Having your college student home for Winter Break

Friday, January 06, 2012
College boy Jason (far right) on our family Winter vacation.

College boy Jason (far right) on our family Winter vacation.

There's a new dynamic at the Buckman House right now, as my oldest son, Jason, is home for his first college Winter Break. Since we dropped him off in Pittsburgh for football camp in mid-August, he's been on his own and we've gotten used to having one fewer Buckman Boy in the house. Now, it's back to old times... Sort of. Not really.

For four months, Jason hasn't had anyone telling him when to come home at night, when to clean up his room, when to get his work done, etc. And for four months, since I haven't known exactly where Jason was at every minute of the day - and especially at night, I haven't been all that worried. It helps knowing that he doesn't have a car out at school, so I'm not worried about accidents or bad driving decisions. We usually text or Facebook chat at least once a day, so I know he's basically OK.

But now, he's back under our roof, and driving our car. And I'm back to worrying. I still want him home by midnight. I want to know where he's going and with whom. He may be a 19-year-old college student, but he's still my son and, somehow, I feel more responsible for his behavior when he's under my roof, than when he's 300 miles away. And as you can imagine, the adjustment for all of us has been a bit dicey.

Jackie Burrell, a parenting and education reporter from San Francisco, makes these suggestions for parents and college students dealing with that first winter break.

1) Communicate about your expectations and the student's plans
2) Prepare for culture shock as you student will likely miss his college friends, and feel he has less in common with his old high-school friends
3) Plan family events that include your college student.

College Parents of America reminds parents that students do need to relax over break, especially if they've just gone through the stress of finals. But it can be frustrating if your college student is staying in bed all day, while everyone else in the house is heading out to school or work. They suggest this might be a good time for students to spend some time shadowing someone in a field in which they're interested, or even work part-time for some extra spending money. That's what Jason is doing, when he's not scheduled for things like doctor's and dentist's appointments, which he couldn't take care of when he was away at school.

College Parent Central also says it's important to balance your student's need for relaxation and sleep with family expectations. Here's what they suggest for parents who're worrying - like me. "It may not be reasonable to expect your student, who has been able to come and go at will while at school to step back into the curfew she had in high school. On the other hand, it may not be reasonable for your student to expect you to be comfortable not knowing when she is coming in or where she is going. Talk it out. Let her know your absolute bottom line. Be ready to compromise. Talk about your comfort level. Let her talk about her expectations. You may be surprised at how reasonable your student can be when the issue is addressed calmly before it becomes a problem and when you ask for her input as an adult."

As challenging as this time can be, I'll probably shed a tear or two when he heads back to school in mid-January. Like I said, he's still one of my boys...

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