The end of the first semester and winter break are in sight. Students look forward to home-cooked meals, sleeping til noon, and hanging out with old friends. Parents look forward to having things the way they used to be, with the entire family sitting around the dinner table once more. Both parties hope for bliss all around, but the chuckles of understanding that accompany the viewing of Home for the Holidays, a 1995 movie about dysfunctional family gatherings, attests to the awareness that even the best-laid plans can go awry.
Parents want the same kid to come home as the one who left home in August, says Paula Keeton, a senior staff psychologist with University Counseling Service. But everyone has changed. Its important to acknowledge those differences.
Beth Rathe, a senior from Tripoli, Iowa, remembers her first summer at home.
I felt independent, but my parents were holding on to me, telling me when to go to bed, she says. It was a struggle between having been independent at school and feeling that I should be independent at home.
And its not only students who have changed, according to Kathleen Staley, director of program and consultation services for University Counseling Service.
Parents might want to think about what the transition has meant for them, she says. It can range from feeling a deep sense of loss and sadness, to experiencing a newfound freedom and sense of privacy.
The important thing, according to both Staley and Keeton, is to acknowledge the changes and talk about them. Knowing that things wont be just like they used to be can help ease expectations and prevent the blow-ups that mar family togetherness.
At the beginning of winter break, sit down and talk about expectations for the next five weeks, Keeton says. Parents may want to revisit rules of the house, but they need to remember that the rules for a 19-year-old are different than those for a 16-year-old.
MacKinzie Rogge, a senior from Battle Creek, Iowa, says that when she first came home, her parents treated her appropriately.
They recognized that I was a different person who was doing different things, she says. They didnt have to say, Be in early, because youve got sports tomorrow. It was okay that I stayed out later, but they still needed to know where I was.
That expectation is a fair one, Staley says.
Children who want to be treated like adults need to act like adults, she says. Out of courtesy, they need to share where theyll be and when they plan to be homethats a matter of mutual respect, not control. Asking them to be accountable and responsible is not an unrealistic expectation. And its particularly true if theyre using the family car.
Another point of controversy is the number of waking hours that returning children actually spend with their families. Parents want to be with their child, to hear about school, and share family activities. But students are often eager to spend time with their high school buddies.
Coming home and being with your friends was a big deal that first year, Rogge says. My mom expected me to miss her when I was first gone, and I did, but then friends were more important.
Allowing kids to reconnect with high school friends and teachers is valuable, Staley says. For some parents, theres joy in just knowing that their child is home. If you want him or her to hang around more, offer to make your home a place for old friends to gather.
But early on, be honest about how much you can take, Keeton says. If revving the car engine in the driveway and slamming doors at 2 a.m. isnt okay, let them know. And if family time is important, plan ahead for it. Schedule family dinners, for example, or ask your child to be home a few nights a week.
The good news for parents, at least according to Rogges experience, is that high school friends became less important as the college years go on.
When everyone is home, say at Thanksgiving, we may still get together, she says. But now its more about hanging out at home, eating special meals, and spending time with my parents.
Not all students who come home are anxious to be with high school friends.
Support what the student wants, Keeton says. But if previous friendships existed, encourage reconnecting.
While some students may simply be exhausted from final exams and need time to sleep and just chill, radical changes in behavior are something parents should note.
If your formerly extroverted, outgoing, fun-loving child has become secretive and quiet, or vice versa, you may want to talk about it, Staley says. Students at college may experience significant self-awareness issues, such as coming-out issues.
Parents concerned about a student in serious distress can find information on the University Counseling Services web site, www.uiowa.edu/~ucs/, and in particular at a site, If Your Son or Daughter is in Emotional Distress: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers at www.uiowa.edu/~ucs/helping_parent.html. It lists symptoms that may indicate trouble and suggests ways to help your student, including free counseling sessions available through University Counseling Service.
For most students, fortunately, the transition issues can be handled with a little foresight.
Talking about expectations when your student comes home helps everyone to be proactive and aware of potential areas of conflict, as opposed to suddenly finding yourselves in the middle of it, Staley says.
by Linzee Kull McCray