Thinking about kids coming home from college for the first time conjures up thoughts of tales being told, experiences being shared, and uninterrupted moments lingering over coffee and unhurried conversation…
This is, after all, what you’ve been waiting for! Basking in the glow of all that wisdom and knowledge gained during the first semester of higher education, stories and anecdotes shared with the generous and grateful spirit you’d expect from the emerging adult sitting at your kitchen table.
Well, maybe you should temper your enthusiasm JUST a bit.
Parenting and pop culture writer Linda Wolff says that, for some parents, their child’s new-found independence – which wasn’t there when they waved goodbye in August – is sometimes an unforeseen adjustment to make in December. This sweetly anticipated moment can have more complexity to it than their child simply returning home. “It is such a strange and awkward dance that many parents find themselves in when their child/young adult come home for vacation. The college kid has been used to making decisions for themselves about what, when, where, and with whom they eat, drink, study etc. …”, she writes.
As the mother of a 16-year-old, I’ve yet to experience the “home for the holidays” moment myself or the “awkward dance” Ms. Wolff speaks of. So, I looked at what other parents who have experienced this moment firsthand were saying. Kami Gilmour, author and mother of 5, stresses that parents should set their expectations appropriately. The following is her list of 8 things to expect:
They’ll annihilate your laundry room
They’ll want to spend time with friends
They might test rules you’ll want to stand your ground on
They’ll sleep. A lot
Curfew is a foreign concept
They’ll surprise you with glimpses of their future adult self
They’ll raid your home for every scrap of food before they depart
At the end of break it’ll become obvious that they’re ready to leave
Some of that sounds pretty accurate when I recall my younger brothers coming home from college. A flurry of hugs, stories, laughter, food and – whoosh – out the door. And piles and piles of dirty laundry left behind with the call of “don’t wait up!” from the driveway as they quickly fled the scene to meet up with friends. I wouldn’t see them until lunch the next day. Like a marauding, Yule-tide horde of merry pirates, they gleefully plundered and left a disaster in their wake only to move on to the next feast.
And yet my parents loved every minute of it.
When I asked my mother what parents should expect about “home for the holidays”, she waxed nostalgic, of course. She recalls it as “magical”, “wonderful” and such a warm and beautiful time. But, this mother of 5 hasn’t had a kid come home from college in over 25 years, so I mined her memories for a few more details.
The boys tended to “eat and then disappear”. And sleep a lot. The girls liked to share more, talking into the late hours about their college experiences. But they, too, had friends to see and places to go. Still, she contends that the holidays during those college years were, well, something out of a Frank Capra movie.
In other examples, one mother-writer said her son’s bedroom quickly turned into what looked like the scene of a frat-house robbery - but she put it in such a way that didn’t exude disgust. There was almost admiration that her returning slob could undo her tidiness in such short order, knowing these times together would become less frequent over time. Another blogger spoke about the need to give her kids “space”, to not ask too many questions, to balance your desire to spoil them with the need for them to do for themselves and so on. Her closing comments focused on finding the right time to sneak in extra hugs and kisses. Another mentioned that they missed the little kids that they used to be during the holidays out of nostalgia but simultaneously marveled at the adults they were becoming.
So let’s talk turkey and understand there are some definite themes we need to embrace as parents.
Food, laundry, and sleeping is more It’s a Wonderful Life for your college kids than it is for you, no doubt. But, isn’t it great just to have them home? This “home for the holidays” thing is a little more complex as they exercise their newly developed independence, but it appears to be no less of an exercise in - and celebration of - love than the holidays were when they woke up early and raced to see what Santa had put under the tree.
Whether it’s facial hair or political opinions or priorities that never seem to include mom and dad, having your college student home for the holidays is the next evolution in family traditions. It just includes more food, more laundry detergent, and zero expectations of seeing them before noon. But it’ll still be worth the wait!