When your child comes home from college for the first long break, it’s going to be a bit weird. It will, no doubt, be an adjustment for both you as a parent and them as a young adult. While you welcome them with open arms and home-cooked meals, they are trying to relearn the house rules and remember where to put the how-to load and unload the dishwasher, which they haven’t done in months (thanks to the dining halls).
Sure, your child has come home for a visit here and there, but day to day, they haven’t been part of the family fold. We’ve learned to be a family without our college-aged kid and assumed a new normal. This new normal sometimes means big changes like siblings moving into what was once your college child’s room, but it can also mean small changes like new family hobbies and inside jokes.
The whole family dynamic most likely has changed.
Here are a few ways for you to prepare for the long-awaited break off with your college-aged child.
Compromise on the Curfew
I would like to give you a gentle reminder that many kids become nocturnal while away at college. So while you feel like leaving the house at 9 p.m. indicates trouble, it is completely normal behavior to them. You can expect a backlash if you enforce a midnight curfew while they are on break. They have managed on their own for months. I would suggest you trust your kids and not ruin things with unnecessary rules. Hopefully, they are doing well in school and have made (mostly) good decisions. Compromise on the curfew—ask about details of the evening and anticipated plans. Through that conversation, you should get an idea of what their projected time home might be without setting a hard and fast curfew.
Expect a Change in Conversation
You can expect a change in the types and amounts of conversation that will occur between you and your college-aged child. If you’re met with silence, know that it is okay—they will come back around. They just need time to recharge in a familiar environment. They have been surrounded by people 24/7 from roommates to classmates. They have spent very little time alone while at college.
You might be met with the opposite of silence. You are now dealing with a young adult who is growing into themselves and has lots of opinions and thoughts. They will want to discuss what they are learning like what they believe in and who they are hanging out with.
If your child falls into the latter, be careful of your questions and timing. You don’t want to ruin this sweet moment of adult conversation during their first break. If you are a question-asker or expect to be told everything, this will change once your child goes to college. They quickly learn that they have the control to pick and choose what they want to tell their parents. Sit back and just listen.
Be Slow to Criticize
Your child may have created new habits, new interests, or new behaviors while away at college. Deep down inside your child is still your child. Wait it out. Observe your child and their behaviors without immediately criticizing them. I encourage you to let them sleep in past noon or make plans that don’t include the family. It will be okay. Give them some grace for a few days and let them navigate what was once so familiar but now feels foreign. Your relationship will be different, but definitely for the better. Just as you respect the growth and maturity they have made, your young-adult child will be more willing to listen and respect your wisdom if you let them be without judgment.
Many college students are excited to visit home for their first break. They miss the home-cooked meals, free laundry, and their siblings (no matter how annoying they once thought they were). My advice: prepare yourself for things to be different. THEY will be different.