Life Advice


Health & Spirit

How many times do you have to say 'thank you' for mom's present?

Carolyn Hax on

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi Carolyn:

Whenever my mother gives me or my family member a gift, she ends up asking about it several times afterward. Does not matter if it was $5 or expensive.

We always thank her for gifts, and these comments feel like she's asking for thank yous over and over again. Asking her about it would not be productive, so any words of wisdom would be appreciated.

-- We Always Thank Her

The easiest answer is the nuisance Mulligan: Assume everyone has at least one obnoxious but otherwise harmless trait or habit, and resolve just to be cheerful about it.

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The more involved answer is to use your response to shift the dynamic more to your favor. You can, for example, respond to her questions with a non-answer in the form of a question -- "Oh, did you not get our thank-you note?" By doing that, you're essentially saying, "We already thanked you for this, remember?" without actually saying it. And when she (presumably) responds by taking your question literally, then you can non-answer again: "Oh good, I was afraid it got lost." The trick of this tactic is to remain polite and cheerful but also not engage even a little bit in the inappropriate line of questioning. Keep answering the question that is appropriate as if that's the one she actually asked.

The answer with serious investment is to rethink the option you reject as not "productive." You know her, your judgment prevails, but: I've found over and over again that the one path we rule out is the useful one, particularly with recurring problems.

I'm not suggesting you call her out and put her on the defensive. Instead, use questions yourself: "Are you worried we didn't like it?" Or, use deliberately general assurances: "Mom, you always get us lovely gifts." It's either a preemptive balm for her concerns, or, if there's more to it, a nudge for her to articulate what her concerns really are. There's something to this, obviously, or else she wouldn't do it; getting at it with love and tact might help you both.

Re: Gifts:


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