College Students Home for the Holidays

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Finals are finished. Grades are being posted. Residence Halls have all closed. The high energy and stress of the semester is behind us. Students love holidays! No surprise, faculty and staff love holidays too. Every one who makes a campus "buzz" loves the break time. It's a great time to catch up reading for fun, writing for pleasure, and re-connecting with friends from afar. And while all of this energy is good, there still is a certain amount of stress with "going home."

Many students have been on their own for months and sometimes years. Going home represents falling back into "family patterns." Whether you are 18 or 48, you still are the 'oldest, middle, youngest' in a family system. Parents and siblings have a hard time letting go of family roles, we all do. I am the youngest in my family. Until my mother died (when I was 32) every Christmas the gifts were not put under the tree until I went to bed! Yes, even in my 30's...I was still the youngest. When my older sister (she hates when I say that) and I were both home for the holidays it seemed as if she always drove. It is hard to bust out of family roles!

My sister and I are 3 years apart. When we went away to college, coming home had its joys and stresses. I would promise myself each year, no matter what, we wouldn't have any disagreements, rolling of the eyes, or other sisterly scenes. We managed to be civil for at least the first 3 days! Thank goodness we've had years to grow our relationship and discover that we can be both friends and siblings.

So how can we reduce stress during the holidays? Here are a few tips that have worked for me and I hope they work for you.

Make sure that you communicate to your family, both parents and siblings, the ways in which you've changed being at school. Often parents, in particular, can't believe you are "growing up and away." It’s an adjustment for both of you! It’s best to talk about your independence, and what expectations they might have for you. It's likely you may hear "in my house, you'll obey my rules."

This is a perfect time for parents and students to sit down and address expectations. While life at college may not have begun until after 11:00pm, your folks will not appreciate the return at 3:00am. Remember they have a schedule that they have become used to as well!

Remember your parents are real people. Ask them how they are doing in their work, home and family life. Often students begin to see changes in their families that make them uneasy. A parent divorcing or single parents re-partnering, or the recent loss in your parent's family of origin. Parents having job changes, or moving from the "family" home can all create stress. These topics aren't off limits for you to discuss with your parents. They may appreciate your sensitivity, and be aware that you know the world no longer revolves just around you.

Take time for yourself! Relax, and enjoy. Don't spend all your time on MySpace or Facebook, or with your i-pod. See your friends home from other colleges. Be grateful for time to re-connect. Exercise and get some sleep!

Let's remember the greatest gift we can give is our love and care for our families and friends. When things get "tight," and you know they will, hold on to the following words: Compromise, Accommodate, Be Grateful, Be Lovingly Honest, Respectful, Communicate, and Celebrate.

Have a terrific holiday with all those you love and who love you.