Home for the Holidays: Making the Most of a First Year
As the holidays approach, do you feel your heart warming to the idea of your college student returning home and your entire family being together again? Does your excitement grow at the anticipation of an empty room soon being filled again with clothes all over the floor and an unmade bed?
When your student first arrives home, parents will no doubt be eager to talk about what college life is like, who are their new friends, how are class going, what were their favorite experiences, etc. You might envision sitting by the fireplace, sipping tea or coffee and having a great conversation about the many new experiences your student is having. Some parents may get to enjoy that idealist reunion with their child but most are likely to get the dreaded “It’s fine” response, as their student plops down on the couch in a lethargic state only moving to text friends, check Facebook and change the TV channel.
You may find yourself asking questions such as “What happened? Isn't my student happy to be home?” “Why don’t doesn’t he or she want to talk to me about Xavier?” Who is this person who only wants to ‘veg out,’ eat, sleep and text?” As you get more and more worried, you find yourself asking your student more questions to find out what is really going on. As you ask more questions, you likely will find that your student gets increasingly annoyed–that he or she is becoming a time bomb. And although you may not want to admit it, you may start to notice that you keep looking at the calendar to find out when they go back to Xavier.
In order to avoid the above scenario and make the most of your student returning home, keep the following tips in mind:
- Realize that your student appreciates being home much more than they are willing to show. It's not cool to admit just how much they missed home during their first semester away.
- Don't be surprised if your student isn't home a lot. They have been away from their high school friends and their hometown, too. They want to get as much of the experience of being at "home" in as they can and that means being out of the house.
- Their appetite has changed a lot since they have been at school. If they want a midnight snack or eat at really weird hours, realize it's a habit they have developed over the last four months. That's college life. Don't be afraid to talk to them about it, but take care to not tease if the student has gained some weight. The so-called freshman 15 likely will be a sore subject. Warn siblings as well.
- If they stay up until 3 a.m. and get up at 3 p.m., don't get too frustrated. They have developed bizarre sleeping habits and are exhausted from finals. Give them time to get adjusted but let them know when enough is enough. If they want to be treated like adults, then they need to act like adults and that means waking up before lunch. This also means setting or renewing other guidelines with your student, such as required attendance at family dinners, no texting during family dinners, setting a good example for younger siblings by getting out of bed by 11 a.m., chores around the house still need to be done, etc.
- If they want to be alone a lot, that's OK. Don't underestimate the stress of finals and the fact that they have been surrounded by people since arriving at college (i.e. in classes, roommates, hanging-out, etc). This is exhausting all by itself. Give them some space when they first arrive home. They will appreciate the freedom and come around when they are ready.
- They will appreciate your cooking a lot more, as well as family dinners. They’ve been eating at the cafeteria for four months and there's nothing like home cooking surrounded by loved ones. Let them know if you are making their favorite meal, so they don’t make other plans that night. But keep the constant questioning at the dinner table to a minimum. They may misinterpret your questions for lack of trust.
- If they seem really mature and grown-up, it's because they are getting there. You sent them to college to get a great education–in and out of the classroom. You will notice those changes when they come home this first time. They have had to communicate their needs to roommates, think for themselves in classes and overall have had to learn how to take care of themselves.
- If you want your student to talk to you about school, make it count. Sit down with him or her and ask questions and really listen. You know your student better than anyone. Do they like to talk at night, over dinner, while you are cooking? Ask open-ended questions. If you ask yes or no questions, you only get yes and no answers! Some examples–and remember not to ask them all at once:
• What is your favorite meal in the cafeteria?
• What class are you most looking forward to next semester?
• Who was your favorite professor? Least favorite and why?
• What was the best part of first semester? Most fun memory?
• Is Xavier what you expected? What's the best part?
- If they continue to talk about friends you don't know, ask to see pictures. Encourage them to bring new friends home next time so you can get to know the people your son or daughter is hanging around.
- Extend their curfew. They've been treated like adults for the past four months. It's hard to go back home and be treated as if they still are in high school. However, be clear about what your expectations are for calling if they are going to be late, staying at friends, etc.
The time you have with your student when they come home is precious. Communication, understanding and patience will make the transition easier. Before you know it, break will be over and you will be packing your student up for their return to Xavier. But be ready–Spring Break will be here before you know it.