The Empty Nesters’ Rookie Year – Thanksgiving Break

Dec 03, 2023 by Anthony Damaschino
The Empty Nest Rookie Year Thanksgiving Break
At some point, all new and veteran Empty Nesters will experience the triumphant return of college kids back into the home over holiday breaks. For the first timers, this usually happens the first Thanksgiving into their child’s first year in college. I recall the anticipation and excitement of my children returning home, even though they had only been gone for a few months. For a few years, college started in late September, Parents Weekend was in October, and a few weeks later they were back on the doorstep for Thanksgiving. Even so, they had been missed during our daily routine we were excited to have them back under the roof. Preparing for their reentry seemed to always have hiccups. There was coordinating when classes ended and when the official Thanksgiving break started. Additionally, how were they getting home and then returning? Often, plans seemed squishy at best.
Allow me to have one quick sidebar/complaint on the Thanksgiving Week college scheduling topic. Of my three children, only one always had ‘the week off’. This made planning very easy. Conversely, UCSB seemed to have classes until 5:00 pm on Wednesday (Thanksgiving Eve), for my son. This schedule always seemed selfish because a professor usually lives within minutes of campus while students live multiple hours if not an airline flight or two away. However, at least in his situation, you knew the dates and times, and he and I could plan accordingly. As for my out-of-state child, we learned a lot during the first two years away. Thanksgiving week classes were always scheduled, but at the last minute, sometimes the day before, professors often canceled their classes on Tuesday or Wednesday. Although this might be a reason to rejoice if you are a college student behind in your reading, as a parent trying to plan and book flights to get your child home, this can be beyond irritating. For the Empty Nest rookies reading this – consider yourself warned.
Back to the college students triumphant return home. We, being the quality parent hosts that we are, made sure we had beloved food stocked in the pantry and our children’s favorite homemade meals planned. Yes, bathrooms were cleaned, childhood rooms were tidied, and the house was prepared for our newly minted-college guests. All seemed set until we soon realized that in our rookie year of Empty Nesting, our college guests had an agenda of their own. There were friends to see, ‘College Night/Blackout Wednesday,’ and an excessive amount of sleeping planned. The nightly dinner together and the expected quality time weren’t always in their plans. To a certain degree, Thanksgiving break for our college guests seemed more focused on catching up with High School friends than playing Monopoly and reminiscing with Empty Nesters mom and dad.
Deep breath! I, like all parents, want my children to want to come home, be able to connect with friends and enjoy their holiday break. At the same time, Mom and I wanted our quality time, too. In year one, there were curfew conversations and conflicts of agendas, and we didn’t seem to be on the same page. Adjusting and resetting expectations for us as parents and our college guests took some time to get through our differences amicably. In year two, I came up with a simple solution. I would schedule event-based quality time while creating a reasonable balance for my college guests. I now knew the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving is their ‘College Night’ out with friends and fully booked - check. Thanksgiving is 100% family time - check. On Fridays, I would schedule something in the day (a hike, a game, a sporting event) and give them a Friday night open – check. They can stay home and chill out with us or go out. On Saturday, their day is entirely free; however, on Saturday night, we would insist on a family dinner together before they head back to school on Sunday - check. 
I understand if the agenda above seems somewhat over-planned and concrete, but it is very flexible and well-received. Basically, “On Thanksgiving, we are together. We have a family dinner on Saturday. And on Friday, I have a daytime activity planned. The rest of the holiday is yours.” This structure has worked over the last seven years as our college guests and graduates return home.
Looking back, Thanksgiving break year one was the most anxiety-ridden in that it was filled with college student agendas and parental expectations. Some rookie year Empty Nesters may find themselves in the process of still learning how to let go of control of their children. At the same time, their child will likely be in the process of establishing and flexing their newfound independence. This transitional holiday break is a potential recipe for conflict. Ideally, during my rookie Empty Nest Thanksgiving year, I would have been forewarned, set expectations early on, and put my year two plan in place.
Whether your Empty Nest Rookie Year for Thanksgiving break has already happened or is coming soon, feel free to borrow what worked for me, modify your plan to fit your situation, and most importantly enjoy your time with your child. Remember, the long-term goal is to have them look forward and like coming home while enjoying being with you.