Home for the Holidays?
The idea of "home" for most of us brings up thoughts of relaxation, rest, welcome, love, comfort, belonging. But the reality of "going home," especially for the first time when you've been away at college, may be very different.
Holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas may be the first time students go back to the family home.
In many cases, this is not the issue that it used to be, due to changes in technology and in family dynamics. Cell phones, IM, email, and Facebook can keep students and their parents together like never before. As for the family issues, well, "One thing that is true is that today's young people get along with their parents better than anybody ever used to," said William Strauss, co-author of the book Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation.
Expecting the unexpected
But even if you're in regular contact so as to keep the major surprises to a minimum, and even if you've been back several times, it's still usually not without challenges and stresses:
- Changes: for you, it can be "how dare they redecorate the house after I left!" or "what did they do to my room!?!" For your parents, it can be "what did you do to your hair?" or "you want to go WHERE for church on Sunday?" The changes might be minimal or they could be world-shaking, but there will be changes.
- Expectations: you may expect to maintain the freedom and self-rule you've had at college, while your parents may expect you to keep to the ‘house rules.' Dad may be expecting help with a home improvement project, and Mom wants to take you over to Aunt Marge's, while you expect to spend the at least 90% of your time hanging out with old friends. "Remember," says Dr. Melanie Taylor, Director of the Biola Counseling Center, "you and your family are still trying to adjust to a whole new way of life."
- Poor planning: parents may have so many things planned that your holiday may become a blur, and you risk disappointing them by declining. You may overdo it yourself, expecting to see all your family and friends while completing that final paper the prof gave you the extension on.
- The whole holiday thing: yeah, I know, your family is like a Hallmark card... right? Putting all of us together under one roof, with the expectations of togetherness and harmony and goodwill toward men... there may be a turkey in the kitchen but there's an elephant in the living room. Try to temper your desire to flaunt your newfound adulthood, and just relax. Don't introduce your new views about politics or male-female relationships at the big holiday meal; if you really want to talk about how you now look at some things differently, do it tactfully and lovingly, not to just rattle somebody's cage.
"Take it easy on yourself when and if you begin to feel stressed out with holiday parties, seeing relatives and friends you may not have seen since summer," says Dr. Taylor, "and realize everyone is a little wired at this time of the year."
Four weeks, not four days
But hey, if you can survive Thanksgiving, how different can Christmas be? For one, it can be up to four weeks, versus the four days of Thanksgiving:
- That probably means bringing home lots more stuff, which means more time for packing and unpacking... and where do you put it if your room is no longer "your" room?
- You might sleep most of the first week. Don't panic, that's pretty normal, especially since you got about four hours sleep the entire Finals week. Get your rest and your space, but don't use it as an excuse to avoid interacting with your family.
- Four weeks at home also means you're not really a guest anymore, so you're probably not going to escape doing chores. You'll get pampered for a few days, but after that you'll need to step up. Think about what you'd expect if your folks came to stay with you for a month!
- Be prepared for boredom. Your old friends may be around, or they may not... and even if they are, you may find the connections are just not the same. There are a bunch of new faces in your old Youth Group and your high school; the world you left behind isn't really there anymore. It might suddenly occur to you that you feel more comfortable at Biola than in your parents' house. Don't panic. "Keep busy with something," says Taylor, "whether it be work, or a project; set some type of goals for the month of January, so that you can see what you've accomplished."
Having a Holiday Plan
So what do you do? Here are some suggestions, from Dr. Taylor, from Dr. William Burns of St. Lawrence University, from Dr. Charles Raison of Emory University, and others:
- Communication and Conversation. If you've made some changes in your life, habits, or appearance, hopefully you've been in touch enough that your mom won't faint when she sees you. And ask if there have been changes at home; you might not find out if you don't ask. The more ‘groundwork' you can do in advance, the better your time at home will be. "Talk with your family about the changes both you and they are experiencing," says Dr. Taylor.
- Plan ahead. Have some empathy for the needs of your family, especially their need to spend time with you. Make sure your plans include your family in some way. This will help them feel included in your life and will make it less likely that they will try to plan extra activities just to get a chance to see you.
- Let your family know what your holiday plans are before you arrive at home. Give fair warning to your parents about how often you plan to be away from home. Expect to make compromises in order to help your parents enjoy your visit, and as the need arises to make changes in family plans.
- Talk with your family about what the house rules have been in the past and how they could be changed now that you've been living away from home for a number of months. Be ready to compromise, and keep your end of the deal.
- Prepare your family in advance if you know that your grades are not going to be up to expectations. If your grades are a sore point with your parents, it can help to establish times when talk about grades is off-limits.
- If your family situation is such that going home is just too uncomfortable, find a friend who is willing to "adopt" you for the holiday break or make your own special plans. This break is, among other things, for you to relax and rejuvenate so that you can return to school and have a successful academic year. Do what you can to help insure that success.
- However you spend your holiday break, make sure to take time for yourself, indulge in some rest and relaxation, have fun, and stay safe.
Suggestions for your family
And what about your family? We have some ideas for them as well (yes, this is the part you cut-and-paste and email to them):
- Recognize your son/daughter will need time with her/his friends. Try to be patient. Activities and outings that occur towards the end of break, when the boredom sets in, may be more appreciated than walking into a pre-Christmas whirlwind.
- Recognize that your son/daughter may be experimenting with new foods/clothes/hair/etc. Try to be patient.
- Recognize that your son/daughter is also learning, growing, and experimenting with new thoughts and ideas, most of which are still works-in-progress. Try to temper your disagreement and/or disapproval. Kaitlynn Lane, an undergrad at University of Akron, writes poignantly about that first time home:
"College students will have adopted new characteristics, which may cause people who thought they knew them to realize that they don't. This alteration might confuse friends and family at first because they won't know who they're dealing with. But maybe students just want to confuse the people they never liked, and still don't...
"Students might be more liberal and have new ideas that frighten their conservative counterparts. They may often bait their parents with newly learned [but not fully understood] pieces of philosophy and social consciousness in heated debates at the dinner table. Also, students tend to come home stronger and more self-assured as their high school insecurities fall away; however, they also feel misplaced and misguided. Feeling out of place at home is a rite of passage."
- If you're coming to Biola to pick up your son/daughter, she/he may not be ready to go, and may have six times more stuff than you have room for. Try to be patient.
- Your son/daughter may expect to stay out to unreasonable hours and sleep in until noon. Some of that's because that's what she's used to; some of it's probably an attempt to show you that she's not a kid anymore. Rather than setting a curfew, you may want to instead ask him/her to specify what time he/she will be home. Again, try to be patient.
- If the first semester has been less-than-wonderful, your son/daughter might drop hints about not wanting to return for spring semester. This will require some serious but subtle conversation from you; is it homesickness, or something more serious? For many students, Biola doesn't really feel like home until they come back after Christmas; they rode onto campus on a wave of momentum in the fall, but coming back in the spring will in some ways be a much more personal decision. And yes, try to be patient.
You see the point by now: Try to be patient. You raised them to be healthy, well-balanced adults, committed Christians, and solid citizens. They're just not done yet. None of us are.