Thrive in Chapter Five, Embrace Your Journey

Self-discovery and Inspiration

Your College Student’s First Thanksgiving Home: How to Actually Enjoy it

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With Thanksgiving approaching, you are probably feeling excitement about having your college student’s first holiday back home.  If you are anything like me, I try to make it just right — all their favorite foods and comforts of home.  I put a lot of effort and thought into the family time.  But, without clear expectations there can be hurt and disappointment. 

Don’t fret just yet!  There are things you can do beforehand to make sure that doesn’t happen. 

You may not have seen them since August, when they were basically still high school students playing it cool, but secretly apprehensive about this new phase of life.  It’s important to realize that they have now lived three months on their own without chores or curfews…. and, survived.

It may take some getting used to but your son or daughter is no longer a child. They are young adults and they will be different. It’s important to keep in mind that a part of going off to college is for him or her to learn about different perspectives, lifestyles and become themselves.  They can’t do that if everything stays the same. has a great post on what to expect the first year and what parents can do to help the transition.

I’ve heard the disappointment in friends or coworkers after their college student returned for holidays.  

“I worked so hard to make everything perfect and was so excited for family time.  But, they came in for two seconds then took off to see friends!  We barely saw them.”  —  parents everywhere

Keep in mind, the first trip home can be challenging for the student as well. 

There may be some apprehension on their end wondering if they will be judged or criticized for the new lives they are living.  They also are probably eager to see some highschool friends and catch up on what everyone has been doing.  

The last thing they want is to be smothered and drilled with a million questions and rules.  And, they might be a little nervous about being their new selves around the family.

Without some forethought, this family holiday can feel disappointing and be a letdown.  But, don’t give up!  Communicating expectations ahead of time can make for a relaxing and memorable holiday that everyone enjoys.

college student home for thanksgiving

This upcoming Thanksgiving isn’t my first rodeo.  My daughter is in her sophomore year of college. Here’s a list of things I learned the first time around.  I plan to go through the list again and probably each holiday beforehand. It just helps us relax and enjoy when plans are clear. 

1.  Set clear expectations ahead of time

Be reasonable and recognize they will want to see old friends, but don’t leave it so wide open that they skimp on family time as well. Communication ahead of time can help avoid misunderstandings.

I lay out a reasonable timeframe that is expected to help in meal preparation, how long they are expected to stick around, and a reminder that when it’s family time — participate and unplug for a few hours.

I also ask for a bit of one-on-one time where we can talk and catch up.  We decide when that might be best ahead of time. But, we also do go with the flow so it’s not so rigid and scheduled that it’s annoying.

If there are younger siblings around it’s a good idea to discuss them as well. The younger sibling may have expectations of hanging out and could get hurt or disappointed if they don’t have any time together.  

After family time and some planned one-on-one times, it’s reasonable to let them be free to visit friends or even sleep if they want to. Although, that’s an important discussion too.

2.  Decide whether there will be a curfew or no curfew

Remember that the past few months your young adult has survived without a curfew.  However, at the same time they need to remember they are re-entering into a family household.  

Keep it real though, an 11 p.m. curfew for a college student might be a bit much.  Half the time they don’t even get started till 11 p.m! Amazingly,  I do remember those days. 

Therefore, we decided that as long as we were told where she was headed and when she thought she’d return, there was no need to set a specific time. Although, if things were running late or she decided to stay over at a friend’s house, we expected a text.

This was explained to her as a courtesy that adults do for each other so no one has to worry.  

3.  Chores

While it is a “break” for the student, they are still living in a house. I read one time that the returning young adult should be expected to treat the home as if they were a very respectful hotel guest.  

Obviously I wouldn’t want to treat my daughter like a guest. I want her comfortable being home, but it needs to be clear that everyone is expected to clean up after themselves.  I wasn’t going to be a maid. But at the same time I would not load her up with a huge to-do list.

For some, laundry might be an issue.  Luckily, my daughter likes to do her own.  But, if that’s not clear don’t be surprised if they don’t dump a load expecting you to do it.  Some families make an arrangement where if the laundry is left near the washer mom will do it.  If not, they are on their own. 

I’ve read horror stories where the kids come back home and trash the place, expecting mom to wait on them.  Fortunately, my daughter is pretty clean and this was never an issue.

Remember, it might be a good time for them to catch up on sleep.  Not only have they had new life experiences, their brains might be a bit overloaded from classes and exams.

4.  Guests

My kids have pretty good friends.  They are all respectful.  But, who knows what they’ve been exposed to at college.  It’s good to discuss what is allowed and what isn’t allowed.

Problems with friends has never been an issue with us.  But, I still laid it out as a reminder that while the dorms may not have rules, we still do — no underage drinking in our house.  Also, no boys in the bedroom.

Privacy might be a concern.  I believe everyone is entitled to privacy in their own room and don’t harp about picking it up, but I let it be known we do expect it to be cleaned up before she heads back to school.  If she keeps the door shut, she can have her space while home.  

We also allow friends to come by and hang out in the basement as long as it doesn’t disturb our sleeping.  

5.  Use of the Car

Will they have free reign of a vehicle or need to borrow the car?  Will they be responsible for gas or running siblings around?  Discuss and decide how things will work so everyone understands. 

6.  Let go of control and enjoy the new relationship

Recognize that they are legally adults and have been living on their own, are at home and respecting your rules, it’s wise now to trust and let go. 

Enforcing too many rules or being too inquisitive will scare them off and they may not want to come back. So, lay out the plan and then sit back and watch the child you raised show you how much they’ve grown.  I’ve found that my daughter is actually pretty wise and fun.  

Holiday breaks are a time to be a good listener and if they don’t feel like they are being drilled, judged or criticized, you’d be amazed how much they’ll open up.  Snippets of information will come your way if you don’t force it.

Ready for Thanksgiving? I am. I can’t wait to spend some quality time with my family  Any advice or tips you can offer on returning college kids?   Please comment below.  I’d love to hear what works or doesn’t for you.

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