As college parents we worry about our student’s transition when she heads off to college. We know that it will be a big adjustment and that she 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 her first real vacation. Whether it is Thanksgiving break or winter break, the first longer visit home will be a time of readjustment and reaquaintance for everyone.
In this post, we’ll consider some of the things you might expect when your college student returns home for a first visit. In our next post, 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 she may also be worried about what things will be like when she gets home. You are excited about having her home, but you may also be nervous about what to anticipate. Parents who expect that everything at home will return to the way things were before your student left for college may be caught off guard and will have difficulty. Here are a few things to consider before your student comes home for her 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. He has not had to report to anyone. He has been free to sleep when he wanted, eat when and what he wanted, come and go as he wanted, and do what he 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. She may need to spend more time than usual catching up on sleep – and eating comfort food. Home is her sanctuary right now and she may need significant down time before she is 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. She may come home needing to adjust, shop, prepare. She may need to be reminded of family visits or social obligations. She is stepping from one world into the other.
- Your student will want to catch up with his home-town friends. He’s anxious to tell them about his new life, hear about theirs, and spend time reconnecting.
- Your student may or may not feel like talking about her life at school. She may feel that she wants to keep that portion of her life private. That doesn’t necessarily mean that she is hiding anything, she may not feel that her college routine is noteworthy. Right now she may just want to be home, taking a break, and not thinking 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. He may feel that he no longer fits in anywhere. He has not yet fully adjusted to school – he doesn’t yet feel completely “grown up”, yet he no longer feels as though he can step back into his accustomed place in the family – nor does he want to. He longs in some ways for the nostalgia of his old family life, yet he wants to be an adult with complete independence. Your student is continually negotiating who he is – and who he wants to become – and for the time being may not be comfortable anywhere. He is not necessarily pulling away from the family, he is trying to find his 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 on everyone’s part will help. In our next post, we’ll consider some things you can do to help to ease the transition for everyone.