Thank You Notes - From Children

What 4 year old is "too busy" to write a thank you note? Exactly. While in some fabulously over-scheduled circles, thank you notes may have become passé, people who know, know that this will not do. Like coaching a child to have passable table manners; training a child to write thank you notes can be excruciating. For younger children, drawing a picture, or signing a name to thoughts dictated to a parent can suffice, but by the time children write complete sentences in school, they are old enough to write their own thank you notes. Some rare children have a natural gift and can toss off charming and honest thank you notes from a young age. Many other children may lay their heads on the table and moan like a colony of lepers at the mention of thank you notes. Best results are achieved when a parent sits with the child and walks her through it. Find a sizable chunk of time when you are relaxed and focused and your child is awake and well nourished (not bedtime). Talk about the gift and the person who gave it: “What did aunt Betsy give you? Did you play with it in the basement yesterday? Does that complete your collection of Magic Tree House books?” The well-mannered mother guides her child to the material for the note, getting the job done, and teaching her children that writing thank you notes is a manageable and possibly enjoyable task. With luck, she will liberate her children to write thank you notes on their own when they are older and less amenable to parental meddling. Though it is tempting to allow children to wallow in the ignorance of a thank-you-note-free life, would you really want your child to become so entitled and boorish?

Over the river...

… and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go. Oh no! Now that the modern mother has finished being "crazy busy," taken off her spandex and put on her best foundation wear it is time for the truly trying test of all well mannered mothers: the trip to the in-law's house. Despite the many potential pitfalls and tensions, the well-mannered mother tries to maintain a congenial relationship with her husband's family. For some, this might mean cajoling her children to don the “adorable” (and itchy) lederhosen that Granny brought back from Germany. For others, this might mean easing up on the “no processed foods” rule so Grandpa can whip up his signature scrapple and Velveeta egg breakfast. For most, fostering this relationship will likely involve shared dining, excessive table manners, reminding children to speak politely and thank you notes. While this can be irritating and exhausting, the well mannered daughter-in-law remembers that this will pass, her in-laws mean well (usually) and if she is fortunate, she will someday be someone’s mother-in-law.

Crazy Busy

It’s that time of year, not “the holiday season” but the “crazy busy” season, in which everyone from your dog walker to your neighbor will impress upon you just how busy she is. This can be especially true for mothers as they try to balance run-of-the-mill parenting chaos with additional parties, shopping, recitals, visiting relatives, holiday cards and letters. Ask, “How are you?’ and look out for the laundry list response: “Great, but things are so crazy, yesterday was Emme’s holiday concert, but I also had to pick up teacher gifts, and then there was the office holiday party and then today I had my cookie swap. It’s just been crazy busy.” Hmmm. You’re “crazy busy” because of a cookie swap? What exactly is a cookie swap? We all know this variety of mother, who seems to “out-busy” everyone. Mention you’ve got a conflict with a holiday gathering? She’s got two conflicts that very same night! Hard to find time to sit down a get those cards sent out? She’s got it worse! Maybe some mothers view busy-ness as a benchmark of success. Or, perhaps enumerating such busy-ness soothes a mother’s confusion that these many small tasks could make her feel so frantic. Others may use their proclaimed busy-ness as a cover  for lapsed manners such as not RSVPing or writing thank you notes. The well mannered mother does not compete over whose schedule is more hectic. Nor does she use her packed schedule as an excuse for avoiding proper etiquette. Rather than bore her listener with a litany of events attended, gift purchased, etc., she will engage her companion cheerfully as befits the season. Maybe then, she can take a deep breath and actually enjoy a good cookie swap.


Too often these days, not so well mannered mothers include their children in all occasions and impose them on hosts who have not invited them. The well-mannered mother should never take a child to an event if the child’s name is not written on the invitation. Nor is it acceptable to phone and ask to have one's children included. We can assure you, the hostess did not forget to include your offspring on the invitation - she has planned an adult party, so no chicken nuggets, no juice boxes, no crayons, no videos, and no one ready to entertain a 5 year old, no matter how adorable. Please trust that your hostess knows what she is doing and who she intends to receive in her home. The well mannered mother or her spouse must forgo the event if she can or will not find a sitter. And think about it: would it really be fun to stand around at a cocktail party, trying to keep darling Emma and brother Max from coloring the couch, sticking their fingers into the dip, or pulling down the curtains? Really.

