When your college student comes home for break

When your college student comes home for break

Many of you have recently experienced the second college rite of passage with your teen—their first visit home. And you may be looking forward to spring break now. How can you make this a positive experience for everyone?

Know they will be more independent: When my daughter arrived home for the first time, her greatest concern after our joyous reunion at the airport and a lunch date was how to squeeze visits in with a host of old friends, each of whom also had busy and demanding schedules. She spent the first afternoon settling into her room, and by the time evening rolled around it was clear she was itching to get out of Dodge for a while. It’s understandable—she’d been on her own for over three months, and she wanted and deserved to see her old world from the vantage point of her budding independence. Was there a perfect answer to this tension—nope. But we all knew she needed to get out and try her wings at home, and so off she went. The best solution—her friends often found their way to our kitchen so when I arrived home from work, it was to the happy chaos of people who loved each other’s company.

Recognize that everyone is dreaming of a perfect reunion—and that there is no such thing: Visits home are often around holidays, and because of this they can accidentally get wrapped up in the expectations of perfection that many holiday-makers have. The perfect Latkes, the best Christmas tree ever—whatever your holiday is, know this will be a potential pitfall. So, remember that decorating the tree is not about making perfect memories, it is actually a vehicle for having a bit of time together right now. And if your teen is grumpy about the thought of family time, know they are likely struggling with the same concerns you are—but with an added stress. Decorating the tree reminds everyone of Christmas past, and those memories may make your newly independent teen feel uncomfortably childlike.

Consider setting boundaries and expectations in advance—it may save some challenges in the moment: One family I know wrote a letter to their college freshman in advance of her first visit home. That letter covered many things—how proud of her they were that she was working hard, playing well and embracing this new stage of her life, and how impressed they were with how she was handling her budding independence. Sandwiched in between all the praise was a question—how shall we all handle being back together under the same roof again?

This provided an opportunity for the family to talk about transitions, hopes and dreams. Their daughter shared her concern that being home would be “like being in high school again.” When they unpacked what this meant to her, they learned she was fearful of curfews, rules and expectations that might make her feel guilty about leaving her parents alone. She worried she would somehow disappoint them by wanting to be with her other people much of the time.

This started a great conversation—and an opportunity to clarify family expectations. Planning was not about disappointing or not disappointing parents, rather it was an opportunity to sort out how a bunch of adults and budding adults can respectfully share life under the same roof. Sure, mom and dad were looking forward to Scrabble in front of the fire, but not for hours on end! And the expectation of keeping reasonable hours was not about trust—their daughter had earned their trust and then some. Instead, it was about managing a teenaged vacation schedule around the schedules of busy professionals. If she were to come in at 2:00 am routinely, that would disrupt the sleep of people who were accustomed to arising at 6:00. Seen from that perspective, it made much more sense to her that a conversation was warranted.

Rest assured, there will be bumps along the way: It is inevitable that your teen will chafe at feeling his or her wings have been clipped. And frankly, so might you! If this college transition has gone well, there has been growth all around. Particularly if this is your last child at home, you may find yourself excited at the prospect of a visit, and somewhat concerned about the limits having a kid home again will set on your time. This is natural—it doesn’t make you a bad parent!

 So my advice as you anticipate an airport reunion and weeks under the same roof is to stay flexible, celebrate growth and remember that your goal is to snatch time here and there with your young adult.