If you’re a parent, then you’ll understand what an emotional ride the first semester of college is. You’ve watched your young daughter or son take off to college and have since experienced everything from excitement to nervousness and sadness.
But right at the end of those few long weeks lies a gleaming oasis. One of hearty food, old friends, good laughs and great company. Of stuffing, cranberry sauce and, of course, Turkey (or a pardoned Turkey for the non-carnivorous). Thanksgiving is a chance for you to be reunited with your favorite young adult and treat them to a wonderful weekend full of love and affection.
Some students make the long trek home for the holidays. Others may choose to stick closer to campus by joining a local friend for Thanksgiving dinner.
If you’re expecting your college-attending kid home for the long weekend, then this guide is for you. A little gift from us to help you navigate the somewhat unknown territory that is the first Thanksgiving after college begins. We’ll show you how to embrace your college-attending kid with warm open arms as well as share some practical tips for making this weekend one to remember.
Practical tips for a great Thanksgiving holiday weekend
Stock up on food (early)
If there’s one thing that truly defines Thanksgiving, it’s the food. This is an even bigger deal for college-attending kids. Coming home to mom’s melt-in-your-mouth apple crumble or Aunt Vicky’s buttery cornbread is ‘The Dream’. Let’s face it, the food they’ve been eating on campus may not be the greatest. So, the earlier you can start planning food for the big weekend, the more you can stock up on food favorites they’ve been missing at college.
You can start this as soon as the 1st of November when most supermarkets start carrying non-perishables. Stock up on what you’ll need for Thanksgiving Dinner and any other goodies your young adult may be craving; perhaps a favorite snack or those gems only available locally in your State (Vermont maple syrup, anyone?).
Prepare for any changes in diet
While we’re still on the topic of food, it’s important to discuss changes in diet. It’s not uncommon for young people to go off to college and return as a vegetarian or even vegan. Check in with them before the weekend starts to see if they’ve made any changes to their diet. If you don’t have time to do this then it may be worth preparing an extra vegetarian dish just in case you see them passing up on the meat platter. And, of course, don’t resort to teasing them about it. Be respectful no matter what new dietary choice they’re making.
Make their room cozy and snug
Most students can’t wait for that moment when they’ll get to face plant into that nice, full-sized bed of there’s. After weeks of sleeping in a cramped single or twin-sized bed, students truly appreciate being reunited with all their creature comforts. Set up their room so that it is cozy and inviting:
- Light a few aromatic candles
- Fold up a clean set of towels on their bed
- Dust any surfaces
- Place their favorite childhood stuffed-animal on their pillow
If you’ve been AirBnB-ing their room while they’ve been away, put up any family portraits you’ve taken down and try and reconfigure things to how they were before. If you’ve repurposed their room in any significant way, it’s worth bringing this up with them before they arrive. The last thing you want is a confrontation with them over why their bedroom is now your personal craft room.
Agree on an agenda
A major source of conflict on Thanksgiving Weekend between parents and children stems from clashes in scheduling. While you may have organized a nice afternoon coffee with all the relatives, they may have other plans in mind. It’s important to come to some sort of agreement that allows them the freedom to see old hometown friends while making sure they’re available for the big family stuff. Have a call ahead of time to discuss the weekend’s itinerary. This is also a good opportunity to schedule any hairdressing, dentist, or doctor appointments they may need.
Plan travel ahead of time
You’ll want to give your young college attender the best possible start to their long-weekend. So, it’s worth sorting travel arrangements ahead of time. Purchase plane tickets as early as you can for them. Help them work out when they need to leave for the airport so they have enough time to breeze through security.
Alternatively, you may opt to pick them up at campus instead. This can be a lot of fun in that you’ll have a chance to see their dorm room and meet some of their new friends. If you can, plan to spend a few hours bonding on campus with them, before hitting the busy roads again. That way they can give you a tour of their new digs. They may also appreciate some extra help with packing (chances are, they haven’t even started!).
And, of course...laundry!
Oh, yes, they may have hauled a huge bag of dirty laundry home with them for a free wash. So stock up on some extra laundry detergent and fabric conditioner.
