Tomorrow I’ll head out to pick up my freshman for winter break. On the one hand of course I’ll be thrilled to have him home for almost a month. On the other hand I confess I’m a little apprehensive: Will he fit in to our new household routine? Will he be bored by our life, which is considerably quieter than a freshman dorm? And perhaps the biggest unknown: How will we adjust to his new independence, in light of his younger sister’s routines and rules, not to mention our own sanity?
I’ve prepared myself to not see him much—I know he’ll want to sleep late into the morning and visit with his old buddies late into the night. To help me prepare for other changes, I’ve been doing some reading, hunting for tips for making this vacation a good one. Here are some suggestions I’ve gleaned on the subject of adjusting to a college kid’s return to the fold for the holidays:
Manage your expectations. Along with those visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, I know I’ve got fantasies of joyous reunions and laughter and togetherness, along with hot cocoa and roasting chestnuts—the works! Reality is bound to be different, and if I’m not careful—disappointing. So I’m trying to be aware of my hidden agendas—trying to let them go so I can simply be open to whatever is actually happening, rather than holding on to what I think should be happening.
Keep connected to the younger sibs. My younger daughter has gotten used to being the center of parental attention (for better or worse)—and she’s definitely gotten used to having a bathroom to herself! Having her older brother home may take some getting used to. Other younger sibs may have to adjust to having to share access to the car. I want to check in with my daughter from time to time to see how it’s going for her to have her brother around.
Same with the college kid. I expect mine to be exhausted from a long semester, topped off by a week or two of exams. And I know from his previous trips home that it can take him a while to settle in, to feel like home is actually home. I expect our little town to feel a lot smaller to him on this extended break—and a lot less interesting than the city where he now lives. And I wonder how it’ll be when his little sister is busy with her school activities and sports, and he has less contact with her than maybe he thought he would…
Plan a few family activities, but not too many. To make sure we do spend some fun time together, we bought tickets to a hockey game and a concert we know we’ll all enjoy. And we have some family gatherings lined up right around Christmas. Otherwise, we’re trying to keep things loose, partly because I know my freshman likes his down time, but also because I know it’s going to be important for him to reconnect with his old high school friends. Which leads me to:
Be ready to renegotiate rules and expectations. My son is used to staying out pretty late when he’s on campus, and that’s largely fine with me, since I don’t know when he’s coming or going. But it’s going to be a challenge for me when he’s heading out for the night as I’m heading up to bed. We’re going to have to talk that out: I don’t want to give him a hard-and-fast curfew, but letting his housemates (i.e., his family) know where he’s going and when he’ll be home is common courtesy, right? That’s how I plan to approach it.
Enjoy your young adult! In her book Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years, Karen Coburn suggests asking your college kid to take some inventory now that the first big semester is over. “Winter break is an opportunity for students to reflect on the semester—on ways they have changed, on what they have learned and on how their goals are evolving,” she writes. “Conversations between parents and their college age children about these topics can be extremely rewarding for both parties.” Coburn adds, “Parents who engage in conversations of this sort with their children, rather than just asking them about grades and professional goals, are likely to find this a very rich experience. It’s a great feeling to have your child open up new worlds for you. Listen to their excitement over new ideas without judgment. Ask your child to recommend a favorite book to you.” That sounds like fun, right? After all the work we put into raising our kids, here’s our chance to enjoy the young adults they’re becoming. I hope I remember to slow down and do just that!
Okay experienced empty nesters: What else do we need to know to prepare for this upcoming winter break?