Home For the Holidays: Going Home from College for the First Time
I pulled into the driveway, a thin layer of snow crunching under the tires. Christmas lights, just visible in the quickly-dimming twilight outlined the windows of the house I’d grown up in.
I was home from college for the first time. Sure, I’d been back a few weekends, and over Thanksgiving, but it had only been for a few days here and there, and we’d been busy. Now, it would be the better part of a month, and I was looking forward to sleeping in my own room, seeing my family, spending time with friends I hadn’t seen since the summer.
My parents were happy to see me, but I noticed as I loaded in my stuff that it felt…different. Nothing major, just a few things rearranged in the living room. And my mother’s sewing machine and project table had taken up residence in my room. It was a very large room, so it wasn’t a problem, but it was different.
I wasn’t a social butterfly, but I did already have plans with some friends from high school. After dinner, I got my coat on and breezily told my parents, “I’m going out–see you later.”
My mom was like, “Hey, not so fast. Where are you going?”
“Um…I don’t know. I’m meeting some people at the mall and then we’ll decide from there.”
My mom stared at me, a frown beginning to crease her mouth. “You can’t just take off without us knowing where you’ll be.” (I admit this was before everyone had cell phones.)
“Well, we don’t KNOW where we’ll be, so I can’t tell you.” I was confused–had she known where I was going to be while I was at school? No she did not. So why was it a big deal now?
“How late will you be out?”
“I don’t know that either.”
Now she really did look upset. “You can’t just come and go as you please. We need to know where you are, who you’re with, and you need to be home by a certain time.”
Them’s fighting words for a college freshman. “I’m not in high school anymore, mom. I don’t need to tell you my every move. I’ll be home when I get home.”
I’ll save you the tedious fight that ensued. Suffice to say that We. Had. Words. It definitely dampened the mood of my visit.
I didn’t realize going home from college for the first time would be so difficult. I thought everything would be the same as it was, except that I’d have the same level of freedom I had acquired that semester at college.
My parents thought everything would be the same as it was, too. We had totally different expectations for my visit.
Going home from college for the first time can be stressful–for everyone.
What I Wish I Had Known When I Went Home From College For the First Time
If someone had told me a few of these things below, I probably could have avoided the ugly argument with my mom.
1) You might be home, but in a very real way, you’re now a guest there.
This is something that I don’t think parents or college students really think about. But it’s true. The time of you zipping home from high school, grabbing a snack, and rushing off to play rehearsal or basketball practice is over. This isn’t your full-time home any more. Your room might belong to someone else now, and your family’s daily routine has definitely changed while you’ve been away. They’ve moved on, just like you have. And while that’s a little painful, it’s also good. It’s as it should be.
It doesn’t mean you’re not welcome. You are a deeply welcomed, special guest. But…a guest, all the same.
That has lots of implications for both you and your parents. First, let’s talk about you. If you were visiting your college roommate’s family for the first time, how would you behave? Hopefully, you’d be on your best behavior–picking up after yourself, polite, considerate. You would probably at least let your hosts know your general schedule, and whether or not to expect you for meals. You’d hopefully find out from them what their preferences are for guests coming in late at night, and you’d try to do things like help out with dishes or meal prep. (Please tell me you’d do these things!)
Okay, so apply that same set of considerate-guest behaviors to your parents’ house. Ask before you raid the fridge. Find out if it’s a convenient time for you to use the washing machine. Don’t leave your stuff strewn all over. Communicate about your schedule with your parents–at least in enough detail so that they know whether to expect you or not for meals or other activities. Hang up your wet towels after a shower.
Double check about schedules and routines because they’ve probably changed the past few months. Don’t assume everything is exactly the way it used to be. Communicate. Ask.
In other words, be POLITE.
2) Be an adult about the curfew issue.
As far as the curfew issue goes, be proactive and bring it up first. Find out what your parents prefer (you bringing it up and asking their preference also communicates that you’re dealing with this as an adult instead of as a kid.) Let them know you don’t expect them to wait up, but that you don’t want to disturb them either.
Try to have some idea of what nights you might be wanting to stay out, and then you can (hopefully) find a time to be home that will be acceptable to you and your parents. Show them consideration and try to be flexible. It’s only for a few weeks.
By the same token, you being a guest means that your parents really should not dictate to you a curfew (when was the last time they put a curfew on any of their other houseguests, huh?) You are, after all, legally an adult, and you’ve been pretty much on your own for the last few months. If you broach the subject carefully and respectfully, it’s reasonable to ask to be given some consideration as an adult.
But if you act like one, it will certainly help.
3) Make your family feel like a priority.
It’s tempting when you get home from college for the first time to fill up your time visiting friends, going to holiday parties, and catching up on all the stuff you’ve missed while you’ve been gone. You probably want to sleep in late, and after surviving finals, you probably just want to veg a bit too.
All these things are great, but don’t take your family for granted. Even though they’ve adjusted to you being gone, that doesn’t mean that they haven’t missed you. Chances are, they’ve been looking forward for weeks to having you home again.
If you are always running off to some event or to meet up with friends, that may really disappoint your parents, who were hoping to spend time with you, too. If you have younger siblings, they have probably missed you as well and would love to spend time hanging out with their cool college sibling.
Friends are important, but they can’t replace family. Not entirely. You’ve got the chance to build really great memories and experiences with your family. Don’t waste it.
You know, I don’t even remember which friends I was off to meet that night. I don’t really remember what we did or anything. It must have been pretty inconsequential.
What I do remember is that fight with my mom. I used to get so upset at her for wanting me to call and let her know I got home safely, for worrying about me, for all those things that make teens and young adults so mad.
My mom isn’t alive anymore. I miss her every day. Those memories of her–good and bad–are precious to me. I would give anything to have her still here, worrying about whether I got home safely or not. It meant she loved me.
Not trying to get too emotional here, but I do hope you get the point: this time with your family is special. It’s never going to come again. You don’t want to let it slip through your fingers or be littered with conflict.
So when you go home from college for the first time this December, hug your parent(s) and your siblings (if you have them) a little tighter. Be an adult and be a good guest. Make this holiday something you’ll look back on with joy–not regret.
May your holidays be beautiful and memorable!