The whole family is excited to see our college freshman back home again. The refrigerator is stocked with her favorite foods; her little sister made a Welcome Home sign and her bed is freshly made. The household laundry is done and the machines are empty and ready. Her bedroom, along with the rest of the house, has been straightened up and cleaned as if we were welcoming an honored guest.
We saw our freshman for several short visits since college move-in day, and it was clear that she had changed considerably from the high school student she used to be. She appeared more mature, more appreciative of her family, and more interested in spending time with her sisters and her parents.
I’m eager to spend the time making memories together. My bucket list for break includes sledding, going to a family movie, playing board games, going to see Christmas light displays and plenty of family dinners. I’m also looking forward to getting to know more about this new version of my daughter as she continues to transform rapidly from teenager to adult. I envision long talks where she tells me all about her new friends and experiences.
Thanks to a letter to parents from the Dean of Students with input from a senior staffer at Residential Life, I’ve been forewarned of the potential landmines that lay before us as we reintegrate.
How to Make Winter Break With College Students a Happy Time for the Family
The things I have promised myself I will remember, to make break as joyful and conflict-free as possible:
- My college freshman has just endured a very stressful end of term that included final exams and papers. She has studied many hours and deserves to sleep, relax and recuperate.
- Readjustment may not go as smoothly as I hope. I will be flexible and resilient, and remember the loving parent I wish to be.
- If things get rocky, I will think of a pre-planned mantra, something like, “Respond with Grace,” “Choose Peace,” or, “Be a Model of Calm.”
- Don’t ask too many questions about her new life. She will talk when she is ready. When she does, shut up and listen.
- Our freshman has successfully cared for herself for four months. Her self-sufficiency is at a new high and she does not need me to tell her what to do.
- She has not had a curfew and does not need one. All that is expected is that she let us know when to expect her, keep us apprised of changes to her schedule, and be respectful of others in the home when she comes and goes.
- She is not a guest; this is still her home. She should pick up after herself in our shared spaces, but her room is her space and is off-limits to my inspection.
- She makes her own schedule. Other than two or three family dinners a week (minimum), I will have no jurisdiction over her time.
- She has been exposed to new ideas from her professors and fellow students. She has a right to develop her own views, and rather than argue if they don’t match my own, I will listen, learn and have an open mind.
- I will not give advice unless asked. Instead, I will listen, encourage and honor the decisions she makes. She is ready to solve her own problems, even if that means making some mistakes.
The bottom line is that things will not return to the way they used to be, and they shouldn’t. She is engaged in the act of becoming who she was meant to be. We need to let her flex her new adult muscles. It is time to trust that the foundation we laid throughout her childhood will be her guide going forward. We sent her off to college so that she could grow, develop and mature. Expecting her to return and act the same wouldn’t make sense.
The predominant emotion as we prepare for her arrival is not anxiety about what could go wrong, but rather excitement about spending time with her. She has been a little bit different each time we have seen her, and the changes have been overwhelmingly positive. I look forward to feasting my eyes on her beautiful face, telling her how proud I am of her, and enjoying the novelty of getting to know her all over again.
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Doug Adriane Heine lives in Northeastern Pennsylvania with her husband, three daughters and lab mix. She is an adoption social worker for children in foster care. Her writing has garnered four Keystone Press Awards from the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. She is passionate about helping children, doing as much yoga as possible, and sharing cool experiences with her girls.