Soon, they'll be ba-a-ck, and this time it won't just be for a long weekend like Thanksgiving. Are you hoping for harmony but realistically anticipating discord and maybe even a few fireworks? How can you pre-empt any disagreements with your college student and make this a memorable holiday vacation for everyone?
Think about what their lives have been like for the last few months -- meeting new people, studying, socializing, fighting with roommates, writing papers, breaking up with boyfriends/girlfriends, sleeping through classes. Then add rushing fraternities/sororities, joining clubs, attending sporting events, skipping meals, gorging on late-night pizza, partying, consoling friends, studying a little more and sleeping a little less.
Does that make you tired?
College kids typically return home sleep-deprived, frequently with sore throats and colds (is lack of sleep possibly a factor here?), anxious to renew, rejuvenate and restore themselves (read: sleep for the first three days) and excited about re-engaging in their old lives.
They're a mess of emotions. Most college students are hyper-focused on their own lives. Although they recognize changes may have occurred at home, very little equates with the intensity of change they think they've experienced. And, for the most part, they are right. College can be an emotional roller coaster.
Survival tips for parents
Communicate your expectations: If they are going to be home for a month or so, it's reasonable to discuss chores, family rules and obligations as well as plans for time together and time on their own.
Don't make plans for them without their buy-in: You can't assume they'll be home every night for dinner. Let them know you respect their independence. Make some reasonable requests, and they'll probably respond reasonably.
Expect that your daily schedule will be disrupted: There will be more dishes to wash, more loads of laundry, etc. You can anticipate much of this, so retool your routine as best you can to accommodate your fuller house.
Schedule one-on-one time with your child: Nothing will provide a greater payoff for both of you than spending some quiet time together.
Don't ask too many questions: It's hard, but let them lead the discussions. Let your children decide how much of their lives they're ready to share with you. The less you ask, the more you are likely to learn.
Don't cater too much: Remind them that they still need to be respectful of everyone in the family. Going overboard and treating them like royalty won't sit well with younger siblings.
Expect some bumps in the road: Prepare for some culture shock. Many college students determine over the holiday break that they have more in common with their college friends than their high school buddies. They may become bored and eager to get back to school. Some students experience feelings of isolation and depression. Keep a watchful eye and be compassionate.
Let them know you're happy they're home: That could mean anything from baking their favorite chocolate-chip cookies to playing their favorite board games.
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.