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Family 101 – or How It’s Different Once Your Student Comes Home for Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving Break is almost here, and most of our Deacs will be making their way home soon.  During the 3ish months they have been away at school, they have been growing in new ways: expanding their personal responsibility, sense of independence, maybe their outlook or worldview.  They’ve been trying on new ideas, attitudes, behaviors, maybe exploring who they are and their sense of identity.

Your students are still the same kids you knew, yet somehow different now.  They are College Aged [Name], not [Name] you knew from birth through high school.  Thanksgiving is the first extended break where they will be fitting their new College Self back into their former Home and Family Self.

While you are probably thrilled to have your student home again, and they will be thrilled to see you, things will not be the same as when they left for college in August.  Having your student home is often an adjustment – for both parents and students alike.

Here are some of the potential sticky wickets that students and parents might need to navigate when the students are home again:

  • Sleep schedules – many Wake Forest students live like vampires – a nocturnal lifestyle.  They sleep in as late as their classes allow and stay up very late at night to do their schoolwork (or just to visit with friends and have fun).  This schedule can cause tension if you want to plan family activities that suit the rest of your family’s much-earlier-in-the-day schedule.
  • Social life – related to the above, many students don’t plan to visit friends or see a movie until 11 p.m. or midnight (or later), much to the dismay of parents who say “nothing good can possibly be going on between midnight and 3 am.”  Your students might balk at this: “We do it all the time at school and it’s fiiiiiiiiiiine.”
  • Curfew – your students do not have a curfew at Wake Forest.  Some may have their own self-imposed guidelines of when they want to sleep, but the decision is solely theirs, maybe with some input from the roommate on “lights out” hours.  If you are used to assigning a curfew to your students while they are home, you may see some resistance.  Your students may argue that they have been living on their own all semester without any formal rules and they expect self-governance at home.  As a parent, you may want to insist (for your own peace of mind) that they come home by a certain time.  This is a moment for great diplomacy and potential compromise.  (My late father’s compromise was I could invite anyone I wanted to our house and they could stay until all hours, but he wanted me not to be the one driving at 2 or 3 am).
  • Driving long distances – students don’t think twice about driving an hour or more to visit friends or go to another city where something fun is happening (concert, sporting event, etc.)  Often these road trips are at night, which can cause families to worry about their safety.  
  • Spending more time with friends than family  you and any other children at home might be dying to see your Deac – but your Deac may want to spend his/her time catching up with high school friends, comparing notes about their college experiences, etc.  Families can have hurt feelings that their student appears to want to spend more time with their friends than with younger siblings or family.  This can actually a good sign – your student knows he/she is on good paper with you, but may want or need to see how things are with his/her high school friends: do my old friends still like me? do we still have things in common? have we drifted apart? do I still fit in here?  
  • Cleanliness (of person or room) – students may leave their childhood room in disarray or expect Mom or Dad to pick up after them, or not do their laundry/shower as often as the parents would like.  You may see shaggy hair, 3 days of beard growth, jeans that look like they have not been washed in ages.
  • Drinking alcohol at holiday celebrations – it’s still illegal for students under 21 to drink, but will Mom and Dad allow their student a glass of wine at a holiday meal? Or around the house?  That is a discussion you might want to have – and while you are at it, it is not a bad idea to reinforce your family’s values and expectations around alcohol use at college and how to stay safe if they do drink.
  • Their bedroom – has it been given to a younger sibling?  Remodeled for an office?  If a student doesn’t know that his or her room has been essentially changed while they were away, it can be a big shock.  There may be hurt feelings.

In order to avoid potential difficulties, it might be helpful for parents and students to talk about new expectations for students’ behavior when they first come home home for the holidays.  That way, each party knows what to expect on the issues they most care about, and you aren’t trying to negotiate items during a conflict, or add tension to what should be a happy family holiday.

You’ll repeat this same cycle at Winter Break, so now is a great time to settle on mutually-agreeable ways of living together with your newly independent student.

There is an excellent article online that deals with some of the key issues parents and students face when adjusting to each other during the first extended stay at home following their first semester of college.

What are your best tips for ensuring a happy holiday break?  Share your thoughts with