A few more ideas for connecting more deeply
Give them space and time for themselves
Thanksgiving is a time for families to be together. It’s also a time for students to reconnect with old friends. It’s wonderful to see their faces light up at the sight of old High School pals. But that can also leave a slight sting as their friends sweep them away (leaving you to hold the stuffing).
Know that this is perfectly normal and that you’re not alone. Many parents have had to come to terms with the fact that their kids are now young adults. Part of letting them grow up is allowing them to be their own person, making their own decisions and choices. The more you show them that you trust and respect them, the more time they’ll want to spend with you (eventually).
Don’t be afraid to ‘just talk’
Mental health isn’t just a trendy topic - it’s the new reality of the world we live in. The pressure and expectations students face in 2019 and beyond can have a huge impact on their wellbeing and state of mind. While having open conversations around feelings and mental health may not be the norm in your house, they could be hugely beneficial for your young freshman (or women).
Try starting a few conversations with your young adult about college. You can do this by gently letting them know that ‘you’re there if they need anything’. If it transpires they’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, then try figuring out together how they could cope with these feelings better.
Through talking, you may actually find that you’re able to resolve some of your own feelings around them living away from home.
Know that sleeping (lots) is normal
Yep. You may think once they’re back home ‘man...this kid sleeps a lot!’. Know that this is typical. More importantly, it’s not something to be worried about or worse, to try and disrupt too much. Juggling studying, a new social life and adopting new sleeping habits has all been a big adjustment. Most students are sapped of energy by this time of year and simply need to recharge and refresh. So let them spend a few more hours sleeping in the morning - chances are they need it!
Realize they’re changing (and you might be too)
New hobbies, interests, relationships even political views may come home along with your prodigal son or daughter. Some of these changes you may love, others not so much. Dealing with change is never easy but it’s inevitable. And students often change the most during their first semester at college (away from home).
The best way to deal with this new change by far is to show acceptance and open-mindedness. If they’ve got a new passion or hobby (like playing an instrument or painting) then show interest and pride in their work. Even if it’s something you’re not familiar or comfortable with, it may mean the world to them that you pay attention.
If there’s a new person in their life (wink, wink), then make their other half feel welcome and part of the family. You can sob into the pumpkin pie later about it.
And, of course, it’s important to mention...
A special note on politics: Family gatherings, like Thanksgiving, often bring up a host of interesting things when the discussion turns to politics. This may be even more true in our current (particularly terse) political election climate...
Your college-attending kid may have come home with new ideas and fresh insights. These might be a little different to yours. Be aware that conversations at the dinner table often take a turn for the worst at this time of year when the subject is brought up. Approach these conversations with an open mindset. Stay calm and collected, and ask guests to elaborate on their views (instead of shutting them down). They’ll hopefully do the same for you.
And, if your family finds these kinds of discussions too challenging, then try making it a rule not to re-evaluate The Constitution every time someone passes the cranberry sauce.
Last but not least, don’t forget to share...
Thanksgiving is the perfect time for you to reconnect with your loved ones. So take that opportunity to dream about the future together with your young student. Where do they hope to be in 10 or 20 years from now? They also may be interested in hearing what life was like for you twenty or so years ago. Are there any important life lessons you learned that you could pass on to them? Most likely, they’ll love hearing about your story and what you are planning to do over the next few years.
You could also come up with a Thanksgiving tradition together that you can perform in years to come - one that will help you bond and grow closer as a family. Why not start a gratitude game or plan a scavenger hunt? Or how about a trivia night with questions about different family members (a good one for re-living fun memories)?
Thank you for putting this forum together. I believe it will help students and parents cope with the changes that college brings to both sides. The most important lesson to learn is simply to LISTEN. Hear what your child is saying or try to put yourself in their position. The same goes for the new college bound student. Oh, and this doesn’t just apply to freshmen, this applies to ALL students. Also, students, try to put yourself in your parents place. Really try to comprehend what is being said. Please don’t anyone fly off the handle. Keep all conversations just that, a conversation.