Dear Margo: A Brother Becomes Distant

Margo Howard’s advice

A Brother Becomes Distant

Dear Margo: I have a brother in the Midwest. I live on the West Coast. I always thought we were close, and I accepted the gradual distancing as normal after my brother married. Well, he just called and told me he would be flying down to a city three hours from where I live but will not be coming to visit me (or my husband and child). I am upset that a brother with whom I was previously close is flying across the country to visit a big city three hours away from where I live, but is not willing to drive three hours to visit his sibling and her family. I cannot drive up to meet him and his wife because my child is ill.

After this conversation, I realized I could no longer depend on my brother to behave as family and would need to extend my boundaries and create my own family. My husband and I are introverts and do not socialize much. My husband is religious but does not attend church, as I do not, so we don’t have much chance of meeting people that way. What, if anything, can we do to start making our own “family” and become a part of the community where we live? Please help. — R.

Dear R.: It’s too bad your brother doesn’t follow my rule: When I go to another city, I don’t call people if I have no time to see them. What is the point? I understand your hurt feelings, but it’s better to know where you stand — and there is the slim possibility that he may, at some future date, try to reinstate some of the previous closeness. As for your getting out and about, I suggest you and your spouse make an effort to modify your introversion. Join a civic group or a charity, or become active in your child’s school.

There are myriad things to do involving other people. I’m sure, if you make an effort, you and your husband will find comfortable people with whom to build friendships. And I am a firm believer in a saying attributed to Hugh Kingsmill: “Friends are God’s apology for relations.” — Margo, hopefully

Are Thank-You Notes Necessary?

Dear Margo: I well know that one doesn’t give gifts expecting gratitude, but do you think an acknowledgment is too much to ask? My grandchildren happily accept the checks and gifts I select for them, and I never hear a word. I have to ask my daughter-in-law whether my gifts arrived. I am considering a drastic measure: Stop sending anything. Then maybe they’ll get the hint. These kids aren’t toddlers, by the way. They are 9, 12 and 13. What is your opinion on the issue of writing thank-you notes? — Granny Bea

Dear Gran: My opinion is my mother’s, as I suspect is the case with most people (not my mother’s, their mother’s). My teacher/parent/mom was no-nonsense on thank-you notes, and my kids caught on quickly, once they were old enough to write, that no acknowledgment meant no future gift. My mother made that plain.

I believe that if kids aren’t taught to say “thank you” to someone who has taken the time and trouble to send a present, they will do the same as adults and run the risk of being written off as social clods. I do think this is the parents’ responsibility, and I wouldn’t be too shy to tell your d-i-l that it is considered good manners to write a thank-you note. (Even an email, these days, will do. I draw the line at texts.) I will even make the radical suggestion that you get out of the gift-giving business if your prompt is not taken to heart. — Margo, correctly

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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54 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    Letter #1:  I guess my response would differ depending on whether your brother is visiting the city for business or pleasure.  If he is on a business trip, it is highly likely that his time is structured to the point that he cannot take 6 hours to come visit you.  This holds even if its one of those business trips that are seminars or retreat like things that include spouses because at those you are expected to participate in all the company sponsored events and even arrive and depart on pre-arranged flights with the rest of the group.  I suppose he could take a vacation day but unless you know what his workload is and how his employer feels about *adding* on vacations to company paid for trips, I wouldn’t fault him for not doing so.  On the other hand, if this is a purely pleasure trip on vacation with his wife then I can understand your hurt feelings and I wouldn’t hesitate to tell him in a non combative way *you know…it really hurt my feelings that you didn’t try to make time to come see us when you were in x city*.  I wouldn’t write him off over this one incident either way.  All of that said…you do need to stretch your social network and volunteer work is an ideal way to do it as Margo suggested.  

    Letter #2:  I’m with Margo on this score.  I recently recieved thank you notes for Christmas gifts from my nieces and their children (ages 4, 3, 2 and 2).  No, the children didn’t write the notes but on each of them, their mothers had asked them to *draw* something…even if was just squiggly lines.  So, I would follow Margo’s advice except why just talk to your daughter-in-law?  Your son (I assume he is alive and in the kid’s lives) is equally responsible for teaching those kids good manners.  Talk to him and tell him where you stand.  It will avoid tension with the daughter-in-law and if he fails to get the message across to his wife and children, then don’t send any more gifts.     

