My heart pounded with anticipation as I waited on the train platform to greet my freshman daughter. This was to be her first visit home since leaving for college at New York University three months earlier. It had not been an easy three months for either of us. 9/11 was still a vivid memory, one that my daughter witnessed first hand living by Washington Square Park. True I had been to see her during parents weekend and for her late September birthday, but this was coming home to the nest at last! Visions of dinners with all her favorite foods and lively conversation made me smile with contentment.
She breezed off the train with a sophisticated air, looked around, sniffed and said, “ I might want to go back early to New York, and not spend the entire Thanksgiving weekend at home.” Aside from feeling like a turkey with the stuffing knocked out of it, I wondered what had changed?
The transition to college is a monumental one for both parents and students. Let’s take a look at how both sides view visits home and explore some tips for easing the rough spots. It helps to think of the family system like a mobile. When pieces are added or removed the balance shifts and wobbles until equilibrium is established again. When a child leaves home both they and the family have to readjust, develop new interactions and routines. Once that child returns, all feels out of balance once again. As a parent you might feel like you no longer have the control that you once had. As a student used to being independent and living by your own rules, you might resent what you perceive as stifling parental demands. Siblings also have to readjust, sharing family time and resources.
Parents may view a visit home, much like I did, a chance to spend quality time with your son or daughter, doing all the things you used to enjoy only compressed into a short timeframe. They are longing to reconnect and have more than a text message conversation. Students may be exhausted; feel overloaded with schoolwork and pulled in a thousand directions trying to visit friends and family both. They want all of the creature comforts of home but may not realize the family’s needs.
It is important for both parents and students to be realistic about what to expect during a visit home. The guidebook, “ Don’t tell me what to do, Just send money” by Helen E. Johnson and Christine Schelhas – Miller offers some things to do and some things to avoid to have a satisfying holiday visit for the entire family. Communicate in advance about what you want to do during the break. Renegotiate rules such as what is now an appropriate curfew. Don’t just assume students will revert to the old rules since they have been free to set their own schedules at school. Have a family meeting to discuss important logistics issues such as who gets to drive the car and when or what chores are expected to be done. Avoid planning family activities before discussing them with the student. Don’t feel rejected if your student doesn’t spend as much time with you as you hoped. Do some special things for your student but not to the extent that you put the rest of your life on hold, in order to be at their beck and call.
My daughter did not return early to the city and we had a brief but fairly happy visit.
I realized that I was welcoming home not the same child that left in August, but a young woman coming into her own and that was something to be thankful for.