The commercials are unavoidable – images of family celebrations nearly every time you change the channel. Thanksgiving is upon us, as are the Winter holidays which follow; the season of expectations and hope.
One of the dynamics at play this time of year is that the approaching holiday season is the most tradition-based on the calendar. Families often travel to be with each other attempting to create something akin to the quintessential turkey-laden feast Norman Rockwell made famous. How might this relate to my college student, you ask? In what ways have you celebrated during this season since your student was young. Have you hosted out-of-town family? Have you packed up the car and headed to Grandma’s house, or some centrally-located sibling?
Whether your tradition is to stay home or hit the road, it is important, if your student is traveling some distance to college, that you consider how, either hosting a house full, or piling in the car for additional travel might affect the family dynamic.
The person you dropped off in August to begin this college adventure is in no way the same one who will show up at your door in the next few weeks. She has made myriad of decisions which have begun to help her discover a new sense of herself. He has made choices that have bearing on the direction of his future without consulting you. To assume that your student is the same is to, from my perspective, create a “set-up” for everyone. Essentially it is not letting go of who she was to allow them to be who she is becoming.
Frankly, whether you’re aware of it or not, you have changed in your student’s absence too. We each make incrementally small adjustments to the space in our days that our student no longer fills. As much as we enjoy having them home, it is an adjustment all the way around. It is weird that you will feel the awkward space around him. It is weird too for her to feel a bit like a guest when she walks through the front door of the place she calls home. The best way to acknowledge the feelings is to talk about it – get it out in the open.
So, before this new creature springs through the door loaded with dirty laundry, late-night stories, new knowledge and opinions, new hopes and dreams, please make every effort to talk in advance about both your and your student’s expectations for the long holidays. Talk about travel plans to determine if what you have always done is feasible. Ask if she has made plans of her own. Ask him if he has his heart set on some aspect of your tradition that you may need to adjust. Talk to her about the parts of your family traditions you may like to keep in place, but your recognition that it will now be different. I promise you it will be energy well-spent.
As I have said before, the ultimate goal of this transition is to acknowledge the changes you experience by communicating your way through the process. Remember the adage: “Your job as a parent is never over, but your job description is changing dramatically.”