    • avatar Carib Island Girl says:

      It could also be…WOW…3 hour drive is nothing to sneeze at, he would have been better off to just not say anything.

      Letter 2 – at least call and thank them. Geez.

    • avatar CanGal says:

      If she’s willing to write him off over this one incident, than I think he should thank his lucky stars.

    • avatar christineb says:

      When my daughter turned 5 I created “Thank You” post cards for her to fill in. They say “Dear ___, I love my new ____. It’s great! Thank you. Love___.” With my help she fills in the blanks. This year I took out the “great” and had her fill in her own word and we had a little talk about adjectives. I don’t expect her to write a book, but a few words to say thank you are important. Now I need to go finish mine…mea culpa

  2. avatar Paula says:

    LW2: My birthday falls between Christmas and New Year’s, and I am an only child. Add to that, each of my parents has/had three siblings, some of whom have large families. All of that added up to an overabundance of gifts during the holidays when I was a child. I learned the alphabet early, thanks to the “ABC Song,” so, at all of THREE years old, my mother insisted that I begin writing thank-you notes, which, at that age, meant that she had to sit next to me and spell every word for me. Needless to say, it was an overwhelming, tedious task that I came to dread every year! No kidding, at some point I can remember thinking that I’d rather have far fewer gifts than have to write that mountain of thank-you notes!

    As a 40-something adult, thankfully the overabundance tapered off long ago! Now, whenever I receive a gift and am not able to thank the giver in person, I make sure to at least call the person on the phone or send a thank-you email if possible. Yes, I still write the occasional note and send it through the US Postal Service, especially for people who don’t have email, and certainly for those who live alone and for whom it means a lot to receive mail. However, if I am able to thank the giver in person, he/she and I both consider it thanks enough and no note is necessary.

    LW2, would you consider a phone call to be sufficient? You will then know that your grandchildren received the gifts, and you can actually talk with them for a few minutes.

    Why don’t you try this idea instead of the punitive “no note, no gift” policy: Write THEM a kind, loving letter yourself, and in that letter, tell them that you’d love to hear from them! Make a point of saying that, when you send them something, you need to know that they received it, and it would be so good to hear from them – not only then, but at any other times that they’d like to call/email/write! Put a positive spin on it, instead of threatening to “punish” them with no gifts! This way you will open communication with your grandchildren and hopefully cultivate a good relationship with them as they grow up!

    • avatar Obediah Fults says:

      Sure, why be direct when you can be passive-aggressive instead? I had a grandmother like that and I used to dread opening her letters — and I never shed a tear when she died.

      • avatar Ariana says:

        I don’t see anything passive-aggressive in Paula’s letter suggestion above.
        “It would be good to hear from you” and “I need to know when you receive something”
        are both pretty direct if you ask me.

      • avatar R Scott says:

        “Make a point of saying that, when you send them something, you need to know that they received it, and it would be so good to hear from them…”  I think that’s pretty direct. I’m not seeing anything p/a here.

  3. avatar NotPiffany says:

    LW1: Three hours away? That’s not a casual drive, especially if your brother is in that other city on a business trip. I wouldn’t expect any of my friends or relatives to make a six-hour round trip to have a dinner with me. Why don’t you invite him and his wife over for a weekend with you and your family some other time, instead of fretting that he won’t drop whatever plans he already had to drive several hours to see you?

    • avatar K Coldiron says:

      Totally agree.

    • avatar Anais P says:

      I completely agree. A six-hour round trip would take a whole extra day! He may not have vacation or personal days to take so he can have dinner with you. I understand LW1 cannot make the effort because her child is ill, but she should not take his decision not to drive six hours that personally. It would have been more helpful if they could each travel 90 minutes to see the other. Is it possible for her husband to care for their child while she makes the drive halfway? Her brother may see that compromise as less onerous than six hours, which definitely is. And she should follow some or all of Margo’s suggestions to make friends.

