How to thank estranged relative?
December 5, 2011 3:33 PM   Subscribe

What do I say in a thank-you note to a relative I am on the outs with?

Currently a very close relative and I are not communicating. We are not likely to reconcile soon. Email and the phone are not considered "safe" by either of us, but yet - they sent me a small birthday gift. I would like to write them a thank you note to acknowledge that I received the gift and appreciate the thought, but I am stumped. What is a nice, neutral way to write my thanks that has no baggage attached? Every time I start, it devolves into things I would rather not say.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total)
Dear Mom --

I wanted to let you know I received the foo you sent for my birthday, and appreciate both the gift and the thought behind it.

posted by DarlingBri at 3:36 PM on December 5, 2011 [20 favorites]

"Dear [relative],

Thank you for the birthday gift.


Don't overthink it. Your impulse to acknowledge it is probably a good one - it's Miss Manners-correct and will forestall potential drama - but more than a simple acknowledgement isn't necessary nor helpful.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:36 PM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

"Dear Relative,

Thank you very much for the thoughtful gift! I was delighted to receive it, and it made my birthday all the more special.


posted by xingcat at 3:37 PM on December 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

You can keep it very short and polite, and say just that.

"Dear X,

I just got the Tiny Cat Figurine you sent me. Thanks! It goes very nicely with all my other Tiny Animal Figurines. Hope all is well,


You don't have to write an essay here; chances are, much like the gift itself, it's your reply at all - rather than its contents per se - that really matters here.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:38 PM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Dear [Relative], thank you so much for the thoughtful birthday gift. It's just perfect. It was a very good birthday for me. [Short new paragraph -- a sentence or two on something safe like weather, favorite sports team, neutral shared relative, etc.] Hope this finds you well this winter [and looking forward to holidays, if applicable]. Many thanks, Anon.
posted by mochapickle at 3:39 PM on December 5, 2011

If you don't say thank you, they will be put out, and not send you unwanted gifts that are so burdensome in the future.

If you'd rather be honest about your estrangement, and discourage passive aggressive behavior on their part, you might simply return the gift with a note that says "under the circumstances, I do not feel comfortable accepting a present from you. Thank you for the thought, and all best to you."
posted by Scram at 4:07 PM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

KISS method: "Dear (xx), Thanks for the birthday gift. I appreciate your thoughtfulness."
posted by summerstorm at 4:27 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dear X,

Thank you for the nice whatsit. I appreciate it.

posted by argonauta at 4:31 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dear Relative,

It was very kind of you to remember my birthday, despite current tensions between us. I look forward to putting our difficulties behind us, after a while.

Fondly, Anon
posted by thinkpiece at 4:37 PM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

You got some very nice answers above. Let me just add my thought that you should keep it short and simple and since reconciling is not likely, I wouldn't even mention that you are having difficulties with them. (To me, that sounds passive aggressive, but YMMV.)
posted by sm1tten at 5:06 PM on December 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'd suggest maybe getting a little thank you card, you can get smallish ones, the lack of room will discourage you from writing too much more than the one line of thanks needed. Also sending it snail mail will make it feel a little less immediate and emotional than phone or email.
posted by wwax at 5:11 PM on December 5, 2011

Here's a lovely piece by Leslie Harpold on writing thank you notes.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:14 PM on December 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Use a very nice card that the person will appreciate and tell the truth:
Dear X, it was so kind of you to send the Y(it was). I really like the color/style/detail. (gift card - I plan to use it for some nice thing.) Thank you very much, Anon

If you can honestly sign it love, affectionately, etc., do. This person has sent a peace offering; be as peace-full in return as you can.
posted by theora55 at 6:41 PM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just write a standard thank you note the way you would with anyone else who had sent you a gift.
posted by orange swan at 8:30 PM on December 5, 2011

Yes, standard thank you note as to anyone else. (On post-quarto-sized paper - the trick of small stationery, big writing, is well known to the Etiquette Gods and is specifically banned in thank you notes for that exact reason.)

Not doing this is rude; presumably you don't want to be actively rude, you just want to stay out of this person's way.

Only return the gift with a note that you can't accept it, if you would be prepared to sever diplomatic relations with this person forever, as this is a polite way of expressing hatred. If you are hoping to repair the relationship at any time in the future, don't do this.
posted by tel3path at 3:27 AM on December 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

We are not likely to reconcile soon.

I think it makes a difference whether you want to reconcile at the present time.

If you are not interested in a reconciliation right now, something that meets the bare minimum of etiquette conveys that—something like DarlingBri, restless_nomad, or argonauta suggested. There's a reason we have the type of communication referred to as "coldly polite."

On the other hand, if you are open to reconciliation but the other person has not appeared to be up to now, something warmer, as xingcat, Tomorroful, or mochapickle drafted, is appropriate. The gift may be their way of putting out a tentative feeler as to whether reconciliation is possible.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:54 AM on December 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

« Older Bundle of Nerves   |   Best book summarizing current biblical scholarship... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.