Teacher Gifts

"A nice note or a picture from a student" is what one teacher said when asked what she most liked to receive around the holidays. Another teacher suggested "Spa treatments are always welcome." Another reasonable response might be, "Cold hard cash - do you have any idea how little we get paid to deal with these crazy kids?" but we couldn't find any teacher ill-mannered enough to admit it. The well mannered mother should trust her instincts and knowledge about the teacher: if the teacher maintains an avid interest in all things British, give some English tea and clotted cream; for an avid film-goer, give movies passes; and of course chocolate for the chocolate lover. As with hostess gifts, if you feel the need to give something tangible, try to keep teacher gifts useful, tasteful, and consumable. (Nix the "world's greatest teacher" coffee mug.) Some of our favorite ideas include: teas or coffee, itunes gift cards, book store gift cards, vouchers for a carwash, or a gift card to a store you know she frequents. Whatever you choose, remember to comply with the social norms around you. For instance, if everyone is giving $20 for a Starbucks gift card, do not rush out and buy the teacher an espresso machine. The objective is not to impress other parents or garner favoritism for your child but to thank the teacher for his hard work and wish him a happy holiday. Keep in mind that it is not the gift that matters, but the manner in which it is delivered. Make it personal. Wrap it up with a note, a picture, or card, made by your child and attach your own genuine note of thanks.

Hostess Gifts

Being invited to a friend's house for a party or dinner is a treat in these busy times. Perhaps it is for this reason that guests have taken to giving such unique hostess gifts. It could be the economic downturn or the easy availability of cheap goods made in China driving this trend. Hostess gifts we have heard of recently and can not recommend are: a set of elf bowling pins, massage oil and a singing bass (Christmas edition). In each case "you shouldn't have" could not be more true. According to those who know, a guest is under no obligation to take anything at all and often a nice smile and pleasant conversation is more welcome than any knickknack. If she feels compelled to take her hostess something, the well mannered mother is best off turning up with a consumable such as wine, champagne, the hard stuff, cocktail napkins, chocolate, candles, soap or flowers. The goal here is to give the hostess something useful and tasteful (nix the Santa toilet paper) that will not end up in a rummage sale or land fill.

The truth about the tooth fairy

We all know the parents who feel the need to disabuse their children of the existence of this childhood staple. For those who do, it is the perfect opportunity to teach children to practice discretion. One should impress upon the darlings not to spoil what others consider fun, by loudly declaring, “There’s no such thing at the tooth fairy!” to the entire 1st grade class. Such behavior will not only rob the child’s classmates of a family ritual, it will also irritate other parents when word leaks out that a spoiler is on the loose. Should you be present when your own child informs a friend of the tooth fairy's actual status, you may laugh nonchalantly and whisk her away for a private conversation. Should someone else’s child ask you about the tooth fairy's existence, you can always employ a deflective question, such as “Is that what your mother tells you?” Same goes for Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Great Pumpkin, etc.


What a wonderful invention! Yet, under no circumstances should any mother expose her spandex covered bottom to the world at the grocery store, library or school pick up. Would she show up at these places wearing just a pair of pantyhose or a bathing suit? We hope not. Unless engaged in physical activity, a mother, well mannered or not, should ensure her spandex clad bottom is covered by a long sweater, trench coat or simple sweatshirt tied around her middle. Better yet, once her activity has ended the well mannered mother should shower and put on regular clothing, time permitting.

