“I remember going home from college for Christmas my freshman year,” says Akeyla Madison. “I had been on my own for five months and felt good about how I was doing. When I arrived home, I was surprised to found out I would be sharing a room with my sister who is six years younger than me because my room had been turned into a storage room. I’m pretty sure my mom didn’t think that would be a big deal.
“My mom also wanted to know where I was, who I was with and what I was doing. I felt smothered and honestly couldn’t wait to get back to college and my freedom.”
While parents and family members are excited to see their college kids come home for the holidays, the transition can be complicated for everybody, especially if expectations are not clear on the front end.
“I didn’t know ahead of time I would be sharing a room with my little sister,” Madison remembers. “Because there was such an age difference, it made me uncomfortable. My mom didn’t want me staying out late because she was afraid I would wake up my sister when I came home. We survived each other, but it wasn’t pretty.”
Her sophomore year, Madison decided to try something different. She called her grandmother who lived close by and asked to stay with her over the winter break.
“That worked out a lot better on so many levels,” Madison says. “My mom and I got along better. There was no tension between my sister and me, and I think we all enjoyed the holidays more.”
Madison is now preparing to graduate. When asked how she would advise parents and students preparing for their first trip home from college, she shared the following:
Communication is critical.
Everybody needs to talk about expectations for being together before the break begins. Talk about the family plans and ask your young adult about their plans for the holidays. If you expect them to be at certain events, be clear about that. Discuss expectations for helping out around the house, their friends coming over to visit, food in the refrigerator, coming and going, meals, etc. These things can create unnecessary drama due to unspoken expectations on both sides.
Flexibility is a good thing.
Being away at school has allowed your young adult to use many of the skills you taught them at home, but coming back home is an adjustment for everybody. If the parents and college student are willing to adjust, things will probably go a lot better. It’s important to remember that the family has created their own new normal without the college student and the student has probably grown in their independence – which is the ultimate goal, right? Just because they return home does not mean things will or even should revert back to the way they were before they left. Some students choose to earn extra spending money for the next semester. This can throw a monkey wrench into holiday plans as well.
Mutual respect goes a long way.
When learning to dance a new dance, it’s easy for everyone involved to get frustrated or say and do things they will ultimately regret. Respecting each other while trying to work things out goes a long way. For the college student, it means realizing you aren’t company. Expecting people to wait on you hand and foot and make adjustments based on everything you want to do isn’t realistic or respectful. For everybody, you still have to respect what you don’t understand.
“Looking back, I realize I felt more like an adult, but my mom saw me as just 18 and had the life experience to know all that could potentially go wrong,” Madison recalls. “That created tension between the two of us. At this point I think I have a better understanding of why my mom was concerned and I can clearly see that she wanted the best for me. I think if we had actually done the things listed above, the transition would have been smoother for both of us.
“Believe it or not, most of the time we really are paying attention to the things you say and are teaching us. We may do some stupid things along the way, but for the most part we want you to see that we are capable.”