Tips for Parents

The first visit home

By Lucy Ewing

“Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays…”*

It’s what we all hope for at Thanksgiving or winter vacation: a picture-perfect homecoming with our college students.

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High School Parent | College Parent

When our daughter Anna came home in December of her freshman year, she’d been away for three and a half months. Was that long enough for her to forget the usual state of the house where she’d grown up: piles on every table, the quickly-dwindling fridge, cold wrinkled clothes eternally forgotten in the dryer?

In the days leading up to her return, I cleaned, dusted and polished and stuffed fresh fluffy towels in the linen closet. My husband called from the airport to report that her plane had landed just as I finished scrubbing the cupboards with Murphy’s Oil Soap. I flicked on her bedroom light, turned down the covers, and adjusted the vase of flowers on her dresser. Brainwash scheme complete!

Anna arrived, took a few steps into the house, and turned in a circle. Her father and I stood behind the kitchen island, watching her every move. “Can I prepare you a snack?” I asked in a voice I didn’t recognize.

“No, thanks, Mom,” Anna said, “I can get it,” and we kicked off our shoes and relaxed into our regular ways. Of course — Anna wanted to come home, not to a B&B staffed by a stilted servant.

Sometimes, though, families feel that home has become merely a rest stop between many other command engagements for their first-year college students. Dave and I occasionally found ourselves sulking in front of late night TV, wondering when Anna would be back from gatherings down the block with her high school friends. We could practically hear the peals of laughter from their bigger deck (complete with hot tub). Would she want to hang out with us at all?

story-icon-bar-convo-3If your student won’t be coming home for Thanksgiving, your heart may be breaking a bit. UniversityParent contributor and Brooklyn dad Scott Sager’s reflections can help get you through that first family gathering without your college student.

Parents aren’t the only ones worried about the limited time home. Students can find it stressful trying to balance time with friends and time with family, especially if holiday events with all the relatives crowd the calendar.

Encounters with aunts, uncles and cousins can complicate things for new college students who find themselves putting a happy face on their experiences when they are likely still adjusting. “My instinct was always to say that I was loving school,” one upperclassman recalled, “but the reality was I was still trying to get used to everything and to figure out who my friends were and who I was as a college student.”

Your freshman might need some time for herself to gain a perspective on college away from the din of the dorms. Anna’s bedroom was always her sanctuary, and that’s where she slept for hours and hours. It was just nice knowing she was resting and restoring. First-year students report being grateful to retreat to their bedrooms and dig out comfy old clothes from their drawers. “I felt like I still had a place at home,” a recent graduate said.

Before you know it, your time together is winding down. You track the trip back to campus and determine to wait a week before the next phone call. You start checking flights for the next trip home… Spring break? Summer? Your freshman might be doing the same, possibly understanding, more than before, that there is no place like home. Messy or not.

7 Tips For for Managing The First Visit Home

  1. Casually take out the family calendar and make sure your first-year student understands which events require a firm commitment from her. Negotiate any conflicts.
  2. Your student has gotten used to independence — household rules (curfew, car use, etc.) may need to evolve. Talk it over together.
  3. Stock the refrigerator with healthy snacks. The door will open often for hummus, carrots, cheese, yogurt, fruit. (“And it’s free!”)
  4. Put out puzzles and magazines to help your student relax and settle in.
  5. Help your freshman feel part of the family again by involving her in household tasks like setting the table or running to the grocery store.
  6. Go with the flow instead of planning too many family outings. An impromptu trip to a local café can be better than waiting for a table at a popular restaurant.
  7. Give hugs and shoulder rubs. Make yourself truly available to talk about campus life and how it feels to be back home.

*Perry Como recorded the classic version of this song by Robert Allen and Al Stillman.

coming home from college for the first time

You May Also Be Interested In Reading, “The Other Side of Home – A Student’s Perspective”

Secretly I am hoping my mom doesn’t read this article. But here’s the truth: I always am so nervous coming home for the holidays. Here’s why…

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