Winter Break is No Vacation

Yesterday’s “New York Times” featured a piece by Jan Hoffman, regarding the return of college freshmen from their first few months of freedom, to the confines of “home” (which is the term they now use to describe their campus dorm room).

The article stressed the responses of parents to these returning, often unrecognizable people, who claim to be their children.  Overtired, a few pounds heavier (since Thanksgiving, assuming they made it home for those four days), in love, out of the closet, academically challenged, a lover of cannabis, a connoisseur of not so fine wine–the list of new roles goes on and on.  The aforementioned article stressed the coping methods adopted by the parents.  But how do the students arm themselves for the unexpected re-entry?  This is for you.

Remember, YOU left THEM.  They were abandoned, as you went out into unchartered territory (see Daniel Smith’s memoir, “Monkey Mind”, about how he dealt with his anxiety, as a college freshman).  Their basic routine stayed the same; yours went though an entire overhaul.  You entered a built in social structure, a community down the hall from your bedroom:  a community of citizens who are your age and virtually unsupervised (after 18 years of scrutiny).  So how do you return, albeit for only four weeks (only?), and maintain some semblance of your newly acquired life.

Reciprocal trust and respect.  Instead of waiting for the fight about curfew to begin, or assuming your new rules (or no rules) apply to your parents, have this conversation prophylactically (sorry).  Can you possibly anticipate every cause for disagreement?  No, but learn from those who have gone before you (older siblings, advisers at school, etc.).  This time at home may be boring, or exciting, or filled with travel or an internship, but it need not be walking on eggshells, for anyone.  And the more “adult” you are in expressing your true needs, and in asking your family what their expectations are (yes, they WILL re-load the dishwasher, because you don’t do it “right”), the more this will engender the respect you all crave and deserve.  It’s true:  when we’re with our parents, sometimes we get sucked back into stages of development we thought we had left in the dust (“Mom, when you’re with Grandma, you act like you’re 15”–said to a forty-five+ year old woman by her middle school daughter).  And when you return to their turf, and your childhood bedroom (assuming it is still there), it’s difficult not to have those old impulses triggered.  But you will  be glad you thought ahead.  As they say:  like fish, guests start to smell after three days.  So just imagine what a college freshman might smell like, after three weeks?

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