Dear Dr. Gramma Karen,
My husband and I like to give gifts to our grandchildren, and we like to know if what we give is appreciated. We have one granddaughter, who is 19, and has yet to even acknowledge to us that she got her gift (money) for graduation from high school and her birthday gift (also money). We do know she received these because she cashed the checks. I did say something to her mother (my daughter) about not hearing from her concerning her graduation and she told me she would speak to my granddaughter, but I haven’t heard anything.
Recently I got a text from my granddaughter letting me know what she would like for Christmas (this is fine, we ask the grandchildren every year). She asked for gift cards to places like Walmart, Target, large chain grocery stores, etc. She says she wants to help her family out with these because her father is recently unemployed. She also asked for money that she would put toward her college education; she is in her second year. We are glad that she feels as though she can ask us for these things.
My question is: How should we go about expressing to our granddaughter that she needs to thank someone (not just us, but people in general) when she is given gifts. Just a simple “thank you.” We are hurt by this and don’t know how to say what we want to say in a way that she will hear us. We also don’t want to say anything that will distance us. Anything you can offer will be appreciated.
Dr. Gramma Karen’s Response
Let me begin with an observation: You point out many fine qualities about your 19-year-old granddaughter, e.g., she wants to use your gifts to help out her recently unemployed father, she puts your monetary gifts towards her college education. This speaks well of her.
That said, here are four suggestions for how you might proceed.
Just let it go. There is a long-term pattern established: that is, you give, she receives, and doesn’t respond with a thank you. Someday she may surprise you with the gratitude you seek, but if not, take comfort in knowing you’re modeling generosity, a trait that she, in turn, seems to exhibit in many ways.
You mention that you’ve let your daughter know that you would appreciate a thank-you from your granddaughter, and although she said she would talk with your granddaughter about it, nothing seems to have changed. So, my question is: Have you let your granddaughter know directly from you that you would appreciate a thank you from her?
You can say something along these lines: “We know how busy you are, but it’s important to us that you acknowledge our gifts. It doesn’t have to be a written thank-you note. We’d be pleased to receive an e-mail, a text message, or a phone call. Do you think you could do that for us?”
This approach is pretty straightforward — in effect, you’re asking her if she cares enough about you to meet your simple request. From what you describe, she does not sound like the kind of young woman who would say, “No, I am not willing to do that for you.” If she pushes back and says she’s just too busy to be bothered with meeting your request, well, perhaps you want to rethink your generosity.
Next time gift time comes around, you can let her know that you’d like to deliver her gift to her in person and watch her open it. I cannot imagine her taking your gift from you personally and not thanking you, since you’d be standing right next to each other! If that were to happen, you could tell her to her face that it would mean a lot to you if she were to express her gratitude to you. Again, if she is unwilling to do this, you may want to reevaluate your gift-giving.
Let her know how much you appreciate her goodness and generosity. Tell her it warms your heart to know that she uses the gifts you give her in such loving and wise ways. Tell her you’re proud of her and you’re glad you’re in a position to give her gifts that she puts to such good use. This may or may not result in her saying thank you!
Perhaps one or more of these suggestions will be helpful.
I close by sharing how an uncle handled a similar situation with his niece. Every holiday he would send her a card with some cash but would get no response from her. So, one time he sent her a card but no money. His niece immediately called him to say that she got the card, but there was no money in it.
He said, “Well, I never heard back from you when I sent cards with money, so I just assumed the money wasn’t important to you.” Problem solved.
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
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Dr. Rancourt’s most recent book is
It’s All About Relationships: New Ways to Make Them Healthy and Fulfilling, at Home and at Work
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