Nobody’s Coming Home This Holiday: Empty Nest Survival Tips

Christine Tibbetts Avatar

Empty nest survival tips could involve festive swizzle sticks in coffee cups.
Festive swizzle sticks might elevate the mood sipping an empty nest Cuppa Joe with a splash of something extra. Photo by Christine Tibbetts

For years, your home can be holiday central, overflowing with many generations. But then comes a year when things change. Suddenly, the kids have their own families. And no one’s coming home for the holidays. Don’t settle for coping. These empty nest survival tips will show you how to thrive in new ways.

For years, I was at the center of those badge-of-honor conversations about being busy for the holidays. Beds, sofa beds and trundle beds overflowed. So did quilts, layered for sleeping on the carpet.

If more people than the house could hold meant joy and love all those years, then how do we find meaning in an empty nest now?

Our first empty nest survival tip: Declare that “unloved is not the reason” no one is coming home this season.

Reaching for the positive calls for some tips to shift grumpy attitudes when empty nest thoughts creep in unbidden. I’m following these empty nest survival tips, and hoping for the best.

Empty nest holidays call for different decorating.
If nobody’s coming for Christmas, three themed trees might be the wrong choice. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Keep on Zooming!

If we learned one thing during the pandemic, it’s that Zoom is not the same as being there, but it’s better than nothing at all. So if your holiday 2023 will look more like the pandemic Christmas of 2021 than the what-could-be-better-than-in-person 2019 celebration, decorate to give those Zoom calls a festive feel.

Empty nesting might trigger the Why Decorate Blues, but online life could just as well trigger new energy as you find techie ways to share and enjoy traditional objects with the ones you love.

Since lights to the side make you look better on a Zoom square than overhead lights, where should Christmas tree lights or flickering candles be in relation to the computer camera? Experiment to see what works best for you.

Shelves of books or one handsome large painting have been providing Zoom backgrounds for business calls. Maybe rearrange with favorite and distinctive holiday items for virtual gatherings.

Cook Together, But Differently

The staying-elsewhere grandchildren really ought to still experience baking cookies with Grandma. If their kitchen and yours were set up in advance, a regular Zoom or a long Facetime chat can have those spread-out households following the same family-favorite recipe.

Don’t expect perfect camera angles. This kind of togetherness requires motion: phone or tablet or laptop jiggling as the cooking action changes.

If Thanksgiving dinner recipes seem like the right long-distance cooking, set up the kitchens intending to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade too. That can offer easy conversation oohing and aahing as the floats and gigantic balloons pass by on televisions in homes across the miles.

Survival ti[s for holiday empty nests could include books read during Facetime.
Holiday books really matter. Empty nest survival tips suggest reading together on Zoom or Facetime is better than not at all. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

What About Beloved Books?

It’s not as good as snuggling, but Zoom or Facetime also work for reading holiday books together. Taking turns might be the key unless the grandkids are too little.

Empty nest holidays still call for setting the table with holiday traditions.
Empty nest survival tips include taking care of yourself. The best holiday traditions still have an important place at empty nest dining tables. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Set The Table Anyway

Solo doesn’t have to mean sad.

Setting the table with traditional holiday dishware and the good silver deserves consideration as an empty nest survival tip. Of course, that also calls for determination to sit down with joy and gratitude to a (lonely) meal.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Be sure music is playing.

Empty nest survival tips call for road trips to replace at-home traditions.
When nobody comes home for a reading of Uncle Remus, take a road trip to Eatonton, Georgia, instead. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Go To Their Houses, Cautiously

When they came home, it was home. When the grandparents go there, it’s visiting.

If you leave the nest and go to the kids, knowing how long to stay is the tricky part. They rarely really tell you what’s enough.

Plus, they probably have jobs, and that means precious vacation days that they just might like to use in some other way the elders haven’t considered.

If I’m driving a couple of hours, a short stay is not too big a deal. If I’m traveling 700 miles, it’s not reasonable to turn right around.

So I try to come up with a way to have a shorter visit but a long-enough trip. For example, when my house was filled for the holidays, there was always an expectation Grandfather would read Uncle Remus aloud. Road trips in this neck of the woods could include a visit to Eatonton, Georgia, the home of Joel Chandler Harris. Literature-centric side trips exist in lots of places.

Taking one of those detours can fulfill your need to be away without overstaying your welcome with the kids.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Study the route and decide you really, truly want to visit someplace along the way. Make that part of your own new holiday tradition.

Do You Have to Stay with the Kids?

Is it possible a snazzy or romantic B&B is in the kids’ town and the grandparents could book a night or two there? It’s another way to stretch the visit without being there 24/7.

Empty nest survival tips can include holiday movies and performances watch solo.
Why not go see a holiday performance by myself? Taking kids is not mandatory, even though such a pleasure. Photo courtesy Virginia’s Blue Ridge.

