Even though it seems like the semester has just started, take a look outside. See that dark gray? Feel that cold drizzle that hits you as you walk across campus? That can only mean one thing – time is whizzing by and it’s almost time for Thanksgiving break. Thanksgiving break inevitably leads to finals and winter break. And all of those things, for many of us, lead to time at home with the parents.
For some, family time is as joyous as one of those old holiday movies, with much festive fellowship and big steaming piles of delicious food. For others, though, things aren’t as joyous at home – and those steaming piles are something else entirely. There are as many family styles as there are families – there’s no way to give advice that fits everyone. There are a few things to keep in mind, though, that might make the trip home a little easier this year.
Expect changes. Many a wayfaring college student has been dismayed to find that their bedroom has been switched to a sewing room or a giant storage closet. Relax. What can feel like a loud-and-clear “glad they’re gone” message can often be your parents’ way of saying “we miss you and it’s too hard to look at your room the way it was.”
Let them parent you a little. Even after a few years away, visits home can quickly devolve into a power struggle. It can feel pretty weird having mom check on your whereabouts at 2 a.m. after you’ve been keeping your own schedule for the last two to three years. If you’d really like to ensure domestic tranquility, let mom and dad give you some advice about car maintenance. Acquiesce when they tell you to pick up those damp towels. Your late-night freedom may depend on it.
Really listen. This is is interesting time for you and for your parents (and siblings!). Being treated like an adult happens more naturally if you treat others how you’d like to be treated. It’s true – that golden rule that they hammered into you in kindergarten still holds up after all these years. Show some respect and listen with an open heart. You’ll be surprised what you might learn.
Decide on some boundaries and stick to them. There are times when compromise is a good, relationship-enhancing skill. There are other times, though, when you need to let your parents and the other folks at home know that there are such things as deal-breakers. Give in on the little stuff, but stay true to yourself when it comes to your values. Maybe it’s time that uncle Roy’s sexist humor faces some heart-felt resistance at the dinner table.
Remember that change takes time. Your relationship with your parents, and your siblings goes through significant changes during your college years. While it would be great if everyone “got it” from day one, that’s just not how it works. Even in the closest of families, there are old hurts, difficult memories and some very well-established roles to deal with. Take a deep breath, pass the green beans to your right and open your heart to whatever is coming next.
Jeff Guardalabene is a psychologist at Pacific’s counseling center on Cedar Street.