  4. avatar David Bolton says:

    LW1: Ahh… the old “my child is ill” excuse, which trumps all other reasoning and logic and voids all excuses. I’m assuming that since you did not type “my child is dying,” that isn’t the case here. IMHO your letter comes across as a rather dramatic overreaction to a situation that really isn’t that big of a deal—your brother is coming to town but can’t see you because it would necessitate a 6 hour drive, and you’re making the leap that his behavior means you now can’t depend on him as a member of your family? Umm… okay.

    LW2: When I give a gift, usually the person says “thank you” right then and there, or I get it on the phone later on. That’s enough for me, and I have no need for a note.

    • avatar Toni Jean says:

      On the money!! Unless the child is in the hospital why can’t daddy be on watch? Sounds like YOU’RE the one who can’t drive six hours, LW1! Also sounds a little like hubby tries to keep her isolated. I once had a fabulous visit w my sister, her husband, and at the time young child. I hadn’t seen them in years and was in The City on business. They drove in, we had lunch, then just sat in the hotel room playing HOW Much Does Oatmeal Cost For Room Service at the Waldorf??? Didn’t order anything, just laughed and guessed prices. (it was something crazy like $16.)

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        I wish I had YOU as a sibling.

        Let’s play “How Do You Know When Sibling Becomes Distant, For Reals?”

        1) When he bullies you and calls you names throughout your life and never apologizes once as an adult or takes responsibility for his actions.
        2) When he goes into the Air Force and basically just stops coming home after the first couple of times, even though his air fare is free.
        3) When he calls and you talk about the same circuit of things for years and he never asks you what you’re doing, what your plans are, or seems the least bit excited for you or interested.
        4) When he comes home after almost 13 years to collect his inheritance (although, to be fair my mother was excited to see him and it cheered her up immensely).
        5) When he suddenly and arbitrarily quits returning emails and phone calls so you finally give up after about five tries—and 3-4 YEARS later he casually mentions to an aunt that he hasn’t heard from you “in a while.”

        That’s a general guideline for distance between siblings. Your mileage may vary.

        • avatar JCF4612 says:

          David — I could top you with a wierd ultra-complicated sibling situation among 12 of us (I was the mystery sibling late to the family) that would knock your socks off, but will spare you. Instead, suffice it to say you’re comment was both amusing and (for me) especially soothing.

          And, yes, Toni Jean … i’d love to have you as a sis, along with David as a bro. 

          • avatar David Bolton says:

            It’s settled then. I expect presents. And I can’t drive to you to pick them up—you have to bring them to me since my dog—MY BABY!—is ill.

            See how it all comes full circle? Now if we could just get R Scott to join in and that nasty River Song person to post why they disagree.

          • avatar Carib Island Girl says:

            I nearly always agree with you, though I do feel dirty from time to time. *hugs*

          • avatar Toni Jean says:

            JCF!! Welcome to my family toooooo!!

        • avatar Toni Jean says:

          David B you ARE fabulous and would love to have you as a Sibling.
          We are a BIG admirer of your posts for more than two years.
          You are so worthy of $20 oatmeal and so much more. 🙂

    • avatar Ariana says:

      LW#1: That’s exactly how I read that too. Her brother is flying all the way across the country to a city 3 hours away, but she just cannot make the effort to find out a way to make it to the next city to see him? Sounds more like he should be writing her off as undependable. If your child is that sick, you shouldn’t be inviting your brother to come visit anyways. If it just has a cold, there is always a way to find a sitter, or your husband could watch the child while you travel.

      • avatar Kathleen Hein says:

        That’s what I figured- who wants to go and visit a house with sick/contagious children in it. If you can’t at least arrange to meet him half way (I have done this, in a similar situation) then you have no reason to complain about the other person. Geesh.