Trunk Shows

A trunk show is a retail event hosted by a friend or acquaintance at her home disguised as a social gathering. The naive and uninitiated mother will discover after her second glass of Chardonnay that she cannot reasonably leave this “party” without spending more money than she wanted to on things she will rarely use, wear, or put on her children. Naturally, there are exceptions. Smocked clothing springs to mind. Kitchen wares, jewelry, beauty products, hand bags, cleansers and lotions do not. Often the cute invitation will say “no need to shop - please stop by for a glass of wine and a nibble” or something friendly and harmless. The well informed mother should know that while her friend may genuinely mean this, the vendor behind the trunk show is banking on the fact that nice ladies might feel a certain amount of pressure to purchase something, anything, once in a friend’s home. Even some free range angora. While everyone likes to be invited to events, the well mannered modern mother should, upon receiving an invitation to such a gathering, check out the product on line and determine whether she has a desire or need for it. If not, a timely and polite response such as “So sorry to miss all the fun!” will suffice. Additionally, the kindly mother who is feeling pressured by someone she knows to host such an event and invite her friends should think long and hard about whether this is a product she is comfortable endorsing. Finally the modern mother who wishes to get her friends together should buy her own invitations and invite them over for drinks and nibbles just for the heck of it. After all, who has ever heard of anyone declining a party invitation because there wasn’t going to be any shopping there?

Holiday Letter

Some people genuinely enjoy catching up through a family update letter, but these odd missives rank just under fruitcake in the list of Christmas-related jokes. For those who feel the need to include a letter with their annual holiday card, we offer a few words of advice: (1) Keep it short: even those who like to read those letters won’t make it past the first page. (2) Avoid excessive bragging. Though you might want to report that Hayley will be attending Harvard, do refrain from reporting that Hayley has chosen to attend Harvard since she “was admitted to every college she applied to!” Not only is that excessive bragging, it is also incorrect grammar. (3) Avoid referring to yourself in the third person unless you want to sound like Bob Dole or Elmo. (4) Keep things in perspective. A blow-by-blow account of your cat’s surgery is definitely too much information. Just say you are thankful that she made it through successfully. Keep these suggestions in mind and all your readers will be thankful and maybe even make it through your letter successfully.

Birthday Parties for Children

These seminal milestones to be cherished by parents and endured by all others should be kept as short and sweet as possible. A well mannered mother should know that the number of adults who want to spend time celebrating birthdays 1-4 with anyone who is not related by blood is statistically zero. That is, unless, it involves an open bar. However these things happen. The well mannered mother does try to keep the attendees to a minimum and if for some reason she feels the undeniable need to invite the whole nursery school she does it off-site (i.e. not in her home). This will save her domicile and sanity. Once the participants reach five and children may be dropped off at a party, adults applaud long drawn out parties. These too should be held off site if one can possibly manage it. Once children become socially conscious a child should invite her whole class or a very small set of close friends. Invitations should arrive through the mail and not be handed out at school. If an RSVP is required the guests should do so as soon as possible. Upon arriving at the party the guest should go up to the birthday child, thank her for inviting him and give her a gift. He should also be sure to thank the birthday girl and her parents when leaving a party. With regard to gifts, the well-mannered mother knows that it is the quality of the gift not the price that matters. Something thoughtful and relevant to the birthday childs’ interests will always be welcome no matter the price. When in doubt give a good book.

A Shame about that Name

People choose from a wide variety of names for their children these days: traditional names, place names, obscure ethnic names and, of course, made up names. Some names may bring back memories of the mean neighborhood kid who liked to play with matches. Some names may sound more appropriate for a car than a child. (Use your imagination.) Others may be a bit baffling (Wmffre?) Whatever the name, the well mannered mother never discloses her negative reaction. Where an ill-mannered mother might say, “Ugh! the last Zeus I knew weighed 400 pounds,” the well manned mother would say, “How wonderful to have a classical name.” And when introduced to darling newborn, Eithne, the well mannered mother may say, “What a lovely name, tell me how you chose it.” Whatever the conundrum, you can't go wrong with admiring the baby.


If and when the modern mother chooses to leave the paying workforce she will eventually be asked to participate in a myriad of "volunteer" activities. Some modern mothers pick one or two causes in which they have a true interest. Others collect committee and board memberships like guard rings. No matter how many good efforts the well mannered mother supports, she knows how to manage these commitments. She shows up on time, does what she says she will do when she says she will do it, keeps meetings efficient (this can mean learning how to politely shut someone up), and ends the meeting on time.

