My firstborn was one of those kids who wanted to go far, far away for college. She didn’t come home very often during her four years of school on the opposite side of the country.
And once she left, I quickly became one of “those moms” who would listen with envy as friends who had kids at schools much closer to home would talk about surprise visits back for the weekend or how’d they’d just hop in the car to drive an hour to meet their child for lunch or dinner on a whim.
When my daughter arrived back home for Thanksgiving her freshman year, it was her first trip back and the first time seeing her younger brother after four full months away — the longest time period they had ever been apart in their lives.
The scene that unfolded when she walked in the door from the airport is one of those that is forever seared into a mother’s visual memory. And it is one that will probably bring a tear to my eyes for the rest of my life.
My two children embraced and hugged each other for what seemed like an eternity. My son’s smile was the biggest and most genuine I had ever seen. My normally stoic daughter cried a few tears of joy as she hugged her younger yet taller brother, and to me, it was the most heartwarming and validating expression of sibling love I’d ever witnessed between my children. That poignant greeting was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to the gratitude I repeatedly felt over that long, holiday weekend together.
And no matter if your child has gone far away to school and hasn’t returned once before Thanksgiving, or if they were able to come home several times during the fall of their freshman year of college, they’ll return home for that extended visit a changed person.
Five Ways Kids Grow and Mature That First Semester Away
New-found gratitude for family
When my daughter arrived back home, not only was she thrilled to see her brother, she also was ecstatic to see and spend time with her cousin, aunt, uncle, and grandparents. Once kids are away from extended family members for a while at school, they seem to develop increased tolerance for those little family annoyances and quirks that may have driven them a bit crazy when they were living at home.
Appreciation for the little things
Nothing makes a student happier than their own bed, their own kitchen, and their own bathroom once they’ve spent a few months in a dorm or other communal living arrangement. You’ll probably hear declarations like these: “My pillows at home are the best!” or “Thank you so much for baking this pie/cookies/casserole. It’s never tasted so good,” and “It’s awesome not to be sharing a sink with five other people this week!”
A better attitude
Lots of kids leave for college having spent their last weeks at home “soiling the nest.” It’s a normal part of the separation experience, yet it still can be difficult for parents and siblings to deal with. When these kids arrive back home, they’ve often concluded that their family is so normal. And loving. And truly cares about them. It’s a wonderful thing.
New maturity levels
Students also realize they can survive on their own. They now feel some mastery at having adapted to taking control of their day-to-day challenges. They’ve gotten lost and found their way. They’ve gotten sick and then recovered. They’ve felt uncomfortable and have worked through that. They’ve expanded their circle of friends. Feelings of increased competence have resulted in greater self-confidence.
Even more love for the pets
The Snapchats and FaceTimes with their pets have been great, but there’s nothing like that physical reunion with their beloved dog, cat, or other furry/feathered friends. Watching your student just lying on the ground snuggling once again with the family pet is such a sweet sight.
So, if this Thanksgiving is the first with a child coming home from college, don’t be surprised if it’s extra special. And if it doesn’t turn out that way, remind yourself that they’ll be gone again before you know it, and you’ll be missing them all over again.
Wishing you all an attitude of gratitude this holiday!
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