Three weeks before Thanksgiving, we threw a beautiful fourth birthday party for our daughter. While we were excited to bring her vision to life, the purpose of the gathering was to entertain and feed her friends. There was a bounce-house, a huge table covered in foodstuffs, a plethora of desserts, a photo booth with Polaroids they could keep, and so on. We also provided alcohol for the adults, because let's face it, that's a need!
We sent the kiddos off with goody bags filled with little delights to keep them happy all afternoon and into the weekend. It was a great time. I didn't bemoan the hours of cleanup that took place afterward because my four-year-old was so happy and I knew her friends and their parents all had a great time. But that week, the low-level panic started coming in waves. And it just didn't stop.
Because we had family coming for Thanksgiving the following week, I put off the arduous task of purchasing, writing out, stamping, and mailing thank-you notes. We had verbally thanked each parent as they handed over a wrapped gift or placed it on the stack. I also hugged and thanked each guest at their departure. It's a given that my daughter enjoyed the gifts from her friends. I knew I had to write the notes, but I just never found the time.
The weeks bled together and Thanksgiving prep turned into cleanup; then colds took hold on our home; Christmas travel was booked; holiday cards sent out; a new year rolled around and I still hadn't sent the thank-you notes. I wish I could say that I shrugged it off and let it go, since that reaction would match my action of not having done it. Instead, I sat with the emotional unease and guilt over the lack of notes. Every. Damn. Day.
I'd be in the middle of changing the baby's diaper or cleaning a room and the shame and self-doubt would pummel me: How could I not have sent the notes yet? These women are never going to want to be my friends. Only a bad friend wouldn't send them. Do they think I don't care? I bet they all send thank-you notes after their kids' parties. This is the south, after all!
But then one day it hit me: the emotional labor I have put into the lack of having sent the notes is ridiculous and unfair. Do you think my husband has even thought or wondered about this once? (Spoiler alert: no. No, he hasn't. Not now and not once in his life).
My husband and I both grew up with somewhat traditional ideals, despite our moms being different in many ways. My dad's side of the family were sticklers for thank-you notes, too: I recall once having written one to my grandfather and receiving it back in the mail a few weeks later with his edits on how I could have improved its form. As a nine-year-old kid, that early 'rejection letter' felt like a slap in the face.
The shame surrounding handwritten thank-you notes continued to grow as I did. Knowing that unlike a regular letter someone might send in the mail just to say hi, most of these would be read and tossed immediately in the bin bothered me. It seemed like a waste of time and paper. The familial application of a deadline bothered me, too.
It's not just my dad's side of the family. My mother-in-law wants us to write them when a friend or member of her side sends us anything, even if we've thanked them in person first. Since I'm the woman, it became my job as soon as my husband and I were dating seriously.
My mom's side of the family is also guilty. After skipping our wedding, a family member who sent us a gift wrote a rather pointed text to my mom within one week of having shipped it. "Wondering" if we'd gotten it... "worried" that because they hadn't heard from us, we must not have. It's been four days. Calm. Down.
I did write thank-you notes to all 150 guests of our wedding, but we were also in the midst of a cross-country move, a job change for my husband and a job search for me. It took a few weeks to get them all done, but I was pressured about it from all sides throughout the process. Nothing was ever mentioned to my husband, who also enjoyed the new toaster oven and steak knives. It was always me. This is women's work. Emotional labor, day in and day out... if you're not writing the notes, you need to at least experience guilt about them.
Our first daughter was born via emergency c-section after a long and difficult labor that left us both in danger. My recovery was slow and painful. We had no family in the area and my husband had to return to work 9 days after we left the hospital. I suffered from anxiety, clogged milk ducts, insomnia, and debilitating guilt over having had a c-section (more societal bullshit pressure on women, but we'll save that for another post!).
I had no breastfeeding support, no slush fund to treat myself to anything I wanted to aid my recovery and feel somewhat human again, and I was working from home during the baby's brief, sporadic naps. To say I was overwhelmed would be the understatement of the century. But of course, all new moms are.
Don't worry, though: almost every adult member of our immediate family hammered me at some point over my obligation to send out hand-written thank-you notes. I should have been enraged at them or at the very least ignored them. But instead I internalized the pressure to the point that I set out to actually write them. Even though I had already texted or emailed every single one of them with pictures of the baby enjoying the items. I sat, bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived, and with no time or energy to do anything for myself. Chipped away at the list of people who had sent us new-baby gifts, to please my parents and his.
I never want to do this again.
Don't get me wrong: thank-you's are important. Very. And when someone sends us a gift I always follow up, whether in person, by phone, email, or text. But I do not understand why on top of sending a photo of my husband and myself enjoying the champagne flutes and a "Cheers to YOU! xxx," or emailing a cute snap of one of my kids enjoying a toy you sent her along with a loving word of thanks... I am expected to also sit my busy ass down at a desk, take out a piece of stationary, say the same thing again, stamp it, and drop it off at the post office. Just so you can throw it in the bin.
What purpose is this serving??
We're grateful for the gifts, but I'll be honest: I didn't write the notes after my daughter's birthday party because on some base level, I find it unnecessary. It took me a few months to get to the point I'm at now, which is a deeper understanding of how ridiculous and unfair this archaic practice is to woman.
I feel like shit about not sending the notes because of societal and family pressure to write them, not because I really think I should be doing it. And I'm finally realizing something important: I'm a grown woman with a family and a life. It's about time I make friends with the part of myself who feels entitled to make her own decisions.
And thus, I'm going to set myself free of this unhealthy spiral with thank-you notes. I will just no longer be writing them. Ever. I will not apologize for this, nor will I continue to suffer through the pangs of guilt over not having done so. I will thank you, but it's not being written out, stamped, and mailed.
Maybe there are women who enjoy doing this. If so, girl, go for it! But as for me, it's done. I’m not done with snail mail, but the handwritten thank-you note is over.
It feels natural to me to pick up a pen and let someone in our lives know how much I appreciate them. I use snail mail to pass on books, mugs, special outfits, inspiration quotes, and coffee gift certificates. I keep in good touch with friends and family. I'm polite, loving and engaged.
But I am over the handwritten thank-you note, no matter what you think. It's about time I adopted my husband's who-the-bleep-cares attitude about these stupid notes. Keep checking your mailbox though, because next time you receive something from me with a stamp on it, it'll actually be something of value.
PS: If you are looking for a quick and easy way to send thank-you notes, we love Paperless Post.