As the end of the first semester approaches, students and parents anticipate the long holiday vacation. Both are excited about the holiday visit; both have clear pictures in their minds of what the visit will be like. Unfortunately, these expectations are usually not the same. Changes have been taking place across the miles--at home and at college.
The first extended visit home from college highlights the relationship in transition as students move from adolescence to adulthood. It's sometimes small comfort that the first visit is the most intense; subsequent visit are easier for everyone. Students expect everything at home to be the same, exactly the same. If parents have been bold enough to make some changes in the home or daily family routine, college freshmen may be critical, hurt and resentful. "How dare they change anything? I'm the one who is supposed to change, not home!" Students often express surprise that life has gone on without them, as if they haven't even been missed.
Parents, on the other hand, are often dismayed at the changes in their students. After all, they have only been in college four months. Unless students have gotten tattoos, a pierced body part or two, or a totally new hair color, they probably look the same on the outside. But, freshmen have been struggling with and finally embracing new-found freedoms. Their schedules are unique to college life; sleeping on and off during the day, going out around 10 or 10:30 in the evening. Students may flaunt their new adult behaviors to their families, whether the behaviors be culinary ("I would never eat anything that once breathed a life of its own"); philosophical ("The meaning of life can't be found in the pursuit of wealth in this capitalistic society"); religious ("I know we've always gone to THAT church, but I've found true inner peace in THIS church"); or political ("Our family may have always voted Democratic/Republican, but we were wrong. I'm vice president of the campus Young Democrats/Republicans now"). As survivor of a college freshmen's first holiday visit, my advice to parents is to breathe deeply and laugh often. This, too, will pass.
When I ask freshmen to describe the perfect home holiday visit, they describe an extended stay at an expensive resort: luxurious private room and bath, favorite foods available with little or no notice, free laundry service, plenty of time to connect with high school friends, generous entertainment allowance and, well, you get the idea. Rarely do they mention quality time with family, visits with relatives, opportunities to share household chores, or even searching for the perfect summer job. On the other hand, parents look forward to getting the opportunity to talk with their students, to learn the details of their life at college. Parents expect to know where their students are going, who they're going with, and when they will be home. Parents might even think their students will be present for meals, visits with relatives, and anything else that the family might do. Clearly, the situation calls for communication and negotiation.
I advise students to be considerate of their parents and to take into account how much their parents are interested in their lives at college. Home is not a residence hall, and students shouldn't expect to come and go as if they were living with 400 other freshmen. Parents and students need to pick their battles carefully and try to be flexible in negotiating their wants and needs. Communication is they key. As long as everyone is talking and listening, there is no reason that satisfactory compromises can't be reached. And, remember, the first time is the hardest.
This article was originally printed in Parents Press, a newsletter for members of the Ole Miss Parents' Association, The University of Mississippi, W. Smith (Ed.), Winter 1998.