This week, as students around the county travel home for the Thanksgiving holiday, they’ll find home cooking, a comfortable bed and familiar faces; but many of those students will also notice an abrupt hiatus in the personal freedom they experience at school.
To make that transition easier, parents and students should talk about their expectations before the vacation starts, according to Deidre Weathersby, a clinical councilor at the University of Illinois.
There is a transition period throughout a student’s college years where their relationship with parents becomes more adult. The shift of those power dynamics can be all the more evident during school vacations, Weathersby said.
“It can be a challenging time for both students and the parents,” said Marjorie Savage, the parent program director at the University of Minnesota who has also authored a book about the college transition.
Parents often have expectations that things will be just like when the student lived at home. The student often has different expectations that mean they’re happier to see the family car than their parents.
During vacations parents often have expectations that things will be just like when the student lived at home. The student often has different expectations that mean they’re happier to see the family car than their parents, Savage said.
Savage also said it’s important to discuss these expectations before a vacation starts because it’s important that students realize there are times specifically set aside for family activities.
Beyond expectations, Savage said parents and students should discuss any changes that may have occurred in the nearly three-month period the student has been away. If everything — from a changed hairstyle to new family room furniture — is discussed ahead of time, it cuts down the potential for nasty surprises.
“The worst time to announce you’ve become vegan is around the Thanksgiving dinner table,” Savage said.
Students need to remember that they are coming back into a family environment where there are household rules. Savage said the students can ask for modifications to those rules, but shouldn’t expect changes to happen automatically.
“It basically comes down to communication all the way around,” Savage said.
Often these visits home are a good time to examine rules as a family to determine if they’re all still needed, she said.
For Washington State University freshman Hayley Mitchell, the trip home for Thanksgiving break will be her fourth trip this school year. Those stays each only lasted a couple of days, but this time she’ll be home for a whole week.
When she’s home now, she still tells her parents where she’s going and who she’s with – not because she has to, but because she wants to.
The rules now that Hayley is in college have become more relaxed than they were during high school. She said the conversations don’t revolve around asking permission, but rather just volunteering information.
Hayley’s mother Valerie agreed that the rules are more relaxed now. She said she realizes the freedom Hayley has at school and hopes Hayley is at a point to make good decisions.
“I don’t think I’d be thrilled if she walked in at 4am,” Valerie said despite not imposing strict rules.
Hayley and Valerie haven’t had a formal discussion about the vacation expectations ahead of time, but Valarie did say there are a handful of family commitments Hayley should be a part of, then the rest of the time is up to her.
“Beyond that it’s just exciting to go to the grocery store and buy all of her favorite things,” Valerie said of having Hayley home.
When parents and students are face to face, there can be a tendency to discuss finances or school plans. Savage said that conversation doesn’t need to happen during Thanksgiving dinner.
She recommends parents and students give each other some advanced warning and set aside a specific time during the vacation to have those finance and school discussions.
George Mason University freshman Avery Powell hasn’t yet made a trip home this semester but will spend five days there over break. He said his parents are pretty laid back and are only as strict as they need to be, so they also haven’t formally discussed expectations for the break.
Powell already has plans with friends scheduled for the vacation, but none that conflict with family events during the holiday.
When school first started, Powell said his father advised him to develop a life at school and not be dependent on coming home on a regular basis. Powell said that’s worked out pretty well, but said it will be nice to see friends and family over Thanksgiving.
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