Initially, when just starting out in the fascinating world of unpaid work, it is quite flattering to be asked to be on a committee or take a leadership role on volunteer projects. It is essential that the well mannered mother stop and reflect before saying yes to these requests. Our favorite well mannered response when asked to do anything is “Thank you. I am so flattered that you thought of me. Please let me consider this tonight and I will get back to you tomorrow morning.” This gives the well mannered mother time to consider how and if this commitment fits into her already busy life. Of course she must then respond to the requestor as early as possible the following morning. The well mannered mother never leaves someone hanging - it is tacky.

Yet if the well mannered mother discovers she has, despite her best due diligence, accepted a place on a half-baked committee she must immediately call the chair person and say something like “Now that I have a better sense of the scope of this project I am afraid I have over committed myself and think it best that I withdraw at this point.” The last thing any mother needs in these hectic times are a bunch of disorganized people wasting her time. Working on a well run committee is an excellent way for a modern mother to keep her mind and resume sharp while giving back to the community. And last but not least, for the fashion conscious well mannered modern mother, committee work is an excellent excuse to dress up a bit and look slightly corporate. Think Mad Men.

Gender Disappointment

Never is the parental axiom, “you get what you get and you don’t get upset” more true than in the case of children. Boys, girls, whatever. When you get a healthy baby, you should count yourself lucky and move on with more important parenting tasks like keeping them bathed, fed and in clean pants. Nevertheless, we have recently become aware of the internet phenomenon known as “gender disappointment,” whereby mothers of multiple children of the same sex (all boys or all girls) feel deeply unhappy about not having a child of the opposite sex. So unhappy, that they lament it online, try expensive gender-selecting fertility treatments, and may require therapy. Whatever her opinion of these antics, the well mannered mother remembers that gender is a sensitive subject for other mothers she may meet. That means steering clear of comments like, “Wow, three boys. Were you disappointed you didn’t get a girl?” Given that most parents have no control over the sex of their baby, negative comments like this are as unwelcome as appraisals like, “Wow, three kids with buck teeth. You must be upset. Are you worried about your future orthodontist bills?” Needless to say, when the well-mannered mother receives such innane comments, she smiles politely and says, “I’m pretty proud of the boys/ girls I have.”

When required to console a friend suffering from gender disappointment, the well-mannered mother resists any urge to say “You have got to be kidding me! Don’t you realize how entitled and narcissistic you sound?” Instead, she listens, smiles, nods. The helpful sort of well mannered mother might make a suggestion such as “You should really talk to Jen, she is suffering from Apartment Disappointment and has recently come to terms with her Husband Disappointment. Now she is worried her son might not get into Brown and he will have to be treated for College Disappointment. You two should really have lunch.”


Even the most well mannered young children may have a “naked phase” where they shed clothes like a molting bird and run free and unfettered around the house and yard. This is fine in many families, though the well mannered modern mother should consider a clothing requirement for mealtimes, guests who might feel uncomfortable with the child’s nudity (grandparents come to mind), and the arrival of the plumber, contractor, or electrician. This phase should not be encouraged in children over 6 years-old.

Table Manners

The well mannered modern mother is bemused when people tell her that her children have “nice table manners” in a voice suggesting that she is somehow “lucky.” She is not lucky. She has suffered thousands of excruciating meals with her young barbarians day after day and night after night. Even the most adoring and indulgent parent must admit that eating with a four year-old is vile. Yet, with the long term goal of civilized eaters; the well mannered mother persists hoping that some day her child will remember to put his napkin on his lap, use the proper utensils, chew with his mouth closed, sit up straight and ask to be excused at the end of the meal. She reminds herself that nagging, yelling and eating in front of the television will not improve the outcome. Yet, even the most well mannered among us can not live like that all the time. She knows there is a place for the occasional respite of popcorn and a movie for dinner (that's right not a vegetable in sight!). After all, the well mannered modern mother is not a masochist. So she beats on against the tide optimistically dreaming of a time when a family meal will be a pleasant, leisurely and seated event. And perhaps, some day, it will.


