As we move into Thanksgiving weekend, both you and your student are likely hoping to share some enjoyable time together. This is an excellent opportunity to appreciate your college student's continued development into a maturing young adult. You've looked forward to this weekend for a long time, so what could possibly go wrong?
Sometimes the difference in holiday expectations can cause conflict in the family. You may be planning get-togethers with extended family and lots of close bonding time with your student. Your student may be fantasizing about sleeping in till noon without the distraction of roommates or class schedules and plenty of social time with old friends.
The change in independence might also cause a shock. You may have house rules, a set curfew, and expectations that your student will keep you well-informed of their whereabouts. On the other hand, your student has been independent at school for several months and hasn't had to answer to anyone regarding curfews or use of time. This disparity can cause an unexpected power struggle and ruin what should be a pleasant opportunity to re-connect with each other.
We encourage you to come to some mutual agreement to help minimize conflict. Here are some thoughts to assist in making your holiday season memorable and conflict-free. (Keep this article handy for the much longer break in December when changes really become apparent.)
Before the holiday weekend:
Talk together about how you want to spend your time and try not to plan every moment. Protect some time together, but also plan for time apart. It can be challenging for students to balance quality time with family and still visit with friends. Your support and willingness to allow your student some space to make these decisions will be much appreciated.
Consider that your student is not only re-adjusting to being at home, but also discovering that friends are changing and growing. If this is unsettling, you can be a great source of comfort as your student confronts and comes to terms with these changes.
Talk about house rules and how you might adjust them to accommodate your student's growing independence. Students at college quickly learn to make their own decisions and work through both intended and unintended consequences. Allowing expanded freedom back home can create a challenge for you, but also helps to further the growing adult-to-adult relationship that you are both working towards. Students also need to be respectful of house rules and routines so flexibility and mutual understanding is necessary from all involved.
During the weekend (at appropriate quiet moments):
Talk about school (but try not to let it become an inquisition). What is going especially good this semester? What isn't going so great? What classes are you taking next semester? Have you thought about living arrangements for next year?
In this conversation, it may be apparent that your student has changed - many students seem a bit different after having lived away from home for a time which is very normal. However, if you sense a severe change or something seems really wrong, we encourage you to lovingly probe more deeply. Reassure your student that you can help, we at WMU can help, and that there's no need to struggle with problems alone. Your student may not be ready to share specific details, but just showing your love and support goes a long way to be reassuring. And if there are serious mental health concerns, thoughtfully consider whether it is in your student's best interest to continue the semester or if another solution needs to be explored.
Be prepared for change:
Your student is experiencing an increasingly open world in college and may express newly developing ideas surrounding lifestyle, religious, or political beliefs. WMU students are encouraged to respect and embrace diversity as they interact with people from all walks of life. They encounter new ideas and values that may differ from those they grew up with. Sometimes students struggle with reconciling these new and old ideals, so instead of letting this become an argument, it's a terrific opportunity to engage in a productive dialogue with your student.
The main ingredient to a successful holiday break is treating your student as an adult. Open and honest communication that emphasizes concern and interest, both before and during the break will help to establish mutually agreeable expectations and boundaries.
And when you send them back to school, don't forget to give 'em a big hug!