Monday, January 27, 2014

Thank You Notes

Thank you notes.

My kids write them.

Probably because I always did.


I know it's a lost art, but I think it's worthwhile. I think it teaches many things, including thankfulness, contentment and even how to write and address a letter. Important stuff.

One thing that all three of my girls had in common when they first came to live with me was that they were demanding. It wore me out.

The constant asking for things in stores and telling me what they had wasn't good enough, was more than I could take. This was a problem I hadn't even considered. I mean, after all, these kids are coming to me with next to nothing.

Stained and thread-bare clothes that didn't fit.

Broken and written on toys with missing parts.

Hannah even came with a box of junk mail she had collected.

They had been hungry and discarded most of their lives. They were used to other people's scraps. Wouldn't anything I give them be welcomed with an overflow of gratitude?

No. It wouldn't.

Um... Why not? In my head that's how it should work.

Life seldom works out the way I have it planned in my head.

It didn't make sense to me. But after three go-arounds with it, I've drawn a few conclusions. Nothing scientific, just what I learned based on those who live in my house.

1.  Gratitude is taught. I thought they would be thankful when they moved from a life of need to a life of protection and provision. But during that life of need no one ever taught them to be thankful. No one ever modeled it for them. How could they know how to appreciate and value something if they had never experienced it. Especially if they themselves had never been appreciated or valued. Any room of two-year-olds can show you the selfish nature of kids, but if those two-year-olds are never corrected or taught, they become selfish four-year-olds and selfish eight-year-olds and selfish sixteen-year-olds. Thankfulness must be taught and modeled.

2. Kids are clunky. My middle girl, Ashley, was destructive. Sometimes it was on purpose, but sometimes it was just the way she was. "Be gentle," became my motto. Teaching her to open and close cabinets without slamming them and how to carry things without dropping them and how to walk through the house without running into stuff or falling down the stairs became a large part of my day. It also included learning how to take shirts on and off without ripping off the buttons or putting toys away without throwing and breaking them. Clunky was a problem. Learning to be gentle with things and make them last was a battle. I learned to fix broken stuff with tape and string so that after months of using things held together that way, she would appreciate when I finally replaced it.

3. Relationships are more important than stuff. If you've never built solid, through-thick-and-thin relationships, then you don't know that relationships are important. Teaching my kids to be thankful didn't start with being thankful for the new toy grandma just bought, it started with being thankful for grandma. Because if I'm thankful for grandma then it won't matter what color, or style or brand the present is, what matters is that grandma loves me and wanted to bless me with a gift. If I'm thankful for the giver, then I'll be thankful for the gift.

Thank you notes became a part of my plan for teaching gratitude, appreciating what we have been given and taking a moment to be thankful for the giver.

There's a lot of learning happening in those little notes.


And something I learned the hard way, you can't just give the nine-year-old a card and a pencil and expect a great (or even mediocre) thank you note to happen.

If you do, you end up with gems like these:

  • You're so lucky to be my friend.
  • I'm sure you liked the gift we gave you better than the one you gave me.
  • I bet you like shopping for me.
  • Thank you for _________, but next time I want _________.
  • I already had one.
  • I don't like anything blue.
Great stuff.

So you sit down with them the first couple of times. Have them come up with one great message and put it in all the notes. In the beginning it's not a big deal if everyone's thank you card looks the same. It's a teaching time. Coming up with one is probably all they can do. And it's enough. By the way, it's excruciatingly painful to sit there and help them come up with a template and not just tell them to write, but take the time to do it. It's worth it. I promise.

Because now I'm no longer involved in the thank-you writing process. 


Two out of my three were able to get their Christmas thank-you cards out the door without any input or direction from me (although I still checked Amy's for spelling). Hannah's are addressed, just not written. I would say something to her about that, but mine are still in my drawer as well.

We'll get right on that. Today.

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