    • avatar htimsr40 says:

      Exactly. She expects HIM and his wife to make a 6-hour round trip drive but has excuses why she can’t, even though they flew across country and probably have a schedule to maintain. AND she and her introverted husband seem not to have made many friends which is the root cause of why she has so much invested in her brother’s non-visit. I suspect there might be a reason WHY he chooses not to indulge his “introverted” sister who seems to set higher expectations for him than she is willing to assume for herself. She sounds needy, controlling and self-centered. He is being friendly enough, but is tired of indulging her whims.

    • avatar R Scott says:

      Yeah. What David said.

  5. avatar callie123 says:

    LW#1: I really think you are WAY over-reacting. Driving for 6 hours (3 to see you & 3 to go back) is not as easy as you think it is. Whether your brother is coming to this big city for business or pleasure is a little unrealistic for you to expect your brother to make the kind of drive. I LIVE about 3 hours away from my family & friends (going to college), so I know first hand how tiring that long of a drive can be. By the time I get to my destination (either home or back to my apt) I am totally wiped out and all I want to do is go to sleep when I arrive.

    LW#2: While I understand your hurt feelings, please don’t punish your grand-kids for something that their parents failed to teach them. Instead you should talk to your grand-kids and explain how their lack of acknowledgment for the gifts that you send them hurts your feelings and that it is good manners to say “thank-you” when someone gives them a gift.

  6. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #1 – I could not disagree with Margo’s response more.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with this letter writer’s brother choosing not to see his sister while visiting in the area…..none. He has his reasons and those reasons should be respected. While I do understand the hurt feelings, they aren’t really warranted. It’s all about perspective. Instead of feeling dismissed, why not change that to happiness in getting the chance to speak via phone and her saying to him “Too bad we couldn’t make a date to see one another this time, but maybe when “Sally” is feeling better we can make plans to meet up” This falls under the category of much ado about nothing.

    As for meeting people. If I were giving this person some advice I would suggest she do an emotional exercise I do a lot. Step outside your body and speak to yourself as if you were your own best friend. What would you say to yourself if “you” were to say all that you have said. You’re lonely, you want to meet new people but are socially awkward.

    The answer would be simple. “You’re afraid even though you shouldn’t be. People won’t bite. 🙂 There are thousands of social networking groups online that can ease you into meeting offline. There are groups call MeetUp that offer every type of group of people you can think of, even group for people that are shy.”

    Start by doing things you enjoy or have always wanted to do. Go to a book signing or museum tour where you will be around other people. Take up a pottery class or wine tasting. Volunteer for non profit organizations: Kids, babies, battered women, the elderly, the poor and less fortunate. You will begin to see the world is filled with men and women that are just as in need of other human contact as you and your husband are.

    Then step back into your body and start enjoying life! 🙂

    Letter #2 – Boy can I relate to this one.

    What’s so frustrating about this is if you are like me and believe a person’s “intention” means everything…what we say, think and do….what is our intent? To hurt? Demean? Please? When we give a gift for the most part it is to make someone happy. That is the intent. But what to do when you don’t know how the gift is received? Ugh! Happens to me a lot.

    But I could go on for day about this because this is one of those issues about life today and the changes in social morals that is becoming more and more common. People don’t hold doors for others, say Bless You if someone sneezes and sadly……few say thank you for anything anymore. I think it is poor parenting.

    Think about it. In a household where manners are lacking, a sibling can ask another sibling to hand them something, they do, and ……nothing. There is no thanks or thank you. There is no sense of appreciation today, only expectation. Many “expect” things to be given to them.

    There I go sounding like an old woman that lives in a house filled with cats……:-)

  7. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW1) Three hours away is a total six-hour drive. You don’t say whether your brother is flying in for biz or pleasure …  or (perhaps more importantly) for how long. At least you can’t accuse bro of trying to hide prospects of his being on your coast. Get over it.

    As for making friends, it’s always amusing to hear people imply the church is a the only social center in town. Plenty of non-churchgoers widen their circles of acquaintanceship with volunteer work, memberships in service groups or civic associations. Be foreworned: You don’t replace a brother by volunteering at the PTA car wash.  


