You made it through your college freshman’s first semester away at college! Congratulations! I bet you’ve been spending plenty of time making your home as “Christmas-y,” or as “Hanukkah-y” as it can get before they arrive home for holiday break. You’ve been decking the halls (or setting up the menorah), buying all of their favorite foods and treats, and making sure their bedrooms are clean and ready for their big arrival. You have visions of joyful sugar-plum filled evenings just hanging out together – you know, like all mothers and daughters (or sons!) probably do after being apart for four months!
It’s gonna be a fan-friggin’-tastic holiday break!
And then they actually come home, and your sugar-plum visions quickly melt away in the sea of their filthy laundry, and the fact that for the first 72 hours since they’ve been home, they’ve been in a comatose like sleep.
You’re suddenly left alone gazing at twinkling tree lights and thinking,
What happened to my holly jolly, most wonderful time of the year, hooray my kid is finally home from college kind of Christmas? Why didn’t anyone tell me things would be different now? Not necessarily bad, not necessarily good, just different?
Yes things will be different, because in the short period of time they’ve been out of your home, while your life may have chugged along normally (aside from a few crying jags you’ve allowed yourself to have because you miss them so much), theirs has been a whirlwind of quite a different sort. They moved to a brand new “home,” they’re likely living with people they’ve never met before, they’re self-supervising their entire days (and nights for that matter), and they’re managing all that and more at a very crucial and often dramatically emotional developmental period in their lives. So why wouldn’t things be a little different when they come home for Christmas?
But different doesn’t have to equal disheartening, and it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t have a wonderful Christmas together as a family. It just means you’re really going to have to flex your “mind my own business” muscle a bit more, all while reminding your college kid that this is still YOUR home, and they are still CHILDREN living in it – regardless of the fact they’re no longer permanent residents anymore.
Some of the ways things may be different include:
1. You will feel a larger sense of disconnect
Remind yourself that this is the natural, normal progression of life, and is not some symptom of a failed parent/child relationship. Rather, it’s your young adult growing into maturity, and doing it without you as an audience. Over break you’re likely to hear them mention friends’ names you’ve never heard of, and talk of parties and events you never even knew they went to. You’ll want to nag and ask to hear all the details, but try to begin to allow their experiences remain their experiences. Wait until they want to share with you what’s happened the last four months, and be OK with maybe not hearing it at all.
2. They will push their independence limits
Your kid just went from having to tell you all the who, what, where, when, and why’s of their entire existence before they went away, to suddenly being able to live a life where they didn’t have to tell anyone any of that. Don’t be surprised if when they come home, they still expect to not have to answer to anyone, including mom and dad. Set things straight on day one with a firm “my home, my rules” speech, and don’t let their newfound self-governance keep you up all night when they refuse a curfew (or nonchalantly poor themselves a highball at 4 p.m.!)
3. Change is a good thing
Repeat that statement to yourself the entire time they’re home for Christmas, because in reality, your college kid changing is exactly what you want to happen. Maybe they come home and suddenly eat sushi, or your steak loving kid has gone vegan, or they’ve grown a beard, listen to different music, or have decided on a new major of study that you never saw coming. It’s gonna be OK! Let them flow through these years of life trying out new things and discovering who they are, because that’s what the college years are meant for.
Their changes are all signs of growing up and becoming the adult people you raised, and often it may not look like you thought it would, but don’t fret, because honestly, by Christmas the following year, they’ll have changed again. (And then again, and then again!) Pat yourself on the back for raising kids who are embracing and acknowledging all the differences, diversity, and alternative ways of life they see at college, and enjoy getting to witness their progression from goofy college student to poised adult.
Just remind them one thing-to please always come home for the holidays no matter what!