Though often overlooked at the time of birth, becoming a parent eventually means years of mandatory recital attendance. Painful as it may be to sit through 6 faltering minuets on piano or a jazz dance interpretation of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”, you’re obligated to sit attentively as you wait for your child’s turn. Do not let your child interrupt the performance with loud chatter or wander the premises with a bag of snack food dangling from one hand. If your child is old enough to perform in a recital, she is old enough to atleast attempt to sit and watch other performances.

After your child performs, you may be tempted to get up, grab your child and run away as fast as you can before another 6 year old gets up to play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” on flute. However, the well-mannered mother remembers that high-tailing it out of there would be rude to the other children still waiting to perform and their patiently waiting families. If you absolutely must leave before the recital is over, wait until a pause between performances so as not to distract young performers trying their hardest to concentrate.

Going for a stroll

The well mannered modern and hip mother knows that the fact she is pushing a stroller that costs more than her monthly mortgage does NOT afford her any special status in the real world. It is not a weapon. Nor is it a war wound. The well mannered modern mother realizes that no matter how high-tech her method of perambulating her adorable offspring there are other people on the sidewalk. These people may be going to a job, the dentist or a fabulous sample sale. In any event fancy wheels and a screaming baby do not give her the right to take up the entire sidewalk.


The well mannered modern mother tries to remember, if so and so is saying these things to you about such and such; what do you think she is saying to such and such about you? She also tries to remember her keys and where her children are and what time she needs to pick each one up.


In these hectic times it can be challenging to find time for adult entertaining. However, the well-mannered mother knows that it is important to keep up with friends and teach her children that parents have social lives separate from their children. Try an evening out at a restaurant with friends, a cocktail party, or a dinner party. Not to be confused with a family cookout, the dinner party remains a diverting and cost-effective form of adults-only entertaining. Invite 4 to 8 of your adult friends to your house for dinner. If your children are young, they should be fed, bathed and ready for bed before the guests arrive. They may then appear to meet and greet the guests during the cocktail hour. Older children who can bathe and go to bed themselves may also want to visit briefly during cocktails. Before the first course is served, however, children should be removed from the adult company to go to bed, play or read in their rooms, watch a movie, or lie at the top of the stairs, listening to the chatter of the adults downstairs.

Foundation Wear

The well-mannered modern mother knows it is very hard to be well mannered when one does not feel she is at her best. Or as that classic adage says “nothing goes right when your underwear’s tight” or bunching, or showing. Or when you jeans are too low and you have a “muffin top” and can’t bend down at the playground. Or there is fat sticking out between your bra straps. These and many other uncomfortable and embarrassing foibles can be prevented by good foundation wear. We are not talking about the sexy skimpy stuff found at La Perla or Victoria’s Secret (although there is certainly a place for this in every modern mother’s wardrobe). We are talking about Spanx ™and under wire bras and having an Old Russian lady in the lingerie section of Bloomingdales measure your breasts and hips. She will them find you some very useful if not particularly decorative items – including slips, YES slips. So the well-mannered modern mother leaves her home, her young brood in tow, her head held high because she is sure nothing is jiggling, bunching, protruding or spilling out behind her.

Playground Antics

There is a type of ill-mannered mother that can be found at the playground more often than we would like. This mother treats the playground as an opportunity to demonstrate her superiority as a citizen and mother in the guise of speaking to or correcting her toddler. Sadly, most parents are all too familiar with these loudly audible monologues. “Oh no Phoebe in our family we never throw sand like that little boy. We know sand belongs in the sand box... Oh I see that girl is still using the swing, I guess they don’t have the 10-minute rule like we do... No darling that is an Oreo. It has hydrogenated fat in it. We do not eat those.” So it goes, on and on and on. By stark contrast the well-mannered mother knows that a park is one of the first safe places a toddler can navigate by himself and the more hands-off she is the better. She should find a comfortable spot and enjoy a brief moment of quiet. She is welcome to engage other parents in conversation if she wishes. She might begin with a polite opening comment such as “What a lovely day” or “I adore your diaper bag” but if it is not met with an friendly and open response she should smile and open her book or sit quietly with her own thoughts.


