Home (from College) for the Holidays
Winter break is around the corner. You imagine having time to unwind, sleep in, and decompress after final exams. You want to reconnect with high school friends and maybe just hang out with the family pet. Maybe you’ll work at your old job a bit to make some extra spending money for next semester or stop by your old high school to say hello. It all sounds pretty dreamy, but being back at home can be more challenging than many anticipate, especially for first-year college students.
Although many students welcome the thought of spending some quality time with their family, parents can have a much different idea of how much time together constitutes a sufficient amount to be “quality.” The long and short of it is that they might expect things to go back to how they used to be before you moved out. This can be very frustrating for a college student who is in the throes of becoming an independent adult (and seems to be doing a pretty good job at it thankyouverymuch!)
Here are some common scenarios that you might encounter going back and tips for how to handle each one:
- You are exhausted after a difficult semester, and all you want is to catch up on your sleep. Parents may see this as laziness and wonder if all you do while at school is sleep. Obviously not—you work hard for school because you like it and it is important. Ask them not to come in and open the blinds at 8AM please—this is a VACATION after all—but you appreciate their hospitality and will of course help with some chores later.
- If you have siblings at home, the family structure might have to reconfigure. For example, the middle sibling is now used to being the eldest, and for them it may be more of a drag than a delight to have big brother or sister home again. Let them know not to worry, because you’ll be out of the house soon enough. A friendly game of Monopoly or a trip to the mall together might break the ice and make it fun to be around one another again.
- Be prepared to discuss money issues openly. Becoming financially independent is a process—a journey, really—with a lot of opportunities to learn and make mistakes. Maybe you bought 87 pizzas this semester when you only had enough money to buy 64. Budgeting is important—ask your parents to help you out or give you some pointers…not just more money.
- Again, time may be an issue. You may be grabbing your coat to leave as your flabbergasted parents were about to get in bed. As author Karen Coburn state in Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years, “It’s tough on parents because even though they have grown used to not knowing what time their child comes back to her room when she’s away at college, parents can’t turn off their ‘worry button’ when it’s 2AM and the car isn’t back in the driveway. Parents don’t stop being parents. They worry about their child’s safety. It helps to come to an agreement that recognizes their child’s growing independence, as well as their own need not to worry.”
- Talk to your parents about your experiences in college. Parents err on the side of educational and professional progress (i.e. asking about grades, teachers, and goals), so tell them about your favorite subjects, books, performances, or pieces of music that changed your life. Tell them the highlights of your semester and how you’ve changed; it can be rewarding for both of you to acknowledge your accomplishments.
- Try to make plans in advance. Family gatherings might interfere with social gatherings, so try to talk about things ahead of time so conflict is kept to a minimum.
Basically, the key is communication. Don’t be afraid to express how you like to do more things on your own now and to kindly request respect for your need to develop independence. That being said, try to also respect your parents’ necessity to be parents and to look out for your safety, success, and well-being. Do you feel equipped to head home for the holidays?! Good luck!
Blog was written by therapist Sarah Souder Johnson, MEd., LPCC