As Thanksgiving or winter break approaches, you may start dreaming of cozy evenings playing family board games, a fire crackling in the fireplace. Maybe everyone is squeezed on the couch watching a movie and sharing a bucket of popcorn. While I’m sure there are families for whom these visions will come true, for most of us things may turn out a little differently and it can help to be prepared.
The first day or two back, your exhausted college student will burrow into their clean, comfy bed and slumber like a baby. Go ahead — peek in on them and allow the sight to fill your heart with joy. I suggest taking a good long look, because after they catch up on rest you may not see much of them for the remainder of their break.
Having been separated from their high school friends (and possibly a significant other), they will want to pick up where they left off and those reunions will be time consuming. In fact, there may be days you feel they’re using the house as merely a snack bar or drop-off laundromat in between various social engagements.
Before it becomes an issue, discuss house rules with your returning student. (See below.) I have no actual psychic ability (although I prefer my children to believe otherwise), but I guarantee when the topic of curfew/choice of nighttime activity is broached, your student will say, “You don’t know what I am doing at school.”
At this point you must explain that, while you understand they have autonomy at college, when they’re home you are listening for them and worrying. You can also remind them that you, your spouse and their younger siblings don’t maintain college student schedules and may have to wake up for work or school the next day. When my older boys came home the first few times, there were adjustments to be made on both our parts. The older one especially thought four a.m. was a perfectly reasonable bedtime and wasn’t quiet while making his middle of the night meal. It took a while for my boys to understand that they needed to be more considerate when they were home.
The good news: you will settle into a routine and find a rhythm that works. You may even get some of that family time you were hoping for. Before you know it, your student will head back to campus and, despite the challenges, it will have been a wonderful visit. Congratulate yourself on surviving the toughest reentry you are likely to face; while there still may be some things to iron out, subsequent homecomings will be easier. You’ll be delighted to discover that, each time they return, your college student is a little more mature and a little closer to becoming the fantastic adult you know they will be.
New house rules
During the college years, we begin to form the adult relationships we will have with our children for the rest of their lives. House rules need to change because they’re changing. Still, new rules doesn’t mean no rules. Some advice during this time of transition:
- Communicate respectfully with your college student — see them as an individual.
- Negotiate the responsibilities they’ll have while home on break (laundry, cleaning, cooking, attendance at family events).
- Make rules and expectations clear.
- Help them understand the impact of their actions on the rest of the household.
- Frame issues at home in terms of what they’ve learned on their own at school.
Thank you to Scott Sager for contributing to this article.