Your college student is coming home for their first real visit since heading off to college. You’re excited — but also a bit nervous about what to expect. You know that they have probably changed — increased independence and responsibility are goals of the college experience. But you may not be sure how this increased independence will affect your relationship. Your college student is probably nervous, too. They can’t wait to come home to show off their new found independence, but they’re not sure how they will fit in with the family now.
The first step in a successful visit with your student may be simply anticipating that things will be different, and possibly awkward. You will need to get to know some new aspects of your student. You may need to negotiate some ways of behaving and some expectations. As has so often been the case throughout this process, brushing up on your listening skills and your patience will go a long way. Here are a few suggestions that may help to ease the experience for everyone.
- Even before your student heads home, ask whether there is anything you should know before they get there. Are there going to be any new tattoos or piercings? Any radical physical changes? If your student has expressed their independence by piercing something, or shaving their head, or dying their hair purple, you may want time to prepare yourself (and your family) before they walk in the door.
- Let your student know if there are any changes they should expect when they get home. Has a younger sibling moved into their room? Have you repainted the living room a new color? Is there a new puppy? Help your student to adjust their expectations.
- Ask your student before they come home whether they will need to schedule any appointments while they are home. Do they need to see the dentist or eye doctor or doctor? Know ahead of time whether you need to work around special dates or appointments.
- If your student is planning to work while home on vacation, remember that you will need to consider their work schedule as you plan activities. Ask whether they are able to find out their work schedule prior to coming home.
- Try not to over schedule your student’s time while they are home. Your student will need some time to sleep and rest. They will want some time to simply do nothing. They will want to connect with friends. It is reasonable to expect your student to be involved with some family activities, but be sure to allow time for them to plan as they want.
- Make an appointment with your student for an open discussion about potential issues that may come up while they are home. Plan to sit down as early in the visit as possible to address things before they become problems. This may be the single most important thing that you can do to make the visit go smoothly. A discussion about curfew and expectations is one thing that many students worry about. It may not be reasonable to expect your student, who has been able to come and go at will while at school, to step back into the curfew they had in high school. On the other hand, it may not be reasonable for your student to expect you to be comfortable not knowing when they are coming in or where they are going. Talk it out. Let your student know your absolute bottom line. Be ready to compromise. Talk about your comfort level. Let them talk about their expectations. You may be surprised at how reasonable your student can be when the issue is addressed calmly before it becomes a problem and when you ask for their input as an adult.
- Try to find a balance between independence and family responsibilities. Your student is not a boarder, but is still a member of the family. However, they have been away for a while. Negotiate carefully how much you will expect while they are home. Will they have some responsibilities? What will you continue to do and what will they do on their own? Will they do their own laundry or go back to the habit of having you do it? Help with some meals? Clean up in the kitchen after making a snack? Be expected to watch or transport younger siblings?
- Make a plan to discuss any other issues that may be pending. Sometimes addressing problems early will avoid them existing as an uncomfortable undercurrent throughout the vacation. Do you need to have a discussion about grades, drinking, money, behavior? Plan ahead of time to sit down for a frank discussion. Listen carefully and remain calm. Get the discussion out of the way and then let it go so that you can both enjoy the visit.
- Take some time over the vacation to get to know the new person that your student is becoming. The changes may be radical or they may be slight. This is an ideal opportunity to learn about your student in a new way. Remember to look for, and acknowledge, the positive changes that you see.
Having your student home can be a wonderful experience if you expect some adjustments, plan ahead, and communicate openly and directly with your student. They will appreciate your honesty and your willingness to listen to what they have to say. You will all enjoy reconnecting and reacquainting. If you recognize that the family dynamic has changed, you will be better able to adjust and enjoy the experience.