Heading home for Thanksgiving or winter break can seem like approaching an oasis to college students and their parents. For students, home cooking, being able to sleep in their old beds, and just relaxing back at home can be positively dreamy. For parents, having their children back, with all of their quirky behaviors and endearing qualities, can feel like things are finally back to normal.
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But what can parents and students expect "normal" to feel like after a student has started college?
For students, heading home for holiday breaks after being in college can present unexpected challenges. Whereas students may have had structure, a curfew, and family responsibilities before they left for school, they most likely didn't have them once they arrived on campus.
Personal freedom and a blossoming independence manifest in all kinds of ways that can make parents shriek with horror: waking up at noon, scarfing pizza for breakfast, eating cereal for dinner, and being out all night—without having to say where—until 4:00 or 5:00 a.m.
The independence and (relative) lack of accountability of college life can make adjusting to living back at home—whether for a few days over Thanksgiving or for a month over winter break—very challenging. Students should keep in mind, however, that living in a parent's home means following the rules there, just like living in the campus residence halls.
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Sleeping in? That seems like a fair enough request, given that it is vacation. Waking up in time to help cook or take a sibling somewhere? Also fair, given that students have returned to their family environment and have roles and responsibilities there, too.
Meeting up with high school friends might also present an unexpected challenge. That quiet friend may have found a new confidence while away at school; the goofy guy everyone loves may also have become a bit more serious.
Group dynamics may be greatly changed and can throw everyone into a bit of a funk. Fortunately, however, friendships grow and change, and seeing this "new" part of your old friends can be an exciting part of your friendship, even if it's a little unnerving at first.
Conversely, parents may be imagining that the student who left for college will be the exact same one who returns. Fortunately, this often isn't the case. Some of the most intense and noticeable personal growth happens during the first year of college, meaning the student who comes home for that turkey dinner might be a new—and hopefully improved—version of the student who left for school only a few short months ago.
While it can be challenging, parents should keep in mind that they probably sent their student to school so that he or she would grow and learn and develop in all kinds of ways. It's perfectly normal—and, in fact, positively great—when that kind of growth and awareness happens in both academic and nonacademic ways.
[Learn why parents shouldn't hover over college-bound kids.]
As a parent, it's important to be patient and understanding of this time of growth. It's also important to still be the parent in the relationship and in the household. Things like curfews, helping with the family dinner, driving a sibling around, running errands, and doing chores are all reasonable requests to be made of students during their visits home.
Keeping with some kind of structure and responsibility can also be important when younger siblings are affected. Bad attitudes and blatant disregard for your house rules? Unacceptable. New independence and a part of your student's personality you've never seen before? Unexpected, yes, but also part of the adult your student is becoming. Take a deep breath and view this new person as your first gift of the holiday season.
Are you nervous about returning home to your parents' house? Anxious to see your children after they have been away at school for several months? Share your thoughts and concerns with readers in the comments below.