As college parents we worry about our student’s transition when they head off to college. We know that it will be a big adjustment and that our student will be facing challenges and undergoing changes. Sometimes, however, we forget that there will also be a big adjustment and some challenges when our college student returns home again for their first real vacation. Whether it is Thanksgiving break or winter break, the first longer visit home will be a time of readjustment and reacquaintance for everyone.
It will help to consider some of the things you might expect during this first visit. In our next article, we’ll consider some specific things that you might do to help that first visit go more smoothly.
Your student is probably anxious to come home and settle in, but they may also be worried about what things will be like when they get home. You are excited about having your student home, but you may also be nervous about what to anticipate. Parents who expect that everything will return to the way things were before your student left for college may be caught off guard and may have difficulty adjusting. Here are a few things to consider before your student comes home for their first visit.
- Holidays are a stressful time. Remember that everyone may be feeling the normal stress of the holidays in addition to the transition of readjusting. Try to encourage everyone to have patience with each other.
- Remember that not only has your student changed over the past few months, but the family dynamic may have changed as well. You have become accustomed to differences at home — perhaps having fewer disruptions or responsibilities, perhaps having a quieter house or not having to share the car. Siblings have readjusted their place in the family. A younger sibling may now have moved to ”oldest child” status. Your student’s room may even have been appropriated by a younger sibling.
- Your student has been independent at school. They have not had to report to anyone. They have been free to sleep when they wanted, eat when and what they wanted, come and go as they wanted, and do whatever they wanted. Reentering the family routines may feel restrictive and will require compromise on everyone’s part.
- Your student will probably come home exhausted from the last few weeks of classes and final exams. They may need to spend more time than usual catching up on sleep — and eating comfort food. Home is still your student’s sanctuary and they may need some down time before they are ready to socialize.
- Remember that the final few weeks of the semester are busy with school papers, projects and exams. Your student may not yet have focused on the holidays or family. They may come home needing to adjust, shop, prepare. They may need to be reminded of family visits or social obligations. Your student is stepping from one world into the other.
- Your student will want to catch up with their home-town friends. They’re anxious to tell them about their new life, hear about others, and spend time reconnecting.
- Your student may or may not feel like talking about their life at school. They may feel that they want to keep that portion of their life private. That doesn’t necessarily mean that your student is hiding anything, they may not feel that their college routine is noteworthy. Right now your student may just want to be home, take a break, and not think about school.
- Expect some amount of disruption in your household. Student hours do not always coincide with family hours. Your student may be used to coming and going, sleeping and eating at very different times. You will need to negotiate a compromise and set clear limits.
- Recognize that in many respects this may be a difficult time for your college student. They may feel that they no longer fit in anywhere. They have not yet fully adjusted to school — they don’t yet feel completely ”grown up”, yet they no longer feel as though they can step back into their accustomed place in the family — nor do they want to. Your student longs in some ways for the nostalgia of their old family life, yet they want to be an adult with complete independence. It is a complex dynamic. Your student is continually negotiating who they are — and who they want to become – and for the time being may not be comfortable anywhere. They are not necessarily pulling away from the family, they are trying to find their new place in the family structure.
The family dynamic will be ”interesting” when your student returns home. It is an exciting, and disconcerting time. Being prepared for some disruption and possible uneasiness will help. In our next article, we’ll consider some things you can do to help to ease the transition for everyone.