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Home for the Holidays

They're Baaaack!
They invade from every corner of the country, arriving in trains, planes, and automobiles. They're sleep-deprived and burned out, bearing laundry bags instead of gifts. Yes, the holidays are here, and our college students are back home!

Now that most universities have wisely combined semester final exams with winter break, many of us can look forward to four-week visits from our "independent" children. Welcome to the upside-down lifestyle of college students: sleeping 'til early afternoon and staying out late. While we can dangle curfew in front of high-schoolers, college kids are used to living without nagging parents and are unlikely to accept prohibitive rules without a fight. But, like it or not, they must balance their independence with the lifestyles and schedules of family members. A word of advice: Lower your expectations and be prepared for mixed results.

Let the Disruption Begin
Suddenly, battles for the car, bathroom, remote control, phone, and answering machine (messages must be changed frequently so the world is alerted to their whereabouts) rage again. At 3:30 in the morning, you hear voices outside. A car door slams, the garage door opens, and your college star comes in. You're disoriented, until you remember that all his email to you is written at 4 a.m. The refrigerator door opens and the microwave beeps, before he finally bounds up the stairs into his room and slams the door. You stare at the ceiling until it's time to drag yourself out of bed at 6 a.m. At 2 p.m., he wanders out of his bedroom, yawning, and the dog saunters into his room to lick the empty bowl of spaghetti.

What to Expect When Older Kids Come Home to Visit
When your college student comes home to visit, it helps if you know what to expect!

  • Frenzied visits with old friends from high school, mixed in with a sprinkling of college buddies.
  • They'll want to have a drink with you, because of course everyone drinks at school, and all of their friends' parents let their kids drink at home now, so why won't you? (Excuse me — the national legal drinking age is 21.)
  • They'll discuss friends, roommates, teachers, and campus buildings you don't know the slightest thing about.
  • They'll go shopping with your credit card.
  • They'll complain bitterly about lack of space in the bathroom. How dare a younger sister fill up the cabinet with her body sprays, herbal shampoos, and Tampax boxes?
  • Guys want to watch football and basketball games on TV with Dad and brothers.
  • Girls look forward to going clothes shopping and baking chocolate chip cookies with Mom.

How College Kids Feel About Being Home
Students returning home for the holidays have mixed feelings. Some enjoy returning to the warmth and security of home; others are fiercely protective of their newfound independence. Many college kids I spoke to feel a combination of these emotions:

"I want everything just the way it always was. The trees, stockings, outside lights, smells of cookies and all this great food. "

"Oh...I love it when my mom makes my favorite foods. Chocolate chip cookies, brownies. Anything chocolate... "

"I'm so excited that some of my sorority sisters are coming here to light Hanukkah candles and eat potato latkes. I like my friends from college to get to know my family and the way I am at home."

"I need a few hours to adjust from school to home, so please understand if I seem a little spaced-out at first."

"Don't make all these plans for me with the family. That drives me crazy. I want to see everyone, but when I want. Please ask me first. I'll usually say yes."

"I like looking at all my stuffed animals and pictures and stuff from when I was little. They're so cute!"

"I'm not a little kid anymore and I hate it when my dad keeps telling me to be home by midnight. I keep my own hours at school, and I don't like being treated like a baby."

"I like it when my parents treat my new friends like they like them. I always talk about my family and my house and my friends from high school, and it's cool for my new friends to see them."

"I'll never take clean laundry for granted again. Thanks, Mom." (This gratitude lasts about five days.)

Survival Tips for Parents
Family therapist Carleton Kendrick offers these tips for making your college student's visit a special time together for all of you:

  • Expect your daily rhythm to be disrupted.
  • Show him you're happy to see him.
  • Allow her to lead the vacation life she chooses (barring blatant disregard for family members).
  • It is fair to ask about his schedule and expect to know his whereabouts.
  • Remind her that the household's longstanding courtesies are still in place.
  • Ask him to save some time to do something with you (movies, breakfast, etc.)
  • Remember to be thankful that she wants to come home!
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