Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Traditions and Transitions

Last night during a trip to Boston's Logan Airport to pick up relatives arriving from afar for the Thanksgiving holiday, we couldn't help but notice a busload of college students disembarking at the airport and preparing for their flights to homes far away. Travel over the Thanksgiving holiday is an annual, national ritual, but for families whose young-adult children are returning home for the first time since starting college, the transition home can be more difficult than they might expect.

Why? According to Ruth Nemzoff, Ed.D., author of Don't Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children, the experience of going away to college and being responsible for one's own behavior, schedule, eating habits, etc., means that the student will be, in ways both small and large, a different person on arriving home for Thanksgiving than they were when they left home a few months earlier. Parents, too, will have made adjustments to their new daily lives without their child in the home, and perhaps even to their homes themselves (by reconfiguring the student's room into an office, for example). That first homecoming can highlight these changes, and it can be a surprise to both the family and the student.

I interviewed Dr. Nemzoff about this phenomenon a year ago on my radio show (See "Managing Expectations for Holiday Homecomings"). Her observations are well worth listening to as the parent and student re-define their relationship and their boundaries.

Nemzoff makes the insightful observation that we parents will spend about 18 years raising children, and two, three, or even four times that amount of time as the adult parents of adult children. Which, of course, makes it well worth investing the time to make a smooth transition from treating our children as, well, children, to treating them as the adults that they are becoming and ushering in a positive, mutually supportive relationship for the years to come.

Have a very happy Thanksgiving.