The Importance of 'Family Time' When College Kids Come Home For Break

Last year your junior successfully completed the college selection process I blogged about, survived the college campus visits during senior year and has been happily ensconced in his or her ideal-fit university since September.

Then came Thanksgiving break. Prior to their arrival, you’d imagined leafy walks arm-in-arm with your offspring or, at the very least, looked forward to seeing their shining face across the Thanksgiving table laden with their favorite foods.

What happened? They graced you with their presence for 45 fleeting minutes during the entire four-day weekend! And you had to share that time with the family pet who was greeted with more enthusiasm.

No more, you promised yourself. Come Winter break, that wayward child is going to spend time with the family – and love it!

Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?

What could be satisfying, though, is a negotiated two-party solution. Your newly independence-loving college freshman agrees to a set amount of family time in exchange for the freedom to catch up with their besties and do everything else that college kids long to do during their month off.

Getting there will take more than a wish and a prayer – but not much more. Here is what I recommend:

Communicate your needs and expectations.

Begin a conversation before Winter Break so everyone fares better between semesters. Naturally, every family is going to have different needs and desires about how much family time is enough. No matter the amount, the tactic is the same: Clearly communicate exactly what it is you and your co-parent want and need from your kids. That’s critical, because they won’t have any idea what we’re expecting if we don’t tell them. For example, I typically ask my home-for-the-holidays kids for one or two family dinners per week, as well as their presence with our extended brood on the actual holidays. Any other family time (and it turns out, there’s plenty) is a bonus.

Articulate the “Why.”

Saying what we want isn’t enough. Parents need to communicate why family time matters. This is a values conversation, and I never miss an opportunity to tie my values into my conversations with my kids. I happen to believe spending time together is one of the best ways to strengthen our family community. So I make sure I remind them of that.

Manage unreasonable expectations.

Rein in on asking for the moon. Once our kids are in college, it’s not appropriate for us to hold them hostage 24/7 when they’re home. When you carefully examine your own expectations of them and make reasonable requests, you model for them how to navigate differences and be respectful others. For example, while my college kids don’t have a nightly curfew, per se, I tell them that when they come home at 3 am it’s disruptive to me. Let them know you understand their needs (to see their friends; lounge in their rooms; paint the town), too.

Acknowledge when they do as you’ve asked.

The power of “Thank you” cannot be overestimated. Don’t take it for granted that you asked your kids for something important to you and they did it! Not only does it make our kids feel appreciated for making the effort, subsequent visits home are much more likely to go better too.

So, if Thanksgiving wasn’t everything you hoped it would be, make sure you wrap up this all-important conversation sooner rather than later. Once they leave, email me and let me know how it went!

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