College Kids Come Home But It’s Never Quite The Same

Not long after moving my daughter into her dorm, I began closing the door to her bedroom. It seemed practical, a smarter way to manage the summer heat and our dogs, who would linger and explore unsupervised. Soon I accepted it was just easier this way. Easier to move down the hallway without seeing the bare room she left behind and feeling slight pain in my chest. That feeling mothers feel when someone is not where they are supposed to be, where they have always been.

My daughter had packed her favorite blankets, left her dresser top bare, and her room clear of cast-off clothes. The twinkle lights still hung above her bed, unlit, and I missed their shine and sparkle, I missed her shine and sparkle.

mom and teen daughter
After your teen leaves for college, the homecomings are never what we expect. (Twenty20 @dbpicado)


I eagerly anticipate my college daughter’s homecoming

With each homecoming, I’d reopen the door and refresh her room, trying to fill the sterile space with the comfortingly familiar. I have been busy preparing for this holiday season that is rooted in family —shopping for meaningful gifts for this child of mine who has been “adulting” while away at college. I have planned her favorite meals and imagined the time we would spend together doing everything our family has done for every holiday season.

She is home now, and her bedroom is full again. In the corner of her room are her college backpack, her tote, and the familiar blue-handled Ikea bags that carried her things away have returned home. And I can’t help but stare at her with a sense of wonder and peace, like all is right with the world because she is again under my roof.

But it is more than that, too, it is the newness of the way she moves, with graceful confidence that wasn’t there before. The way she speaks, with less indecisiveness, is a rich strength to her voice as she shares her opinions or something that makes us laugh. Her calm quietness as she reads, content to just sit, more patient than her younger sister ever was. With all of this newness, I still see glimpses of the little girl she was, with long red, corkscrew curls that refuse to be tamed.

Christmas passed in a flurry of the unexpected. A cold virus spread through the house, forcing us to cancel plans we’d made to look at holiday lights and have dinner out. We even had to ditch elaborate at-home traditional meal plans for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Too worried about how everyone was feeling, I didn’t have much time to reflect on how imperfect everything was until the day had almost passed.

I found my daughter curled up on the couch, occupied with her gifts and seemingly at ease. I apologized that her Dad wasn’t up to much holiday fun as he slept off his sickness on the other side of the house. “Mom, it’s okay, she said. It has been quiet and relaxing, and I needed that right now.”

Her response soothed me, yet I am still disappointed. I am missing all of the family togetherness I counted on to sustain me for the months to come when she will be gone again. The visions I had of those traditional holiday moments just didn’t happen.

The holiday mood is shifting as she plans to fill her last week at home, catching up with friends and preparing for her next semester. And as I sit by the light of my Christmas tree, trying to resist my dissatisfaction, I know I am not the only one. Social media tells story after story of the holiday disappointment, the shift in priority and attention from family to friends, with parents unsure how to feel about their returning college kids and unmet expectations.

I am choosing gratitude. I am thankful that my daughter remained positive and helpful and that she wasn’t too disappointed in the change of plans. I am grateful for the gourmet food, the fresh uncooked turkey in the fridge that can be prepared this Saturday, and the steaks that will most likely be on the menu this Friday night.

I am thankful the family is on the mend and that we were able to check off some of the simple things from our holiday bucket list, like enjoying the triple chocolate cake my daughter made from scratch, watching The Great British Bake Off together, playing new board games and working on a Christmas puzzle.

These are the moments I will savor.

Tips for managing the holidays with teens

Allison Carmen, Podcast host and author of The Gift of Maybe: Finding Hope and Possibility in Uncertain Times, focuses on different perspectives that people can embrace to reduce stress, worry, and anxiety. She shares these suggestions for managing the holidays, which may never be the same now that you have college-age kids.

  • Pause and breathe instead of reacting.
  • Give your kids space.
  • Practice Gratitude-jot down statements several times a day to center yourself on the simple things.
  • Don’t take things personally, your kids are evolving and finding their way.
  • Stay calm and present if possible, and be accepting.

The more we resist the way things are with our children, the more painful the holidays will be, It is best to let them be as they please, even though sometimes it hurts.

“Having kids home for the holidays always reminds me of this quote by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow….” Carmen shares, “The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.”

You Might Also Want to Read: 

I Have Come To Accept The Empty Nest As Our New Normal

Experts Suggest These 7 Ways to Help Adjust to Your Empty Nest

About Suzanne Perryman

Suzanne Perryman is the mom of two teen girls. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona where she celebrates the everyday on her website, Special Needs Mom. Her work has been featured at NBC Today Parents, Huffington Post Live, Brain,Child, Scary Mommy, The Mighty and various parenting platforms, anthologies and print publications. You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter.

Read more posts by Suzanne

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.