If it hasn’t happened already, then soon your sons and daughters will be returning home from college for the December holiday. It’s a time that might be filled with two parts joy and one part dread. For the last few months, the household has assumed a new rhythm; it’s been quieter and less busy, so their return will renew some familiar routines. Then again, the last few months involved less time at the grocery store, less laundry on the floor, and fewer appointments to keep, so their return will occupy more of your time again. In order to know more joy than stress, I have some suggestions. They come mostly from experience but also from basic principles for a Shalom Bayit, a peaceful home.
- Speak without judgment. When they report on their semester, try not to say, “Good job.” They didn’t ask you to grade them; their professors already did that. They only told you what they wanted you to know. Instead, say, “It sounds like you’re happy with yourself,” and “You seem excited about your semester.” Even though you might register kind approval, they hear it as judgmental and that’s all they hear. If they report disappointing news, don’t say, “That’s terrible,” or “I’m so disappointed in you.” Instead, say, “You sound disappointed in yourself” or “It’s hard to adjust to new challenges.” It’s called active listening. Instead of judging them, validate them by acknowledging what they’re trying to tell you they’re feeling. Role-play at home before they arrive. It will serve you well. And, if you really succeed at it, they might even say, before leaving in January, “You’re a great listener. Thanks.”
- Give them space. After months in a dorm room or apartment, they’re coming home to their childhood bedroom. Even if it’s bigger, it’s emotionally stifling. Give them a few days to adjust to being home, which includes sleeping a lot, eating when they want to, and generally dressing down, if at all. Eventually, they’ll settle into a new routine, too, but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t include you. And, at 11:00 p.m., don’t be surprised if as you tell them “Good night” they tell you “Good-bye.” Just as your night ends, their night is just beginning. Let them go and tell them to be careful (you’re still a parent) and to have fun.
- Explain your boundaries. Don’t hesitate to let them know that while they were away at college, you enjoyed a new routine, too, and that you intend to keep it. It might surprise them to know that while they were busy in class, you weren’t sitting on the sofa waiting for them to come home. You might say, “We all want to enjoy the house as adults. At home, we (!) put dishes in the sink, return food to the refrigerator, put dirty clothes in the laundry, and generally help each other. And, one more thing, remember that Houston isn’t campus filled with friends and campus security. After midnight, Houston is dangerous. Stay together and try to be home by 2:00 a.m. We won’t call you, but you can call us any time you need us. Oh, and we love you.”
Finally, science has taught us that the young adult brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 25 or 26. Don’t tell them that, but consider that as smart as they’ve become with book knowledge and worldly experiences, they aren’t developmentally ready to reason, adjust, or associate with you exactly as you hoped they would. Home should be a safe place for them to demonstrate all that they’ve become, even though they’ll also regress when you least expect it and become the child you thought was never coming back. So, hold them close, but not too tightly; offer some advice, but be ready to be rebuffed; and, let them go their own way, but be ready to welcome them home again for a little while longer. These simple guidelines could mean the difference between a reunion and a rebellion this December. Good luck!