With Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner, it’s possible you’re already heading home for the holidays. Unless your campus is in-state, chances are you haven’t been back for any weekend visits. A word of caution: coming home may not be what you expect! While you may be nostalgically anxious to hug your dad, eat some home cooked meals or just pet your dog, the reality is that coming home may offer an odd mix of familiar comforts and sudden strangeness. Many college students describe a sense of displacement when returning home for breaks. It can almost feel as if you’re a guest in your own home.

College is full of many new experiences; often you are paying your own bills, keeping your car maintained or doing your own laundry for the first time. In addition, you’re setting your own schedule and coming and going with little or no accountability. You’re meeting new people from all over the country (or even world!) and being exposed to new situations and ideas. All of this brings exponential growth! It is part of the often-complicated trajectory that moves you from dependence on your parents to independence as a fully-functioning adult. And in that place of growing autonomy, it is not uncommon to feel as if you’re somewhere between two separate worlds, not fully belonging to either one. Rest assured these growing pains are normal. Over time your relationship with your will most likely stabilize into a place of health and balance. As you head toward the holidays here are some insights to help minimize the tension of shifting roles and lead to relational peace:

  • Begin with open expectations. Before heading home this season, work to surface any hidden expectations your parents might have, such as: will I be sleeping in my bedroom when I come home? (Imagine the shock of students who have returned to a sibling taking over their own previously inhabited space)! Does Rule XYZ (fill in the blank) still apply to me? What chores and household responsibilities would you like me to help with while I’m home on break? On the flipside, honestly communicating your expectations will help your parents know what’s realistic when you’re back home. For example, how much time do you anticipate spending with old friends (keeping in mind that even this represents an area of shifting relationships)? Are there appointments you’ll need to schedule for your “time off?” Remember that common curtesy makes the world go ‘round, so while home, respectfully verbalize simple things like where you’ll be or what time you’ll be home. While you may be tempted to think you’re being treated like a kid again, these simple things are actually a way to display your growing maturity, which in turn leads to growing trust with your parents.
  • Take a risk and open up. Your family will be anxious to hear about your college adventures, so be open and share your stories! Let them into your new life. But if you’re like most college students, you’ve experienced your share of challenges too (especially with all the weirdness of 2020). Keep in mind that your parents are “for you” and want your success. They remember what is was like to launch into newfound freedom and had their own tough experiences. Don’t be afraid to express this part of your story as well. Your parents’ ability to offer wise counsel about financial, health or relational struggles may surprise you!
  • Thanks goes a long way! Don’t forget the sacrifices your mom and dad have made to get you where you are. Whether that is financial or emotional support—or both—they have likely helped you in innumerable ways along your journey. A simple “thank you” will mean the world to your parents in this season of sometimes awkward transition. An often-overlooked aspect of gaining independence is the fact that your family has gone through a type of grieving process, to one degree or another, over your absence. Life likely feels different without you at home. So, make allowances for this reality, as well.

A promising study done by College Pulse suggests that 3 in 5 college students report an improvement in their relationship with parents in this season. The goal in this new season is not simply to go from dependence to independence but to a beautiful new place called interdependence, where you’re appreciating your parents on a whole new level. As writer Molly Seltzer brilliantly emphasizes, “Think of how much is illuminated when you put a light source farther away from an object; you can see more. The same is true with people. Physical distance acts like a lamp and often sheds light on things you didn’t notice when you were close to the situation. College is that light — behave with patience and grace, and your relationship with your parents will be sunny, no clouds in the sky.”