Black Wednesday – when the kids come home

Lao Tzu said, “In conflict be fair, and generous.”
The week of Thanksgiving can be very challenging for parents welcoming home their young adults for the first time since they spread their wings and left to college.  One common pattern for this homecoming involves a clash; and Thanksgiving break often falls short of the nostalgic holiday portrayed in advertising campaigns.  For some families, Thanksgiving break becomes a collision of wills – between young adults experimenting with independence, growing in mind and body, and their parents, protective of their offspring, as well as habituated to a certain domestic status quo.

Families clash about issues as simple curfew the night before thanksgiving, or a perceived desire on the part of the young adult to neglect family for friends and significant others to deeper issues like shifts in fundamental beliefs and visible lifestyle changes.  These tensions often come to a head the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, a day increasingly being referred to as Black Wednesday; and sometimes family relationships are redefined positively or negatively into the future during this critical period.

So, where these families are thrown into disorder by means of these home-front meltdowns, PULP hypothesized: Perhaps there are certain subtle psychological forces at work, influencing this phenomenon.

And in collaboration with Dr. Marc E. Pratarelli, Professor of Psychology at CSU-Pueblo, PULP has deduced four fun tips for sidestepping potential Thanksgiving Neurosis.

First, both parties involved in the conflict – parents and their young adults – are legitimate in their concerns and agendas.

Second, rational communication is paramount.  Sit down with your parent or young adult and negotiate house rules.  Be clear about what is expected of each other and what boundaries there will be.  In this situation compromise is the name of the game.

Third, mutual respect is key.  Parents, try to remember your young adult has proved his or herself, to an extent; and they have shown they are capable of sustaining their existence without you nurturing them with food, laundry, and helpful imperatives.  Surviving dorm life might not seem like it deserves a gold star, but it’s a start.  And what follows is that respecting your young adult includes allowing she or her to maintain some of the freedom they had while away.  This is to say curfews for eighteen year olds are counterproductive.  And young adults try to remember your manners, and who pays tuition.  You might have achieved enlightenment with some buddies in your dorm room, but it many ways you are still very dependent on the charity of your parents.  So what follows from this is that respecting parents includes falling in line, most of the time, eat the dry turkey with a smile and democratize family and friend time.

And fourth, young adults and parents, step out of your skin for a second and check yourself.  To aid in this exercise, the “Theory of Mind” presents us with the heuristic of ‘self-monitoring’, a helpful term to return to during the Thanksgiving holiday.  The idea comes from the act of stepping out of your skin and watching how you are projecting yourself to others.  During this exercise we become acutely aware of the way we come off to other people.  So when sitting down at the bargaining or dinner table with your young adult or parent, try express how you feel but take into account the feelings of your audience, after all you do love each other.

There will always be a subtle tension between parents and their adult children during homecoming events like Thanksgiving.  Parents have a model in their mind for how they think their children should behave; consequently this model is sometimes reminiscent of the child when they were fully dependent on the parental compass.  But, on the other hand, young adults have it in their mind how they should be treated; and this ideal aspires to liberty and self-sufficiency.  But house rules and coming home become easier events to deal with for both parties with practice.

And while it is not uncommon for families to face drama and existential stress tests over Thanksgiving break, there is reason to believe that most college students navigate Thanksgiving break and Black Wednesday well.  In fact, CSU-Pueblo students who were interviewed all make it clear that they balance their break time between family and friends as efficiently as possible.

For example, CSU-Pueblo Student, Dustin, explains that for him Thanksgiving break is for spending time with family as well as friends.  He tries to stay close to family for the holiday weekend, but if an opportunity comes up to reconnect with friends, he takes advantage of that as well.

Janessa, another CSU-Pueblo student says, regarding how she spends her Thanksgiving break, “For me, it’s both.  Thanksgiving and the day after are family days, but the rest break is more for catching up with friends.”

So, yes college students coming home for Thanksgiving highly prioritize spending time with friends on their list of things to do while home, sometimes at the expense of being fair and generous to loved-ones; however, it is also true that these young adults reserve a special place in their hearts for family and Thanksgiving becomes an occasion where this impression is expressed.  The kids are going to be okay. 

By Matt Ramirez

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