By Shelley Murphy
Taking a break from my online holiday shopping spree—pausing only for my credit card to cool down—I searched the Internet for humorous holiday reading. Instead, I found a surprising number of articles providing parents with survival tips while their college freshmen are home for winter break.
I count myself as one of the parents excitedly anticipating my boys’ arrivals and plan on thriving, not surviving, during my freshman son’s seasonal vacation. Until my younger son arrives home, I’ll keep my cell phone close and count down the days until we trade our quick calls for homecoming hugs. Our conversations are brief, frequently interrupted with shouts of “Hey, how’s it going?” directed at friends and always end abruptly with, “I gotta go.”
My waiting for his calls and texts stops just in a few days when my college newbie finally returns home. He’ll walk through our threshold, slinging a large sack over his shoulder. Unlike Santa’s sack brimming with gifts, my son’s bag will overflow with laundry.
As I read some of the online articles, I flashed back to my older son’s first freshman holiday. I remembered his arrival home that winter break and with hindsight will admit it’s an adjustment for both parents and students.
Freshmen students are apt to return home exhausted from the final weeks of a semester filled with collegiate papers, projects and parties. After dumping their laundry on the floor, some college kids may drop as well, but it’s more likely they’ll rally and race out the door they just walked through.
One of the most noticeable changes in returning freshmen is the fierce protection of their newfound independence. Parents will soon discover their freshmen college kids aren’t too fond of resuming the rules they lived under in high school.
The perfect storm hits when parents enforce “my house, my rules” and young adults rebel after becoming accustomed to unrestricted freedom. The most common clashes occur over parental expectations, household duties and family commitments.
Experts quoted in the articles I read claim the key to avoiding conflict is a healthy mix of mutual respect, communication and compromise. For our family, the compromise involves distinguishing the difference between living in our family home and living in the fraternity house. Attempting to adjust to our college kids’ vampire-like lifestyle presents another challenge.
If history repeats, I’ll notice how nocturnal my younger son has become. His current sleep schedule will likely resemble his infant sleep pattern when he mixed-up his days and nights—content to wail through the night then sleep soundly during the day.
Both my sons can’t wait to get home and reconnect with their high school friends. I’m proud of the achievements my boys accomplished at our hometown high school and equally proud of the long-lasting friendships they maintain.
I’ll thrive in our chaotic holiday house full of boys and the treasured tradition of watching them rush to reunite. One of the true joys of the season is the nostalgic reunion of friendships that span miles and years.
This holiday season I won’t settle in for long winter naps. I know there’ll be nights I put a pillow over my head drowning out the roaring laughter and booming music from downstairs—and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I enjoy our empty nest’s transformation into a merry and bright home.
Alas, the joy of the season is fleeting. After several weeks of seeing my boys nestled all snug in their beds, the grouchy Grinch will appear and stop Christmas from continuing. Too soon the weeks of festivities will end and college kids’ conversations will change from catching up to, “When do you go back?”
One by one, my sons’ friends will dash away and return to their respective college campuses.
Then the time will come for my boys to leave. After they drive away from our home and back to their lives, I’ll return to my computer—this time searching for tips for surviving their absence and another heartbreaking goodbye.
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband for the past 16 years. She’s a freelance writer and contributor to the SC Times since 2006.