When College Kids Come Home for the Holidays
College kids are coming home! You eagerly anticipate their arrival, clean their room and cook their favorite meals. This is a time to reconnect. Find out what’s going on in their lives. Create some wonderful memories.
And then the fighting begins. Sometimes no sooner than when they walk through the door. I hear this refrain over and over from both parents and children.
Why is it that no matter how hard we try – and no matter how much they are looking forward to coming home – we can’t seem to have a happy vacation together?
The answer comes down to one word: expectations – yours and theirs. You each have different ideas about what is important and how to spend this valuable time. But anger need not errupt. As the parent, you can manage expectations so that no one will be disappointed and fighting will not ensue. It is possible to have the holiday you both envisioned.
Accept that holidays are stressful, and plan some rest breaks
This is especially true if your home is a divorced one, where kids feel the pressure to participate in the holidays at two houses. Have some days where nothing is planned.
They need to see their friends
Be realistic. They are much more interested in seeing friends than grandma. This is perfectly age appropriate. Schedule some time with relatives, and let them go. You may be surprised – knowing they can get out may actually put them in a better mood during family activities.
Set guidelines that take into account both of your needs
Let’s face it, for three months they’ve been living on their own and managing just fine. College schedules are different, and they are no longer little children.
But, it is perfectly reasonable to expect respect. Midnight may be too early for a curfew, but not for a phone call or text to let you know where they are and when they’ll be home. If you have to work the next day or need to get up early, simply explain it. Treat them as an adult, and they will be considerate. It never fails.
You both need to be reasonable with the car
Establish this right up front: they don’t get the car just because they want it. You or another family member may need it. Or you may think they are too tired to drive. That’s OK. Tell them you’ll be happy to drive or pay for a cab.
They have places to be and so do you. You both can make accommodations.
Stick to your guidelines about alcohol consumption
Just because they drink at school is no reason for them to partake at home. If they are underage, they are underage. Enough said.
Avoid family competition
Sibling rivalry peaks during the holidays as they inevitably compare presents. Try to be equal and when you can’t, explain the reason. Encourage them to take the long view. Maybe their brother really does need all that kitchen equipment this time around. Next year, it will be them.
Competition between families heats up too. Family gatherings are a hotbed for discussing the ups and downs of “the children.” Nothing good will come of it. Do not engage. Change the subject. Ask your brother or sister to please pass the potatoes.
Don’t forget your own family traditions
People come home for what is familiar. Trust me, they are never too old to set-up the tree, play dreydel, or participate in family traditions. Be understanding if something better comes up, but it’s not likely.
Spend time with each family member that does not involve presents
Each person wants to be valued for the person they are. The college student sitting in front of you has gone through some changes – and they want you to know about them. In fact, there is nothing they want more than to tell you about their lives, because, quite honestly, this is a very self-absorbed time. But they will grow out of it, especially if you model caring behavior.
Be sure to share an unrushed lunch or cup of cocoa. Put away your phone and have them do the same. Spend the time with them now to ensure a relationship in the future, and build a new tradition to look forward to.
Remember, you both want to enjoy the time together. Manage expectations. With a little planning–and some flexibility–the student you send back to college now will always want to come home for the holidays.
— Barbara R. Greenberg, Ph.D.
Silver Hill Hospital
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