The thank-you card rule

My sister-in-law is a genius. She initiated the “Thank you card rule” when her kids (now 12 and 14) were barely able to sign their own names. Before I was a mom, I thought it was a silly, hyper-controlling parental power tactic. But man did I ever change my tune the minute my kids’ chicken scratch was even remotely legible.

It’s a simple rule: you can’t play with a gift until the thank you card is signed, sealed and fit to be sent. It’s one of those non-negotiable rules in our house, the kind my kids wouldn’t even think of challenging. So this past weekend, when my eldest son turned 9, I realized what a debt I owe to my husband’s sibling.

“Mom,” my son said earnestly, “I’d like to open my presents if that’s okay with you.” He had shown enormous restraint, having gotten back from his chef’s party at My Dinner Kitchen several hours earlier. “I promise I wont play with anything until I’ve written a thank-you note.”

Between you and me, I’m still kind of shocked that my kids never even balk at this delayed gratification contrivance. I mean, even I heard that crystal growing set and lightening lab calling his name rather unyieldingly. But he’ll get to them — eventually. After he’s acknowledged the kindness and generosity of his friends and family members.

He might even learn a bit of true humility and appreciation from this exercise. Wow, isn’t it cool when parenting actually works the way you want it to?