    LW2) No thank you notes? My next gift would be a box of thank you notes and maybe some forever stamps.  If kids didn’t get the message, then knock off the gift-giving until they do.  (Actually as postage costs mount and Saturday delivery is done away with altogether, an e-mail or Facebook message of acknowledgment from grandkids would be acceptable to me … all the better if it were accompanied by a fun photo of them with the sweater, the Leggos or whatever.)    

  8. avatar msb4811 says:

    #2 – Is there some reason why the letterwriter wouldn’t discuss this with her son? The one that she raised and personally instilled the important family value of written thanks for gifts received.

    #1 – That’s chutzpah. She relies on her brother, who lives across the country, for her social connection to the world? She hasn’t gotten involved in her child’s school or her own community? I am guessing that if her child is ill (not chronically or fatally), that Margo still would have received a letter that her brother was dropping in with very short notice and it was odd and inconvenient since he’d had to travel 6 hours round trip and her child had the flu.

    • avatar mayma says:

      Oh my gosh, thank you for saying this — why does it fall to the daughter-in-law?! Where is her own son in this child-rearing business!?!?

      • avatar judgingamy says:

        In all fairness, I don’t think she’s blaming the DIL. In fact, I think she’s crediting the DIL for being the only one in the family that can confirm that Grandma’s gifts arrived.

        I do think it falls on both parents to teach their kids to write thank you notes. My uncle on my mom’s side would withhold any checks that came in for his kid until he saw a thank you card go out in the mail. If a package came, his sons had X amount of days to write a thank you card or my uncle would take it to the post office to send it back- and deduct the cost of postage from his kids’ allowance.

        My uncle on my dad’s side, however, has never learned this nor taught it. His daughter is the sweetest most grateful kid in the world, yet she has never sent a thank you note in her life. If you give her a present (in person), no matter how small, she will gush over how much she loves it and how nice you were to think of her. But if you send something to her, it honestly does not occur to her to send a thank you card. She might bring it up if you see her in person or speak to her on the phone, but she doesn’t send notes. Good manners are so important to her- she’s going to be so upset when she realizes that thank you notes are the norm and she didn’t do it for years.

  9. avatar Cindy M says:

    L #1: Lots of people these days seem to be introverts. A pity, since I recall childhood days (1970s) filled with outgoing and gregarious people. Your best bet is socializing via your child’s school, its activities, and etc. I’m not a mother, but by golly *everything* revolves around school for people my age (mid-40s) with children. That’s why I’m mostly writing or reading in the evenings.

    L #2: So much sense of entitlement these days; lack of gratitude. Gifts should be acknowledged. Saying “thank you” isn’t difficult and never should be.

    • avatar Ariana says:

      “Lots of people these days seem to be introverts.”
      I’m blaming it on the Internet. Hard to learn how to go out and meet real people when you grow up with electronic devices.

  10. avatar mayma says:

    Have no idea why Margo is indulging LW1’s delusions. Your brother can’t make an extra six-hour drive just for you while he is on a trip? And that means that you’re going to cut him out of your life!?!? How awful and self-centered.

  11. avatar Carrie A says:

    #1: Something does not add up here. The brother specifically called her just to tell her he would be in a city three hours away and wouldn’t be seeing her? If he’s there for work I can see why he might not be able to get away but I suspect he was hoping she could come see him. I notice it’s just fine for her to be unable to come but if he can’t make the trip he’s a selfish jerk. To me it doesn’t sound as if he’s the problem. Good luck to the LW making friends with her obvious “it’s all about ME” attitude.

    #2: I agree with other posters that you need to talk to your SON about this. The responsibility of raising your grandchildren does not fall solely on your DIL’s shoulders. Maybe your attitude that when your grandchildren don’t act as you think they should it’s all her fault has something to do with your situation.

  12. avatar L T says:

    LW#1 — I was wondering if I was the only one thinking the brother called to say “we’ll be nearby, can you meet us in the middle” and the sister declined due to the sick child then blamed it on the brother.

    To my way of thinking, if your child is so sick that you can’t take the few hours to drive part-way, your child is also so sick you shouldn’t be leaving his or her bedside under any circumstances — even if your brother was willing/able to take a minimum eight hours or so out of his trip to make the drive to you.

