Both parents and students look forward to college break, but the reality of this reunion can frequently fail to meet everyone’s expectations. You will notice both external and internal changes when you return home on break. The time you’ve spent away from your family has brought new opportunities for growth and change. The kind of freedom found in college may not be available at home. Depending on your family’s values, it may not be fair to expect the same level of freedom you have enjoyed while away. A student’s desire for more autonomy than they were used to at home can be a source of great frustration.
The first step to avoid potential problems is a conversation with your parents before break begins. If you’ve made any big changes that they aren’t aware of, now is the time to tell them. When you are sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner is not the time to tell everyone you are now vegan. Family members may want to know in advance that you’ve got an obvious tattoo or piercing. If your parents have made any drastic changes, they need to tell you as well. You should know that your bedroom has been made into a sewing room before you get home. Discuss holiday plans and expectations of your time before going home. You will want to spend time with your friends, but make sure you schedule this around family obligations. Family rituals and traditions provide a sense of continuity and are important to every member of the family. Know when your presence is required and be there.
If you have siblings at home, remember things are different now. For a middle sibling that has been used to being the oldest when you are away, it may be a drag to have you back home. Don’t monopolize the car, phone, or computer if your sibling uses it too. Make a point to do something with your siblings while you are home. You may find that they’ve changed as much as you have and they’ve suddenly become interesting.
The first few days of break will probably be spent catching up on sleep. You may be exhausted from finals. Let your parent’s know how tired you are so they don’t worry that you are sleeping so much. A nap is a great escape if you find home a little overwhelming at times.
Don’t come home expecting to be treated like a guest. Your parents may be solicitous the first day or two, making their favorite foods and doing special things for you. They will then expect you to assume your normal family duties – doing dishes, shoveling snow, or running errands. Discuss expectation early in the break. Take responsibility for the types of thing you’ve been handling in college – doctor appointments, laundry, finances, etc. You want to be treated like an adult and with respect. This is one way to do it.
Curfews during break may be an explosive topic. You have not had a curfew at school and have been staying out well past the curfew you used to have. Some parents find it easiest to require that the car be home by a certain time without specifying the student must be home by then. Or they will ask their student to indicate when he expects to be home, with a request that he call if he will not be home by that time. You’ll probably have to set new ground rules and expectations. Engage in a straightforward discussion with your parents about your curfew – and be willing to compromise.
Break provides you with the opportunity to introduce your parents to some of the ideas, books, and disciplines you have discovered during the semester. Sharing your thoughts and ideas can be a very rich experience. You may have developed new opinions. Share them, but don’t put down the opinion of anyone else. You may look at your family with new eyes and want to criticize family habits and patterns. Be kind if you choose to share these new insights. It’s all part of figuring out who you are and your direction, but don’t go overboard.
After a couple of weeks, you may start to feel bored by being home. Your old friends from high school may have lost their appeal. Realize that you are living in a culture that is very different than your friends who stayed home or who are going to another college. If you begin to feel that you have more in common with college friends, you may experience feelings of loneliness and separation. Try to nurture the friendships you have from high-school. You should have been making the effort to keep your friendships going by e-mailing or calling your close high-school friends at least every couple of weeks during school. It’s fun to talk about your new life, but don’t forget to ask about their new experiences, too. When you do talk about school and the people there, don’t overdo it. Nobody wants to talk with someone who monopolizes the topic of conversation. Don’t compare your new friends with your old friends from high school. They’re not necessarily better, they’re just different. If you are attending college and some of your old friends aren’t, don’t overwhelm them with details about college life. The friendship can survive if you focus on common interests.
If break is completely unbearable, keep in mind that it only lasts a short time. You’ll be back at school before you know it. You may find though, that the distance that has kept you away from your family can be the catalyst that helps you appreciate each other even more when you are reunited.