Family Weekend: How to Bring Lofty Expectations Down to Earth

You dropped junior off at college about six weeks ago. Separating from him was challenging, but on the trip home, you soothed yourself with the thought that you’d return to campus to see him in a month or two for Parents’ Weekend or Family Weekend, or whatever your school chooses to call it.

autumn college scene
Campus visits for families are much-anticipated by parents. (Photo Credit: Larry Miller)


You get home, and there’s a hollow emptiness in your house and your heart. You struggle with the new normal but gradually master it or even delight in some aspects. Meanwhile, your child is also struggling to adjust to her new school. As the weeks go by, everyone begins to acclimate when suddenly you realize that Family Weekend is almost upon you.

You can’t wait to see him and are certain he can’t wait to see you. However, the fundamental problem with Family Weekend is that expectations are unrealistically high, creating unnecessary stress. You can avoid disappointment by lowering the bar on your expectations. Let’s start by talking about what not to expect.

How to manage your expectations for Family Weekend 

1. Don’t expect to spend what we refer to as “quality time” with your child. You may get time, but the time you get will likely be frenzied and rushed, not great quality stuff.

2. Don’t expect your child to wake up at dawn on the morning of your arrival, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to charm you over breakfast. Nineteen-year-olds don’t do early. In fact, his current bedtime overlaps with your waking time, so he will definitely not be joining you for breakfast.

3. Don’t expect him to know what he wants to do during the weekend. He hasn’t made any plans but has a vague, somewhat fuzzy notion of wanting to do something. Unfortunately, he has absolutely no idea what that something is.

Notwithstanding the fact that the school has graciously supplied a fourteen-page pamphlet listing activities ranging from a tour of the city to a juggling showcase, you will inevitably wind up aimlessly roaming the campus along with all the other befuddled families.

4. Don’t expect your child to introduce you to any of the hundred people she says, “Hey, how ya doing?” as she wanders the campus with you. Introducing your old parents to new friends is so 1980s and honestly beyond humiliating.

5. Don’t expect her to look up from her phone more than once an hour. She is involved in a plethora of virtual “conversations” that must not be disrupted for any reason whatsoever.

6. Don’t expect him to acknowledge that you have traveled hundreds of miles or spent thousands of dollars to see him.

7. Don’t expect her to have cleaned her room in anticipation of your arrival. Oh, wait, that IS what the room looks like after it’s been cleaned. As a corollary, do not expect her to hide the red solo cups that litter her dorm room floor. After all, she thinks you were born yesterday and that you believe her when she says she’s been drinking water from those cups.

So, what can you expect?

1. Expect to look at him, breathe a sigh of wonder, and feel a slight tug at your heart because he’s grown up. Even in six short weeks, he’s changed. He is building a life without you; you are most decidedly on his turf now.

2. Expect to feel a slight pinch. That pinch is the dawning realization that this is life as it was meant to be. This is the first of many microscopic tears, certainly not in your love for each other but in the fabric that binds you.

Now that your expectations have been reset have a fantastic Family Weekend.

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About Helene Wingens

Helene Wingens has always been passionate about painting pictures with words. She graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in psychology and three years later from Boston University School of Law with a Juris Doctor. In a year long clerkship for an appellate judge Helene honed her writing skills by drafting weekly appellate memoranda. She practiced law until she practically perfected it and after taking a brief twenty year hiatus to raise her three children she began writing a personal blog Her essays have been published in: Scary Mommy, Kveller, The Forward, and Grown and Flown where she is Managing Editor. You can visit Helene's website here

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