness” quickly turns into constant ingratitude -- and you probably do not want that from your own child, either.
But to be fair, not even Miss Manners writes a thank-you letter to her immediate family for small favors or presents issued in person. In the interest of good etiquette, family harmony and modeling best practices for your offspring, she will make you a deal. Continue writing thank-you letters for major things like heirloom silver sets and down payments -- and she will allow you to forgo them for trinkets and clearing the table.