I know several parents who have been counting down to the Thanksgiving holidays with extra enthusiasm this year. Their students are coming home for the first extended visit since getting packed off to college in August. The proud parents are envisioning big family dinners, long talks and hours bonding over shopping, movies or football.
From experience, however, I know that at least some parents will end up disappointed. As I always tell friends and clients: Your child is excited about seeing you, too. But the child you sent off to school a few months ago isn't the same one who's coming home now. After a few months away, everybody must not only get reacquainted, they also must navigate new rules for living together.
Try to look at it from your child's point of view. Your child has been living independently for months now — deciding when to go to bed, what to eat, whether to go to that late party or stay home and study. You may not believe your children are adults quite yet — but I assure you, they feel like they are grown. If you try to treat them like children by imposing curfews or trying to schedule every minute, the weekend is not going to go well for anyone.
Instead, make some favorite foods, volunteer to wash a load of laundry, and don't complain if they want to skip church just this once in favor of sleeping in. And follow my three key rules for welcoming kids home for the holidays:
Do not change your child's room: Sure, you may have wanted a home gym/guest room/sewing corner for years. But please, don't convert your child's bedroom just yet. In fact, try to avoid changing it at all. This is still their home base, a soft place to land. Let them know, quietly, that it's their safe corner from the world as long as they need it.
Resist the impulse to overplan: Realize that your child has lots of old friends to catch up with, many of whom also have been away from home for months. If grandparents, aunts and cousins also want to see your child, set aside a family night where everybody can come visit. Run your plans past your child first and try to schedule it early in the evening so they can still see friends later.
Be patient, kind, and welcoming — no matter what response you get. Remember, your job as a parent has been to get your child to this stage, where he or she is independent and developing new interests. The fact he's now a vegetarian or she's gotten super involved in politics doesn't really change who your child is. Relish the glimpses of the child that used to be — and enjoy the adult your child is becoming. And remember, that long Christmas break is right around the corner.
Have questions about preparing for college? Send them to email@example.com, and Donna Spann will answer those of broad interest in a future column.
Donna Spann is CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college advisor for 11 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career and college exploration, admissions, and financial aid and find the college that's right for them.