  13. avatar Artemesia says:

    The brother who calls to say ‘na na na nah naaaa I am coming to visit near you but not you’ is a jerk. He could certainly come to the city and go home without having to share this.

    Grandma needs to contact each kid individually — (I assume she talks to them on the phone occasionally? or visits occasionally?) and say ‘when I send you a present I would really like you to call me or email or write me a note saying that you got it and thanking me; when I don’t hear from you, it hurts my feelings and makes me worry that I haven’t given you something that you like.’

    If things don’t change, start sending nice cards for occasions rather than gifts i.e. remembrance but not loot.

    • avatar Ariana says:

      I’m not so sure it was a “nah nah” phone call. If he is as distant as she makes out, he would have no reason to do that in the first place.
      I’m suspecting he wasn’t planning on telling her in the first place. But once they got talking on the phone, they probably talked about what the family is doing. So either you will have to lie, or you end up mentioning that you’ll be flying in, but unfortunately do not have time.
      The only weird part of that letter was her being ready to cut her brother out for that, even though she didn’t seem to want to make any overtures to go see him either.

    • avatar Mishy Smith says:

      Sister – “How’s work going?”

      Brother – “Oh, well actually I’ll be in Baltimore in a few weeks for a tradeshow-”

      Sis – “So come see us!”

      Bro- “Well like I said, it’s for work so maybe one day we can meet or something-”

      Sis- “I JUST told you little one is sick! Why can’t you come up here? It’s JUST 3 hours each way!”

      Bro- “This is for a tradeshow. For work. I can’t make a 6 hour round trip commute, not to mention time to visit on my company’s dime-”

      Sis- “You know what? Forget it.”

      Bro- “Yeah, I think I will.”

      Something tells me the call went more like this than the “nah nah” call you imply.

  14. avatar judgingamy says:

    As far as why he would tell her, I am guessing it was either because 1. He wanted to give her the option of coming to see him, or 2. He had no intention of meeting up with her, but he didn’t want it to come up down the road that he had been to “her” coast and didn’t say anything so she could accuse him of hiding it. Or I guess possibly 3, it just came up. Maybe they are going to Disneyland and she lives within 3 hours of there? He could have been telling her how excited his kids were to be going, to which she replied, well you WILL be making a 6 hour round trip detour to see me and my sick child, right? Right? RIGHT??

    If this is a business trip, she’s crazy for even being offended. Well, she’s overreacting either way, but she’s really being unreasonable if he’s coming on someone else’s dime, for someone else’s schedule.

  15. avatar Lynde says:

    It’s not a 3 hour trip by car it’s a 6 hour round trip. Who want’s to drive 6 hours while on business or vacation. It’s her home state, have your husband stay with your child get off your butt and drive to visit your brother. Oh it’s so different when the the driving shoe is on the other foot isn’t it.

  16. avatar lebucher says:

    Why don’t both siblings drive to meet each other, halfway between the 3 hour distance???  Seems like that would be easier on all parties involved.  Of course the sister with sick child will need to be able to find someone else to watch the kid if hubby is working at the time.

  17. avatar mmht says:

    LW#1: I think that you should have been trying to get out more well before now. Your introvertedness is just an excuse for you not to make the effort, in my opinion, and I’m saying this as an introvert myself. Luckily for me, when I was in college I went to a counselor who taught me how to not let my introvertedness cost me relationships with other people while still getting the alone and quite time that I needed to re-energize. I highly suggest the same if you find it too difficult to make friends. As for your brother, you need to give him a break. He’s going 3 hours away, that’s 6 hours of simply driving just to see you and honestly, I think you are using your sick child as an excuse not to make an effort to see him. If you desperately wanted to see him that bad you could’ve offered to meet him half way, just the two of you so your husband could take care of your sick child.

    LW#2: Here’s a question for everyone out there, how do you feel about phone thank you’s? If someone calls you and says thank you for the gift is that enough or do you think that they still need to sit down and write out a note? Personally, I feel that is more thoughtful then a note b/c generally you then get into a conversation and talk with someone but I know not all feel that way. I’m also asking b/c I ran into this issue about 2 years ago with my in-laws. For our wedding, they gave my husband and I very generous amount of money. They called my husband before hand and told us that they were doing this. He thanked them immediately. When I got home from work he told me about it and I called them and thanked them immediately. We saw them 2 days later and we both again thanked them and told them what we’d use it for and how helpful and generous it was. A few weeks later his mom called and asked if we liked the gift b/c she never received a thank you note! I was so embarrassed and flabbergasted b/c I thought that what we did was enough.

    • avatar judgingamy says:

      I think it depends on the person. I think for some people, they just want to know you got the present, so a phone call would be sufficient, and much quicker. But some people really like thank you letters. It seems that grandparents fall in the latter category where anything is better than nothing, but letters are preferred.

    • avatar Katharine Gray says:

      I think thank you notes are best although email thank yous in this day and age are fine too.  Also, for impromptu gifts probably a phone call is enough.  Wedding gifts fall into a completely different category I think and should be acknowledged with a note.  But now that I think of it…I cannot remember if we sent my in-laws a written thank you note for their wedding gift nor do I recall what they gave us…but I suspect I sent them a note when I was writing all the other thank yous.  I’m wondering if your mother-in-law was trying to remind you that thanking people by note for wedding gifts is expected by those giving gifts.  Its not just *old fashioned manners* for wedding gifts because most of them are mailed and delivered and the giver wants to know it was recieved.   But I will say this…I don’t know why mothers of sons expect the daughter in law to do all the thanking for everything.  Get on your son’s butt and tell him to do it. 

      • avatar mmht says:

        I should clarify this: I absolutely sent handwritten thank you notes to all of my guests at the wedding, even the ones that did not give gifts received thank you notes for simply coming to the wedding. My question pertaining to the phone had more to do with things like Christmas and birthday presents, however, I can see how my example from the wedding made it seem differently.

        As for that particular incident I think what made me feel so flabbergasted by it was that 1.) They gave us the gift about a year in advance to help with wedding expenses, honeymoon, or anything else we wanted to put it to, 2.) We thanked them a total of 3 times (over the phone and in person), and 3.) Due to their relationship to us I just assumed (my fault of course!) that 3 thank yous in person and over the phone would be enough. Neither my husband nor I even thought of doing a handwritten thank you note (honestly, I kind of blame him for that b/c they are his parents, he should know what they expect!). As for your last statement about mother-in-laws, I will say this, my husband is the most socially inept person I have ever met pertaining to social situation etiquette (i.e., weddings, showers, etc.). He actually asked me once that if we gave a shower gift do we have to give a wedding gift! And said “Well, we bought my dad a Father’s Day gift, why do we need to get him a birthday gift?” I’d think it was just my husband, but his brothers are the same way (he’s the eldest of 4 boys). So, even though we’ve been together for over 9 years, I’m still not 100% certain exactly what she taught him social etiquette wise b/c everytime I say something about rules he acts as if this is completely new and bizarre to him.

        • avatar K Coldiron says:

          mmht, I wouldn’t blame yourself. If it was an in-person gift and you thanked them three danged times, I can understand how it might not be on your radar as something you need to send a note for. If you ask me, your MIL is a little strange for being all “I know you said three times that you liked it, but I can’t be sure that you did unless you put it in writing.” But from now on, send her a note for every stupid candle she ever buys you… 🙂

  18. avatar Diane Shaw says:

    Ltr. #1 – I agree with others that the distinction should be made as to whether or not this was a business trip or personal which might contribute to the structure of his trip. Further to that, I also agree that a 3 hour drive, one way, is nothing to sneeze at. My M-I-L lives 3 hours away and with mine & hubbies schedules, I might get up to visit once a year. And lastly, I’m going to suspect that it’s sis who may have changed a little more than bro causing more of the distancing. By her own admission, she and her husband are introverts and possibly socially awkward. Did it become worse after YOU got married?

  19. avatar Jan Hall says:

    I stopped sending gifts a long time ago to children/adults who couldn’t bother saying thank you, and two of them actually asked me why the gifts stopped. My reply was that since I never knew if they had arrived, it was the only thing I could do.

