Term Breaks & Other Parental Stressors

Been there. Done that.

My wife and I enjoyed/endured eight term breaks across the years our daughter and son pursued their respective college degrees. The BIG term break happened during the months of late November/early December through early-to-mid January, the so-called “holiday” term break.

Well, Moms and Dads, were on the cusp of this year’s holiday term break. How do you feel about that?

Are you looking forward to having a high-energy college student taking up semi-longer-term residence in your hopefully happy home again? Or, are you bracing yourself for those restless nights listening for the garage or front door to open at 2:45 a.m., just to be sure your son or daughter made it home safely?

In light of all this, I thought I would go to my Admit This! archives and repost of an article I wrote some years back that addresses this very issue and offers some good advice on how to deal with it. So, that’s today’s reading assignment for you. I hope that it may offer you some perspective to deal with this potentially troublesome issue. Here you go:

Home for The (Happy?) Holidays

When it starts to approach that time of year, that stretch leading up to Thanksgiving and flowing into the New Year, parents of college students start to anticipate the return of their collegiate progeny — for better or worse. I say “worse” because the arrival of young people who have just been on their own for the better part of three months (and probably up all night on more than one occasion) can bring an element of disruption to an otherwise calm, orderly household. I know what I’m talking about, having had two collegians in my family.

If you are the parent of a fist-year college student, this first, extended holiday “visit” can prove to be especially “interesting,” if not downright stressful. Why is that? Well, for starters, your son or daughter has been completely on his or her own since you dropped them off that first memorable day. Of course, this assumes that they are residential students at a college far enough away that they haven’t been home for their first visit yet. As parents, we can only imagine the kinds of lifestyles they’ve been maintaining in the dorms. Granted, maybe we don’t want to imagine, or even know. Anyway, your child will be returning from an extended period of relatively total freedom, back into the strictures of Mom and Dad’s place. That can result in a conflict of sorts, perhaps more like the merging of warm and cold fronts on the weather radar. Sometimes storms can develop.

In thinking back to those times when my collegians came home for the holidays, especially during the Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year’s period, I became curious about what experts might have to say to parents, especially those inexperienced with this phenomenon. So, I did some Googling and found a very helpful and instructive article on Today.com by Ruth A. Peters, Ph.D. When college kids come home for the holidays advises parents to try to put aside many of their previous high school era rules and regulations and view their children as adults. Let’s see how easy that might be. Here are some of Dr. Peters’ insights.

First, she sets the scene with some preliminary expectations from both sides:

So, how do you have a comfortable holiday experience with this “new” young adult who’s visiting for the next few weeks? Start by considering your goals for the time spent together.  My guess is that, as parents, you would like to:

  • See the kid as much as possible
  • Have meals together
  • Hear all about the grades, professors and studying that is occurring
  • Get to know your child’s new friends and significant others by either meeting them or hearing stories told
  • Have fun, family style
  • Engage in religious activities together

These don’t sound too unreasonable, do they? From a parental perspective, they sound logical and something to look forward to happily.

However, try to take a look through the other (your child’s) end of the telescope. What are their expectations for their time at home? Dr. Ruth illuminates us:

  • Visit with their buddies from high school
  • Spend as much time outside the home engaging in activities they remember from earlier years
  • If they are bringing home a college friend or girlfriend, boyfriend — expose them to their previous activities and chums
  • Eat, get presents, and eat some more
  • Have some family fun
  • Engage in religious activities together

Quite a different view from that end of the telescope, eh?

So much for expectations, but how about those dreaded “rules and restrictions” that we parents love to cite? What might some of those be?

  • Follow a curfew, but perhaps a bit later than during high school
  • Not use alcohol or other substances in or outside of the home
  • Fraternize “appropriately” with the opposite sex
  • Check in at night by phone so that they won’t worry
  • Keep the bedroom reasonably tidy (after all, it’s probably been spit-shined during the child’s absence)
  • Wake up at a reasonable hour in the morning to engage in activities
  • Perhaps get a part time job over the Holidays to bring in some extra cash

Geez, these sound just like the rules and restrictions my wife and I had for our kids when they were home for the holidays. Great insight, Dr. Ruth!

But (and it’s a big but), let’s crawl inside a college student’s head and see what they’re thinking about their time home for the holidays:

  • No curfew, I can come and go as I please, just as I have been doing for the past three or four months
  • Continue to use or not use substances (alcohol, marijuana) as occurred at school
  • Have members of the opposite sex to the home, perhaps entertaining them alone in the bedroom with the door closed (some even expect to be allowed  to have their friend sleep in the same bedroom)
  • Not call home during the evening as to their activities and whereabouts
  • Skip the job search — after all, “this is my vacation!”

CLANK! Major disconnect! What’s a first-year, college-student parent to do?

Well, I’m going to leave you in suspense. You’ll have to check the rest of Dr. Peters’ advice. However, I will leave you with her parting words, to motivate you to delve deeper into her sage article:

So folks, even though it may be difficult to do so, try to put aside many of  the previous high school rules and regulations and view your adult children as just that — adults trying to make their own decisions (and pay the consequences, good and bad) and live their own lives. Be there for them if they request your guidance, stand firm on your few but important house rules (especially if younger siblings are watching every movement and request), and, most of all — enjoy the holidays! It will be several months until spring break, and just think: They’ll be even more independent by then. 

Thank you, Dr. Ruth. Let’s hope that your wisdom will remove that question mark from the title of my article today: Home for The (Happy?) Holidays.


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.