When your kids have been on their own at college for several months, the thought of having them home for a big chunk of time is so exciting for parents.  Maybe we imagine family dinners, watching movies together, and things feeling “normal” again – at least for a little while. Thanksgiving break isn’t quite the same – so it doesn’t always prepare us for a full month of our kid at home after having been so independent at school.

When my first son was coming home and asked if he could have an “Ugly Sweater” party that first weekend before Christmas, I was THRILLED.  He trusts us so much!  He’s so creative with this idea!  His friends have matured – they want a real Christmas party – so civilized!  This “little” gathering will be lovely.  I’ll make pigs in a blanket! 

I COULD NOT HAVE BEEN MORE WRONG.  The sweaters barely mattered but Beer Pong season, despite the cold weather, was in full tilt!  Before we knew it, we were inundated with tons of kids, clad in ugly sweaters, but ready to party.  Thank you, social media gone wrong.  How dumb could we be?  But we didn’t want to disappoint him, we wanted him to see his friends, and we thought we had reached a new level of parent/kid socializing.  Once we realized the party was headed in the wrong direction, we had to pull the plug.  The next day, despite the brevity of the gathering, my house smelled like my favorite bar in college, the floors were sticky despite having kept almost everybody outside, and my son was devastated that his friends could be so inconsiderate.  Hundreds of dollars later in rug cleaning, we all agreed that things hadn’t gone quite as we hoped.

The hardest part of holiday breaks is letting go of MY expectations.  This is a kid who has been calling their own shots on a daily basis for months now. I’m not sure even they realize the tensions that can arise. 

First, they can sleep FOREVER and if you have younger ones ready to get to opening gifts, you have to set off a canon in their room to get them up and moving.  The bleary-eyed monosyllabic kid in front of you might not be recognizable.  Then they grab a cup of coffee and you’re even more shocked.  Coffee?  He never drank coffee before!  Why does he drink coffee now?  Is he so hungover at school all the time that he now chugs coffee?  Does he sleep through his classes?  Is that a BEER belly I’m seeing poking out from those flannel pajama pants? 

Then there is the inevitable prioritizing of friends before folks.  How could I forget that?  OF COURSE, he wants to be with his high school friends as much as he can.

Probably the hardest, depending on whether you have a boy or a girl, is getting the stories of their new life that you so want to hear.  My daughter comes home and typically holds forth at the dinner table with EVERY detail of her daily existence.  She cuddles with us on the couch. In fact, her first year, she would call me or her dad just to chat while she walked to class! 

My sons are clearly in the CIA, just posing as students.  Everything is strictly need to know and obviously I don’t have the right security clearance. 

Any romances?  How dare I ask.  “Mom, seriously?” 

Are they eating right?  “Mom, honestly.  It’s fine.” 

Have they made any new friends?  What are their names?  Would you like to invite them down over break for a visit?  “Mom, chill.” 

Okay, then just tell me their names.  “DJ, Mike and Drew.” 

Oooh, where do they live?  “Jersey.”  All of them?  “I dunno.  Mostly.” 

“Mom, can I just go upstairs for a while and get settled, then we can talk.”  Oh sure, honey.  I’m sorry.  Just excited to have you home – awkward hug.  Then I hear him on X box, full of animation, laughing, hooting, and hollering. 

Those big talks never really happened but I got the hang of it eventually.

I came to realize that it’s all part of the letting go process and what kept me going was remembering how I felt at their ages.

Back then, I felt out of sorts straddling my two new worlds and I realized my kids were feeling that as well. 

  • I did feel “confined” when I got home on breaks because I wasn’t used to checking in with anyone or having a set dinner time.
  • I did miss my college routine and my friends there.
  • It was weird being with my home friends again, because things were definitely different between us.
  • I felt guilty that I wasn’t dying to spend time with my parents and siblings. I thought I would!
  • I felt selfish but stuck – like I couldn’t deliver what I knew my parents wanted.

So as with all things in life, acceptance is key.  Summer breaks give us more time to blend back to the family we knew so I look forward to that.  In fact, summer is so long that I have time to get annoyed with them again.

In the meantime, just know whether they show it or not, they are REALLY happy to be home.  They can take a breath, the academic pressure is off for a few weeks, and they can just be who they are without worrying about roommates and deadlines.  Home is their safe place, and it’s the very fact that they know you love them no matter what that leads them to take you for granted.   

Every year, you will see that they appreciate you more.  Every break they showed me a bit more empathy, maturity and genuine thanks for the little things they once took for granted.  What was that phrase back when I was a teen – if you love something, let it go.  If it comes back to you, it’s yours?  With the last of three finishing their junior year, I can tell they are mine, and always will be.



  • Lucy said:

    Thank you 😊 I needed to read this to remind myself I am not alone in this journey.

    January 01, 2023

  • Michelle T Forbes said:

    Thank you for this, I needed it. My daughter just returned back to school from Thanksgiving break, she is a freshman and it was really hard.

    January 01, 2023

  • Greta Brooks said:

    Great reminders!

    January 01, 2023

  • Tom said:

    Hey Sis – great stuff. It is different now that they are adults. But doing SO good. I am so grateful (after spending the first month of my senior HS year in jail and graduating to my 2nd DWI at 22 years of age, I’m like, you dudes are fantastic 😊) 💕

    January 01, 2023

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