Claim Memories, Then Change Traditions

When I traveled to India, a wise friend from South Africa advised me to put my Western attitudes in my back pocket and be open to vast differences. My Western values are still mine, but my recall of people living their lives in Kerala and the Ghat Mountains or along the Arabian Sea is happy, not judgmental.

Holiday traditions can be like that.

So what if my daughter-in-law and her mom declare all non-Santa gifts will be opened on Christmas Eve? I can remember quietly how my mother let us open just one gift after dark on Dec. 24. Of course the children I birthed experienced that style, but now they have wives and new family traditions.

All my years at the helm of Holiday Central, Santa always found his way to my house with the appropriate gifts for children living with me and those visiting from afar. Good chance he’ll be able to work with these new traditions too.

Same concept with holiday performance traditions. I loved introducing the little ones to Tchaikovsky, but why can’t I plan to attend a Nutcracker without them?

Empty nest survival tips might lead to fine dining on visits to the kids and grandkids for the holidays.
Christmas culinary skills far superior at daughters-in-law’s home than my childhood traditions. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts.

Adjust The Way We Serve Holiday Favorites

My mother’s cooking – holiday or year-round – was not the want-an-invitation style. More like stay-away. But I still want her tiny creamed onions with green English peas for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I’d prefer those holiday meals served on her china, too. But nobody wants mom’s china, even as an inheritance later.

Cooking and serving the edible memories of my childhood could happen on a day other than the holiday is one solution. Does that sound curmudgeonly?

Maybe this is the season to explore delectable new foods to ship to the ones who flew the nest. Ship something special to yourself at the empty nest address too.

Could the arrival of sweets from a grand chocolatier fill that separation gap a bit? Or wild-caught salmon? Or a best-ever array of jellies?

SheBuysTravel Tip: Read author Anne Lamont’s advice: “Families no matter how cherished and astonishing they may also be, at family gatherings you may suddenly feel homicidal. But Earth is Forgiveness School and you might as well start at the dinner table.”

Volunteer To Fill Empty Nest Loneliness

Good intentions go a long way, but sometimes there are no takers. Planning to fill the gap of nobody’s coming home for the holidays means anticipating some rejection along the way.

My friend who loves to bake wanted to assuage her “empty nest holiday” sadness by offering fresh pies to charities for holiday gift baskets. She was told that distribution is too difficult with fragile foods.

Filling the gaps as holiday traditions — and circumstances – change calls for floating several community volunteering proposals. Who’s a conduit to what someone without a nest might need? Homeless? Fleeing violence? Seeking asylum?

This is an evolving process, finding solid footing in a neighborhood of various empty nests.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Figure out what other empty nests look like. Seek suggestions for what’s truly needed.

Adjust Holiday Planning as Needed

Do I decorate? Are all those holiday traditions stored in the attic all about the people not coming this year? Maybe they were always mine to love. Home alone is a good time to come to grips with whatever that truth might be.

If nobody’s coming home for the holidays, does that mean gifts need to ship way in advance?

Maybe the silver lining is how much more thoughtful time I can devote to choosing the elusive perfect gifts since I won’t be spending any energy prepping beds and towels and groceries for houseguests.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Experiences rather than things might be the gift-giving mantra. What’s an adventure in proximity of each recipient that might become a thoughtful gift certificate?

Empty nest survival tips could involve festive swizzle sticks in coffee cups.
Festive swizzle sticks might elevate the mood sipping an empty nest Cuppa Joe with a splash of something extra. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts

Treat Yourself

Perhaps the nobody’s-coming-home syndrome shifts to inviting friends. Celebrating with friends often lags when tons of relatives are expected.

Unclaimed time and space this holiday could point to a year of new books to read, movies to watch, music to hear, whether you treat yourself or gather with friends.

Regardless of how you choose to accommodate this new reality of your life, remember that life is all about change. Just as we adjusted to life as adults — maybe going home for the holidays to our parents’ home — and later forming our own family traditions, it’s possible to find our way — and thrive! — through this stage of life, too.

Christine Tibbetts believes family travel is shared discovery — almost like having a secret among generations who travel together. The matriarch of a big blended clan with many adventuresome traveling members, she is a classically-trained journalist. Christine handled PR and marketing accounts for four decades, specializing in tourism, the arts, education, politics and community development.  She builds travel features with depth interviews and abundant musing to uncover the soul of each place.
Read full bio

2 responses


  1. I’ve fared much better than expected by remaining flexible. The idea of going to Atlantic City and eating Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant made me wince. But I’m keeping cool and approaching this with an open mind. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll love it. And, because I too adore those teeny tiny onions, I’m making the full meal a weekend earlier, just because.

  2. 5

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *