Thank You Notes Teaching Middot

We drove our youngest to camp yesterday. The night before he left he finished the last of his thank you notes for his March Bar mitzvah.

I was struck, as I have been, as each of my three kids have gone through this Emily Post exercise in American etiquette, just how this formality can deepen the values we hope out kids learn as B’nai Mitzvah.

With each of my kids I laid out the basic rules. The first is that no one owed them a gift. The specific gift needed to be acknowledged or commented on. The second was that each gift was given because of a relationship. The note needed to acknowledge the relationship which caused the gift giving.
It’s easy for a kid, who may be getting large cash gifts from friends or relatives with deep pockets, to be less than appreciative of a small gift from a little old lady on a fixed income. I would mention that this gift was proportionally a huge gift on the part of the giver.

I felt that my message was getting through my son would ask me before he began a note, “Tell me about _____. How do we know them?” I could then explain how _______ was friendly with my parents when they were a young married couple, or was my mother-in-law’s favorite cousin, or was the person who gave his his favorite baby toy.

As my son has slogged through the process, which has been often difficult for him, he was rewarded by the large number of people who have mentioned that unlike most Bar-Mitzvah thank you notes which get tossed in the trash as soon as they are read, my son’s notes have been kept. The notes have given my son an additional opportunity to get to know the circle of people who surround our family. They have also given our circle the opportunity to see our kid for who he is in his glorious quirkiness.

–Sarah Jacobs