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What Do You Mean You’re Not Coming Home for Thanksgiving?

I knew one day in the future, our firstborn would tell us she’s not coming home for the holidays. And I would be ready because I have plenty of time before this sadness would happen.

Our daughter is only a college freshman, attending a university just a few hours from where we live. She just flew the nest, so I figured it wouldn’t be until she made some new best friends or became serious with a boy—or maybe even married—that we’d have to start sharing her, our only daughter, with others on the most special days of the year. We would get to ease into that new normal.

Or so I thought.

Wrong.

Going home for thanksgiving: College Makes it harder

Come to realize, this year, her university’s football team plays its eagerly-anticipated, largely-attended annual civil war game the day after Thanksgiving, and she wants to be there for it.

Additionally, she interns for the athletic department’s social media team and thus needs to be there for it. And there just isn’t enough time on either side of game day for her to come home and be able to rest, relax and enjoy her time here, or to justify driving back and forth.

When she brought up the dilemma that holiday travel would be for this first holiday out of the gate, we brainstormed logistics. We pulled some extended family and friends into the conversation to help unearth some options that made sense and would provide for a nice holiday experience for all. Even with our best efforts, all the options looked and sounded iffy at best.

It was when I detected some hesitation, some halting indecision in her voice, that I realized we’d reached a pivotal moment in our new relationship of parents and adult child.

I truly heard myself shouting, “PIVOT!” inside my head so I wouldn’t keep pressuring her.

a pivot point

The moment was profound in that it was our first of what will be many changes of plans, unexpected scenarios, or disappointing circumstances with my adult child. The moment presented a great opportunity for setting a precedent that will serve us all sublimely as a family, well into the future. I didn’t want to mess this up.

“Look, honey, we want you home with us for every holiday and special occasion from now until the end of our time. That will never change. But we get it. We understand it’s not always going to work out that way. We fully acknowledge things will come up that will make it too challenging for you to come home; that you’ll be invited to participate in others’ gatherings and traditions; that you’ll be torn, though, and a part of you will always want to be home, too. But that you won’t always choose to be.”

I get all that because my own mother understood, and set the same loving and understanding precedent with me. She made it clear she would always want to spend holidays with me, but also that she’d always understand if we didn’t get to see each other the day of—she’d be just as happy with the next day or the following weekend. Or even, if need be, the next year. It was my choice where to spend Thanksgiving, or any other holiday.

peace and freedom

My mother gifted me with peace and freedom in holiday plans decision making. In response, I found myself wanting to be with her over the holidays even more fervently. Because that kind of love and understanding is hard to come by in the same quantity and scope from anyone other than your parents.

It made me want to be the same kind of mom for my kids that mine was for me.

I just didn’t know I’d have to invoke my mom’s stellar way of mothering so soon. I thought I had more time.

This holiday, hug those precious kids still living with you a little tighter. Look them in the eye just a smidge longer. Listen to them a tad more. Love them a bit bigger.

Times with our kids, they are a-changing and sometimes, so much faster than we’ll see coming. Let’s treat each holiday with our big kids as if it were our last; appreciating them for coming home and appreciating them still, even when they don’t.

It’s our understanding and grace for missing a holiday at home that will help ensure they’ll return for the next one.

Jodie Utter

Jodie Utter is a freelance writer & creator of the blog, Utter Imperfection. She calls the Pacific Northwest home and ambles about its captivating forests and breath-taking (quite literally, because brrrr) bodies of water with her husband and two children. Jodie is a voracious seeker of laughter and awkward dancer who’s tired of making dinner and can’t stay awake past nine. She works to connect pain to pain and struggle so we’ll feel less alone inside our stories and more at home in our hearts, minds, and relationships. You can connect with her on her blog, Utter Imperfection and on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter.