Beginner’s Guide to Winter Break with College Students

Want to know what happens when college kids come home for winter break? There are no rules on how to navigate this month of unstructured time.  They’re independent and can survive life on a college campus, so what can you as a parent possibly bring to the table?  Sure, if you want to make dinner, cool, but don’t be surprised if they bail last minute.  I’ve been winging this parenting gig since 1998, and I definitely don’t have every anything figured out.  Yet, somehow we came out of college winter break 2016-17 relatively unscathed, so I’ll do my best to relive it for you – for better or worse.

Guide to Navigating Winter Break With College Students

Buh bye clean bedroom.

That clean room that is in direct vision when you reach the top of the stairs is a thing of the past.  The only bed in the house that was made 24 hours a day is no longer made any of the hours of the day.  The floor that you could run a vacuum through with no prep at all is now covered with snowboard gear, and luggage, electronics, and clothing.  Remind them that they’re not at college anymore and that cleaning is crucial.  This will fall on deaf ears, but remind them anyway.  You could play the “while you’re under our roof” card, or you can turn a blind eye.  God speed.  

Turns out your bath towels are now just one-use only, because the dirty bath towel pile grows almost daily.

 Oh, and each time you go to the washing machine, undoubtedly there will be a load of questionable clothing still sitting there mucking it up.  Play the “how many days has this been here and does it need to be rewashed?” game.  It’s loads of fun!  All those jeans and joggers and long sleeve shirts that you’ve carefully hung to dry because your 6’3 son has long limbs may be crammed into the dryer, and you must try to say no words.  You’ll probably fail.  But try. Then prepare for his negotiations for your laundry service in return for his undying love and gratitude.  

Your TV and remote are no longer yours.  

Unless you’re willing to watch endless hours of Shameless – and that show lives up to it’s title.  Netflix marathons are a bored college student’s best friend.  The first couple of days are spent sleeping, laying on the couch in the sleeping position, and eating.  Let them.  Finals week and college schedules are exhausting, and there is never enough food in the dorm rooms.

College age partying.  

Sigh…I have no advice.  My kid goes to college parties.  He does – even during winter break.  And he partakes in activities at said parties that we’d prefer he avoid.  Turns out, giving unsolicited advice ad nauseam only ends in rolled eyes and exasperated sighs.  Trust that you taught him to navigate these situations maturely and safely?  Believe him when he says that he’s making good choices – in the midst of making questionable ones?  Just take away the keys when the friends come over.  It may or may not be necessary, but unless you do a bag check at the door and then stay awake all night, it’s better to be safe than sorry.  Oh and family dinner with his high school friends is absolutely necessary.  Your own child’s presence is optional.  If he’s at work and last minute the friends are hungry – you cook.  And revel in their company without your own kid.

Gone are the days of any control over their schedules.  

The last 48 hours are for cramming in all the things they didn’t do the other 3 1/2 weeks, packing, and surprise! the laundry is still undone.  Good luck getting the garbage to be taken out or the massive pile of towels to be folded.  There are too many episodes left in Shameless and too many people who haven’t been seen. There’s no time to get groceries for the dorm room – can’t you just go alone?  By the way, no, you can’t go alone.  If he wants food, he can pick it out – and enjoy doing it!

Full disclosure: our son was pretty good about humoring us by asking to have friends over or to go out, but it was more of a courtesy than anything.  When he wanted to do something, he did it.  However, despite all the warnings that he’d disappear and not check in for days except for a quick shower and wardrobe change, I gotta say, he did a pretty great job of balancing his time at home and away with and without friends.   When the time came to say goodbye, I didn’t feel cheated.  That’s not to say there weren’t tears.  And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t check out for a couple hours to feel sorry for myself, and revel in the quiet that was our house. I am grateful for the time he gave us – game playing, meal eating, kitchen cleaning, errand running – we got our fair share.

I fail at parenting allthetime.  I mean, more than most parents, I think, and I can beat myself up over it, or be grateful that my children accept their frightfully flawed mom.  They’ve gotten pretty good at maneuvering my parenting mistakes. Overall I give us a B+ on our first college winter break experience.  We laughed and argued, and learned a few lessons.  We survived the first month at home after college living…now for summer…



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