    Does anyone remember being taught in high school how to write “bread and butter” letters? I have always loved to write, and nowadays almost everyone is thrilled to see an actual handwritten letter or card in their mailbox.

  20. avatar ShadyBlue says:

    LW1:  My husband and I have always lived across the country from our family members.  When we’re traveling for work, we don’t have time to take several hour side trips, whether it’s to see family or not.  My hubby’s siblings never visit us but they expect us to visit regularly (at least once a year or more).  They always used the excuse they had children but we don’t – but they would start traveling once the kids were grown.  Well guess what – the kids are grown and now they use their vacation time to go visit their grown children, not us.  It costs a lot for us to fly, rent a car and, often, a motel room.  Your brother may have called to tell you he was going to be just 3 hours away hoping you would take the initiative and visit him for a change. My hubby did that once – was just 2.5 hours away from his brother, but his brother said he didn’t like to leave his wife with the kids for an evening and doesn’t like to drive into the city.  So my hubby had to pay a penalty for changing his flight, had to pay for a rental car, and had to take a day of vacation so he could see his brother for a few hours. Rather than moping around and feeling hurt, try taking some initiative occasionally.

  21. avatar Kathleen Hein says:

    LW1: What exactly does “religious, but doesn’t attend church” even mean? Religious people attend services- ie of their religion that makes them “religious”. Maybe the word you’re looking for is spiritual? Anyway, most people make friends with their coworkers or the parents of the friends of the sick child you claim to have.

    LW2. I decided this Christmas to stop sending gifts to my god daughter and her siblings (ages 18, 14, and 12) after the 3rd year in a row of not even knowing whether the gifts arrived. I mostly blame their parents, but at those ages, and all with Facebook accounts, I figure they have control enough over the ability to acknowledge the gifts on their own by messaging me that way! If they can’t be bothered to even do that much, I can’t be bothered to select or send them.

  22. avatar Lerris says:

    Like the other commenters, I don’t think LW1 is giving proper credence to how much of an extra hassle she’s expecting her brother to undertake. He is in a strange city, and perhaps even more importantly, he FLEW in, which means he doesn’t have easy access to transportation. He could rent a car, yes, but that’s a lot of extra expense and time, before he even embarks on the 6 hour round trip. I’m sure it hurt to hear that he was going to be hundreds of miles closer to you than he usually is, but the actual logistics of the situation means that he still might as well be on halfway across the country. If you want to see him that badly, try to find a way to invite him and his wife out for a holiday, or during the summer, or at least utter the words “we’d really like to see you sometime” and see how he responds.

    LW2, I think thank you notes are a question of form and function. If the function (graciously thanking the giver) is achieved, then the form in which the thankfulness is conveyed shouldn’t be nearly as important. So, in my opinion, a nicely worded email/facebook message, a phone call, an “in-person” thank you are all lovely and plenty sufficient. Now, of course, if your gift recipients aren’t willing to muster even one of those, then you’re certainly more than justified in turning off the present spigot.

  23. avatar graym says:

    Question #2.  I have a question….we attended a large celebration honoring our priest’s 25th year of priesthood. It was well-attended and every quest brought a thoughtful gift, either money, gift certificate, gift card, or something homemade that obviously took a lot of time (which mine was). No one ever received a personal thank you note or phone call and I have to say I was disappointed. There was however a generic little note added in the weekly bulletin to thank “everyone” who attended. My question: who is not, due to age or rank or social standing, NOT bound to the general rule of courtesy here, if anyone….

    • avatar mmht says:

      That,s a good one and honestly, I don’t think anyone is truly exempt from this rule. My grandmother still sends me thank you notes for Christmas, birthday, and really anything small I find and pick up for her. So, if a grandparent (who I think would qualify under the age and rank rule) can send a thank you then I think a priest should send a thank you.

  24. avatar Mostly QUIET says:

    LW#2: My grandmother solved this problem ages ago: Your next gift should be note cards! Select something that meshes with each child’s personality, include it with another gift, and see what happens. If there is still no thank-you, cut back on giving and see if things change.