Children clamor for mother’s attention in proportion to how occupied she is with other things. The phone rings, and the child assembling a puzzle independently suddenly needs help and needs it now! Two mothers are planning an evening out and suddenly a child begins to hang on her mother, squealing “Mommy, draw me a picture!” The well-mannered mother remembers to respect the person with whom she is presently conversing. She may let her conversation partner finish a thought, say “excuse me one minute” and remind her children that they are interrupting, continue her conversation until a reasonable time to pause, then attend to her children. Unless, of course the need is “Mommy! I set the curtains on fire!” "The sink is overflowing!" or "There is a naked man at the door" all of which require immediate attention.


The well-mannered modern mother should try and remember that all matters dealing with bodily fluid and bodily function fall under the category of biology. This list includes but is not limited to: fertility, sex, pregnancy, birth, nursing, diapering, and toilet training. These topics may be discussed with one’s doctor or a very close friend in the confines of one’s home. Contrary to current custom and daytime television these topics are not proper for group discussion or loud discussion in public. Additionally, no matter how evolved they may seem, well-mannered fathers and especially fathers-in-law truly have zero interest in any of these topics. Except sex.

The Name Game

It is the rare adult who truly appreciates being addressed as "Hey, Betty" by a five year-old; especially when he is her son. The well mannered modern mother knows that no matter how egalitarian or evolved she is in her own abode (or commune) when meeting new adults a polite child should address them as Mrs., Ms., Mr. or Doctor unless expressly asked by the adult to whom she is speaking to do otherwise. This tried and true convention should be seen not as means of repressing a brilliant and precocious child but as a way of making other adults fell comfortable and respected by your children. The well mannered modern mother realizes there are really not that many adults who consider people under 18 their social or intellectual equals. She will at times even reflect upon the interesting fact that even Karl Marx, father of Communism and defender of the proletariate, addressed the workers of the world as "Comrade Vladamir" not just "Vladamir".

Diaper Danger

At the risk of violating the rule that all things biological are not subjects for polite conversation, let us mention the matter of diaper disposal. A household suffering with a child who is not yet toilet trained is incapable of understanding the olfactory damage one soiled diaper can do to a house where all inhabitants use toilets successfully. When you are a guest at someone’s home and you must change a soiled diaper, do not leave said diaper in the trash can, waiting for your hostess to properly dispose of. You might as well ask her to change the diaper in the first place. Instead, you may flush the offending contents down the toilet, seal the diaper in a sack (or two or three) and whisk it away with you to be disposed of at home. Or, you may offer to take the toxic item to the outside trash and clear the air in more ways than one.


Well-mannered modern parents know that taking photos of ones children is a wonderful way to remember all those happy times. These same courteous people are well aware of the rule of 3. That is NEVER EVER send more that 3 photos of your child in a given salutation (email, link, Shutterfly) to anyone not related to the child by blood. No matter what your college roommate, work colleagues, or plastic surgeon say, they really do not want to look at more than 3 pictures of your children. Think about it.

Cocktails, the importance of

It is never too early for the well-mannered modern parents to instill in their children a profound respect for the sanctity of the cocktail hour. This is the beginning of the adult portion of the day and well-mannered children are welcome to the extent that they can behave appropriately. This means sipping their beverage politely, passing hors d’ouvers, not mixing up the cheese knives and leaving some shrimp cocktail for the adults. Astute children realize that this is when adults “talk about things” and if they stay quiet and listen they may learn some pretty juicy stuff.


What better topic to begin with than the topic of Advice?

Generally unsolicited and mostly well meaning, strangers give advice to mothers from the time she is visibly pregnant. From “You are having a natural birth, aren’t you” to “you really should enroll your 18 month old in Chinese/Russian/Arabic classes now” these tidbits are usually unwelcome and irritating. The well-mannered mother knows to smile politely and change the subject or leave the room as soon as possible.

Certain ill-mannered mothers will react to such advice with loud complaints to their friends and family: “How annoying! That lady just told me to put a hat on my baby! As if I don’t know the temperature outside! She should try keeping a hat on an 11 month-old!” Maybe she has. The well-mannered mother remembers that such outrage is an inappropriate response to well-meaning, though misguided behavior.

Needless to say, the well-mannered mother should never give advice unless expressly asked and then only on the subject at hand.

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