Home for the Holidays: Great Advice for College Students and Parents

home for the holidays

It’s that time of year again. The holidays are here, and that means you’re probably on one side of this coin: a college student coming home for the holidays or the parents of one. Whether you’re a parent or a student, we all know that managing time with family during the holidays can be tricky. So here are my tips as a college student for both parents and students like me on how to make holiday festivities run smoothly!

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For parents:

Especially if you’re what’s called an empty-nester, holidays can be really tough because you want to maximize the time you spend with your children while they’re home. Unfortunately, most college students run from family activities. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  1. Be flexible with the amount of time you spend together. Spend time together when it’s comfortable for your whole family, but don’t push to always spend time together. The best way lose a full and festive house is to enforce too many rules too fast. It’s important to be lenient but firm. College-aged kids will stray from authority and won’t want to spend time with the family if too many laws are laid out.
  2. Be spontaneous. Vary the kinds of activities you do together. Don’t be too regimented or always do one thing. Finding something to do with college students is like any relationship; the same thing over and over won’t award you any points. Too many movie nights might be a little b-o-r-i-n-g. Go out to breakfast one morning (maybe on a day when you think your kids will be out with friends that evening) and leave the movie marathon for a day when a food coma is likely.
  3. Prioritize holiday decorating. Some empty nesters may feel the need to have everything prepared before the kids come home, while others may leave everything to do together. Given those two options, college-aged kids are likely to feel that they are either missing out or are obligated to do too much. Instead, beforehand do some of the things that aren’t so enthralling for your kids, but leave some of the activities you know they enjoy, such as baking cookies, for time spent together. Aim for a relaxed and natural atmosphere to make the best memories.
  4. Don’t forget traditions, but update those that aren’t working. Sure, we’re in college, but there’s something about traditions that make us little kids on the inside again. If you always pick out the Christmas tree together or make pies on Thanksgiving, make sure that’s what you do. It’s important for college kids to feel at home versus just being home again; it’s a reminder that something has stayed stable despite our lives being in flux. If there’s a tradition that everyone doesn’t take particular interest in, consider nixing it for something more fun.
  5. Mix family and friends. If your kids are notorious for running away to hang out with their friends when you want to do something together, try combining the two. Let your kids invite their friends to spend time with you and your family and invite their friends’ parents as well. This keeps both you and your kids involved and lends to an enjoyable and comfortable atmosphere. A full house during festivities means family and friends. The more the merrier!
  6. Don’t smother your kiddos. We know you like us; after all, you still love us when we’re cranky and rude. But remember that we like to spend some time on our own. Constantly being around someone, no matter who it is, is exhausting—and we have to do that almost every day in our classes. We also want to relax. College life can be stressful and discouraging, and sometimes we just need some “me” time. Don’t take it personally. We still love you!

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For college students:

  1. Be grateful. Remember that food is expensive, rent is expensive, and being alive is expensive. So don’t be a snob. Appreciate that your parents are giving you free food, free advice, and most importantly, tuition—all for a low payment of hugs and kisses!
  2. Compromise. Yes, your friends are in town. YES they want to spend time with you, but that doesn’t mean you should completely ditch your parents. Spend time with both. Manage your time like you manage your studies; don’t allocate all your attention to one “subject.” Spend some time with your parents on a day when you have plans in the evening with friends. Stay in one night that’s important to your family and go out another. Make family a priority. After all, you’re coming home to them, not your friends. Set an example for your friends. Blow them off for something you’re doing with your family. They’ll want to do the same.

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  1. Despite having lots of freedom in college, remember that parents still have authority and usually with the best things in mind. Try to be home when they ask you to and if you feel it’s unreasonable, negotiate. Let them know that “I want you to come home just because I want you to” is as unreasonable as “I want to stay out because I want to.” But whining and being rude will get you nowhere and will show that you’re much more immature than you’d like them to see you. Instead, ask why they feel you need to be home at a specific time, and make sure you have a strong case to support why you should be out later. Usually, parents are worried about your safety more than anything. The logic, “I can do anything while I’m in college, so why can’t I do it here” especially doesn’t count if you aren’t paying for everything yourself. Don’t kid yourself; going to college doesn’t automatically mean you’re an adult.
  2. Spend time with your siblings. Make a day of Christmas shopping for your parents. Go get coffee together and make it enjoyable. Do things with your siblings (or your parents) that you would be doing by yourself.

[Great holiday gift ideas for broke college students.]

  1. Finally, remember that spending time with your family is fun. Eating great food and spending time with siblings and parents doing the things that you all like should be pleasant and engaging. Try to pitch ideas that entertain a common interest. If your whole family is doing something all of you like, the holidays won’t feel forced.

So there you have it. Now go and make some great memories!


mariaAbout the author: Mariya Rakutko is a junior at the University of  Colorado and a staff writer for CollegeFocus, a website dedicated to helping students deal with the challenges of college, including housing,  finance, style, health, relationships, and transferring from a community college to a four-year university.

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