Welcome back from your Thanksgiving holiday break! I have to ask. Was your time with your returning college student as wonderful as you thought it would be? Chances are there were at least some brief moments of disappointment. You thought you’d have more time together…and, yet, your student spent more time reconnecting with high school friends than with you. You imagined conflict-free, warm & fuzzy interactions…and, yet, you sensed disregard for your house rules and experienced moments devoid of common courtesy. You were hoping to get up-to-speed with your student’s life—both in and out of the classroom—and, yet, you feel as clueless now as you did before the break. You are not alone! Many parents expect that everything at home will return to the way things were before your students left home for college and are often caught off guard.
If I could require all first year college students to read a series of tweets before the Thanksgiving break, here’s a few that I would have tweeted:
- Warn your folks (about whatever)—parents don’t like surprises.
- Make time for your friends—yes—but don’t forget your family!
- Expect to compromise. Better to negotiate the house rules first than to just break them.
- It’s amazing what a $5.99 bouquet, hug, and kiss at the door will do for you!
But I can’t…and Thanksgiving break is over. In less than four weeks, your student is coming back! To add pressure to the next visit, we all tend to romanticize the holidays and forget the accompanying stress. All the more reason to examine and manage your expectations before your student comes home. As one parent educator wrote, “Lower your expectations and be prepared for mixed results.” Here are a few tips:
- Don’t make assumptions. Take the initiative to schedule time to be with your student. That way your student can spend time with friends guilt-free and you can let the resentment go!
- Be willing to re-negotiate the “house rules”. Parents, we are reluctant to see our students as emerging adults, but we do need to recognize the freedoms that our students have been enjoying since they left home. Reentering the family routines may feel restrictive and will require compromise on everyone’s part. Set aside the words, “rules” and “curfew”, and reframe the conversation using the concepts of reasonable expectations and respect. 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 his/her input as an adult.
- Brush up on your listening skills and ask questions to gain understanding. If there are issues/problems (academic or otherwise), establish time(s) to discuss these issues and then make sure you don’t let those conversations stain every meal/event. This will give everyone a chance to relax and enjoy the bulk of the holiday season.
- NOTE: If your student is coming home for the first time at winter break, know that they don’t like surprises either! They expect to walk through the door and pick up right where they left off. If there are changes in the household (e.g., bedroom given to sibling, parental separation, financial problems or moves), give them some advance notice.
If you remember nothing else…. Be thankful your student came home for the holidays. Be the kind of parent you wanted when you came home from college. And be the kind of parent that your college student wants to come home to again.