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Family Life

A Thanksgiving Welcome Home

Marlene Kern Fischer

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The days are getting shorter and colder, which means Thanksgiving — one of my favorite holidays — will be here in no time.

I love everything about Thanksgiving: family togetherness, the food, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, and everyone in the U.S. celebrates (regardless of religion or political affiliation).

One thing to be especially thankful for is our college students returning home.* Although you may have seen your son or daughter for Family Weekend, this might be the first time they are back home since leaving for school in August.

It's exciting — like balloons and a "Welcome Home!" banner exciting. However, unlike winter break, when they'll be home for an extended period, their time off for Thanksgiving is relatively short, and there's a lot to cram in.

Here are a few things to consider before they arrive.

1. They'll need time to decompress.

Despite a possibly hectic journey involving holiday traffic or jam-packed airports, your student will be just as thrilled to be home as you are to have them back in the nest. Give them a little space — they need time to settle in, hug their siblings, play with the dog, check out their room, etc.

2. Finals are looming.

Although you're anxious to spend time with them, remember that they will probably bring home a lot of work. Finals are only a few weeks away. Gently suggest that they limit social activities with you and their friends until they're home again at the end of the semester. Thanksgiving will fly by, and while no one wants to write a paper over vacation, the more they get done, the easier their last few weeks will be.

It doesn't mean they can't go to a movie with friends or watch football after turkey on Thanksgiving Day, but they should be mindful of their time and perhaps make a schedule that includes school work.

3. Spoil them...but maybe not too much.

Given that it's been a while since your student was home, your first instinct may be to do everything for them, including meal prep, laundry, etc. Feel free to indulge them but be careful because the relaxing life you provide will set the stage for their next visit home at winter break, which is significantly longer, and their summer break, which is really long.

It's perfectly fine to say, "Since you are home for just a few days and have a ton of work, I'm happy and willing to wait on you hand and foot; however, this is a temporary situation, and I recommend you don't get too used to it. Now would you like pumpkin or apple pie for dessert?" Feel free to improvise and use your own words!

4. Expect (and support) change.

Thanksgiving week may be the first time since summer your student has had a chance to spend time with high school friends. Some reunions will be fantastic; other relationships, including ones with significant others, may be starting to change. Prepare yourself for any angst that occurs as they discover that, while some relationships are for a lifetime, others will not last.

Don't be surprised if your child seems slightly different — perhaps more independent and opinionated. Your tuition dollars are helping them discover themselves and the world. While hearing their arguments can sometimes be trying, it's good that they are finding their voice and expressing their views.

5. Get the real scoop.

When they aren't sleeping, studying, running off to see friends, or eating all the food you stocked in the fridge, try to catch up with them about how school is going. Although you have texted and talked, it's easier to communicate in person when they are not rushing to class or surrounded by other people. It's a chance to hear about what is going right with school and perhaps discuss strategies to improve what's not going well.

When Thanksgiving is over, they will head back to campus laden with leftovers and clean clothes while you are left wanting more time with them. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that the end of the semester is fast approaching. And you may want to rest up because the next time they come home, well, that's an entirely different story…

*If your student can't be home for the holiday for financial or logistical reasons, encourage them to participate in any activities available for students who remain on campus. My oldest son, who went to college at a distance, was fortunate to be invited to local friends' homes for certain Jewish holidays when he could not get home. Although we missed having him with us, he enjoyed his different holiday experiences. I always tried to return the favor when his friends were in New York and needed a place to stay.

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Marlene Kern Fischer is a wife, mother, food shopper extraordinaire, author and college essay editor. She has published two books: Trapped in My Sports Bra and Other Harrowing Tales and Gained a Daughter but Nearly Lost My Mind: How I Planned a Backyard Wedding During a Pandemic. Find her on Facebook at Thoughts From Aisle 4.
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