Home for the Holidays: Listening to Your College Student

December 29, 2007

To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a short strange trip it’s been. A few days after the end of finals at Auburn University, my son came home for the holidays. And now he’s already gone, not back to college, but to visit a college friend in another state … and then off to the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl to watch our Auburn Tigers beat the Clemson Tigers. You see, our home has changed. He went to high school in Alabama, and then our family moved to Georgia in the mid-summer. So he literally knows no one where we now live, other than those he’s related to.

Though our family’s circumstances are likely different from most, I was wishing I knew more about what life would be like for that brief time he’s home. What are parents to do when their freshman comes home from college for the first few times? Here are some things to expect:

  1. Laundry. Lots of laundry. Though he has a free washer and dryer mere steps from his room in college, he still brought home three or four loads. (Some parents may be nice and do it for him, but I thought, “Why make things different than they were in high school? He did his own then, and he can do his own now.”)
  2. An alpha-dog revolt. Whoever the oldest child left at home is probably has assumed the position of the alpha dog, the one in charge of the younger siblings. When your student comes home, the proverbial applecart will be upset. At our house, it took almost a week for the pecking order to be re-established. (How’s that for a bunch of metaphors in one paragraph?!)
  3. Curfews are out the window. And that’s our choice. I chose not to enforce the curfew that he used to have. In college, there’s no such thing as a curfew.
  4. Late sleeping. That was a hard one for me. I forgot how late college students sleep when they have no classes to attend.
  5. A few groans. Even though he made some half-hearted attempts to avoid some family time, he always showed up where and when he was expected to, unless it was before 10:00 a.m.
  6. Little conversation. Or a lot, depending on the moment. It’s never what I plan on. (That’s no different than when he was in high school, at least.)
  7. A new tattoo. Your student will likely have made changes to his or her appearance, even if it’s not as permanent as a tattoo. (At least our son called home to let us know he wanted to get one ahead of time. I’m still not sure if he was asking for permission or simply informing us of his decision.)
  8. An empty wallet. Whose wallet was emptier? Probably his before the visit, and ours after!
  9. Spending time with friends. Most of the time he was home, he was connected – wirelessly – to his college friends via Facebook, text messages, Halo 3 and an occasional cell phone call. If he had friends in our new neighborhood, I’m confident he’d have been visiting with them in person, away from our house.
  10. Listening is different. You’ll now be listening to your student not as though he’s a child, as you probably were before he left, but as the adult he thinks he’s become. And guess what, he is now an adult. Scary thought, no?


  1. I really enjoyed your post about you son coming home from college and all the advice/warnings you informed readers about. What I found most humerous about the post was that almost everything you said about your son was the exact thing that I do/did to my parents when I come home. You really hit home for me when you discussed: laundry, curfews, late sleeping, family time, little conversation, tattoo, empty wallet, spending time with friends.

  2. […] Home for the Holidays: Listening to Your College Student […]

  3. Thanks for posting your parental perspective about returning college students. Your post was focused on your son’s freshman year, but as a senior I never thought I would ever come home just to do laundry (it’s a $1.50 a load, plus the basements a little creepy, and I was a little homesick). While there’s no pecking order at my house I was dropped from the voicemail and a riding lawn mower took my spot in the garage. Your last point about listening is so true, just in reverse. At times I find myself talking to my parents more as an adult and it scares me just as much as it probably scares them too.

  4. […] #6 Home for the Holidays: Listening to Your College Student, Barbara Nixon April 9, […]

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