This piece originally appeared on Grown and Flown.
Many of us are coming off a sneak peek of what the long winter break will entail as our college students return home. If Winter Break is the main course, Thanksgiving is the appetizer. A quick warm-up to the presto-chango from blissful family time to pushback and proclamations of “I’m an adult now!!!”
I have already heard from one friend about a total meltdown that kicked off ten minutes after her college sophomore returned home. That mama went from being thrilled to have her daughter home (for an entire week!) to shock and awe before nary a suitcase crossed the threshold. This is not how the Hallmark channel portrays such moments.
It’s ironic that we who have tended the fort while our students are snuggled in their dorms, will feel the most put out when those childhood bedrooms are filled again. Don’t these baby adults notice how well we’ve done in their absence? No. The answer is no.
The real problem is when the mid-year sophomores return home
For those of us with college sophomores, this holiday season may be the most wonderful wonky time of the year. Students midway through their first year away still miss their families enough to return happy that nothing’s really changed. They understand nostalgia and kin
dness and that house rules are not the same as dorm rules.
First-year students are willing to trade in their newfound freedom for home-cooked meals and long, lazy baths. On the flip side, upperclassmen often live in their own apartments and don’t need to come home for an entire month.
Sophomores. Yikes. They come in hot.
Sophomores don’t thirst for home. They returned to campus, only months prior, thrilled to see friends following a break that likely lasted much longer than they anticipated. As they slingshot home, for winter break, they are ready to “throw down” over curfews and expectations (and other surprise topics on which they are not willing to compromise).
Sophomores are done being told what to do
It’s not that they want to stay out all night. It’s that they don’t want anyone telling them that they cannot.
Don’t bother trying to explain that with no curfew in place, parents are forced to stay up all night wondering exactly when that front door will close for the last time. They will tell us to “just go to sleep.”
Yes, we do take a stab at it, but it is surface-level sleep partnered with an active imagination that starts with ‘what if he (or she) is not okay?’ And certainly don’t bother trying to explain how nights that end in the early morning turn into days spent in bed with unrealistic expectations that the rest of the house will be quiet while their sleep deprivation is resolved.
Set expectations before the kids get home
No, this is not always a joyous time.
Not while participants are actively working out the kinks as they shift statuses on the family tree. Counselors might tell you to set expectations before any emotional uproar.
Yes, that would be grand if it worked. We have done that here in our home, set those expectations early. It’s just that when the actual implementation kicks off we all find ourselves tweaking and altering and going back on what we thought was the perfect plan. If you haven’t figured out that ‘tweaking expectations’ is a perfect way to start another emotional uproar, consider this your warning.
My best advice? Learned from both trial and error, and the frantic whispers of the mothers around me? Keep your car keys close so that you can take a jaunt outside your now-invaded comfort zone rather than engage in another fruitless disagreement about how your family’s beloved traditions are for children.
Create an exit strategy for yourself
Yes. Really. Create an exit strategy.
Reserve a seat at someone’s table where you might grab a quick cup of coffee and a few accolades about how amazing you are, despite anything that would indicate otherwise. Praise yourself if there is no one else to do so. And make sure that “someone else” knows they are welcome at your table for a quick cup of coffee as well.
This is temporary. This is what we wanted, after all. For our babies to leave the nest and begin the discovery process of who they really are and who they will eventually become. During the process, we will encounter moments that are downright painful and uncomfortable.
We will also witness beautiful moments. Proud moments. Moments that cause our hearts to swell as we witness pieces being clicked into place, the building blocks of our children turning into fully grown people.
We will sit back, proudly, and think, “I did that!”
It just may not be this year.