It's your first time away from home. You might find yourself suddenly living in a community of students who have a new-found independence. You are immersed in classes, clubs, sports, and social activities. There's no chore list, no younger siblings, no curfew, a whole new world of night life, and living space that doesn't include parents. It may be exciting --- possibly liberating --- but it won't last for long. At some point, you'll find yourself heading home for a holiday or summer break. For those who experience the buzz of college life, it unexpectedly comes to a halt. Some look forward to being home, but haven't considered what that return will be like. In what seems like an instant, your role changes. Your parents' rules and expectations await --- how will you adjust?
Adjustments when Returning Home for a Break
You may need to deal with things such as:
- Loss of independence
- Questions from parents
- Can't spend the night with the significant other
- Old bedroom was transformed
- Car use
- Overwhelming need to catch up with people
- Consequences from parents due to poor performance in school
- No privacy
- Expected to baby-sit younger siblings
Or, you may suddenly have to:
- Adapt to life away from friends, clubs, and parties
- Deal with more of an adult role in the family
- Go to work (during summer or winter break)
- Fit into the bathroom schedule
- Answer questions about late-night activities
- Re-conform to parents' expectations
- Struggle to hold onto newly discovered adult identity
- Fend off boredom/laziness at home
- Realize you may have outgrown some old friends
How to Handle the Changes
Consider this example before reading further:
During winter break of my freshman year, it was ten or ten-thirty at night, and I wanted to go out and get some coffee, and my mother said she didn't think it would be a good idea. We live in suburbia, not exactly dangerous. My mother said "It's kind of late." I said, "It's ten-thirty. Are you insane?" And I walked out the door.
Maintain open communication with parents
You have been exposed to a new life, and may have acquired new viewpoints as well. You have gained freedom that you may not have had before and you still want to exercise it while at home. Talking with your parents can pave the way to a more comfortable transition during this time. Tell them about your many responsibilities at school and be open about your social life. Point out the fact that your "clock" has probably changed; you're not in bed by 9:30 like in high school. You're an individual who's experiencing growth and self-discovery, so go ahead and express that to your parents in your own words. Don't forget --- your parents views should also be respected, so ask them about their expectations of you.
Expect family role changes
You're an adult, and that may raise the level of expectations your parents have. They may recognize your newly acquired independence as a sign that you are capable of more responsibility. You may be asked to help more around the house with chores or caring for younger siblings. You may be expected to fill the tank if you use one of the cars. Since your parents' home is not a residence hall, you might want to pick up after yourself more, or watch the noise level later at night. You may also want to help your parents realize that you're no longer that child in high school, but rather a young adult in their presence. Be aware that this is an adjustment for them as well.
Expect social life changes
It's often exciting to see old friends from school or the neighborhood. You may find it overwhelming trying to catch up with everyone, or simply to find the time to see them all. Maybe few friends are still in the area and you feel lonely away from your friends from college. It's also possible to see unexpected changes (negative or positive) in people, or come to a realization that you have outgrown some of your friends. No matter the scenario, talk to a friend or family member about your reactions. Most of all, enjoy the time you do spend with someone; you'll be back in class soon enough.
It's give and take
It might be helpful for both you and your parents to realize that there are changes for all of you to adjust to upon your return home. Communication is the key and a level of acceptance and respect from both sides is worth working toward. You and your family can choose to acknowledge each other's differences. It may take some time to adjust to each other, but this period can be a rewarding time of growth for your family. Work to create a bridge, not a wall between you and your parents. Adjustments require flexibility and patience. Your first time home on break may be a challenge when the high school student your parents knew shows up as an independent college student you now see in yourself. A little communication, respect, and acknowledgment can go far. It's all part of your new life role as an adult --- so go ahead, embrace it. We'll see you when you get back!