If you’ve been hanging around here for very long, you know that I’m an advocate for setting realistic expectations. Our unrealistic expectations breed disappointment, discouragement, and disillusionment. Today’s guest post helps with expectations for parents of college students.

Kelly Radi is the author of Out to Sea: A Parents’ Survival Guide to the Freshman Voyage. A mom of two daughters who went from diapers to diplomas in a nano-second, Kelly empowers parents as they prepare to launch their children. You can find her online at outtoseaparentsguide.com.

If you don’t have college students, do you know someone who does that could use these wise words?


Winter break is here. It’s the time of year when parents eagerly anticipate their college students returning home. They have visions of sugar plums and expectations of Norman Rockwell-like family moments—gathering around the fireplace, playing games, telling stories and eating popcorn.

They will be disappointed.

Holiday break is often the first time students return home for an extended period of time and parents are often shocked and disappointed when their expectations are not met. Whether your child has been home several prior weekends or if you haven’t seen him or her since move-in day, be prepared for a change. The student you dropped off in August will not be the same one who returns home for the holidays.

Students mature and and develop new habits once they leave home. Winter break will be a more positive experience for all parties involved (including siblings) if parents know what to expect before their students arrive home for holiday break:

  1. Your child will come home tired. Expect him to sleep a lot.
  2. Your child will come home hungry. Expect her to eat a lot.
  3. Your child will come home with piles of dirty laundry. Expect your washing machine to run a lot.
  4. Your child is used to having alone time. Expect his need for space.
  5. Your child is used to having social time. Expect her to want to see her friends.
  6. Your child is self-sufficient and able to manage his own schedule. Expect him to want some autonomy.
  7. Your child will come home eager to let you know how smart, evolved, and worldly she has become. Expect to be challenged a lot.

For some parents, the hardest part about a child being home on break is that he doesn’t seem to be home at all. In fact, this disappearing act is quite common, especially among first-year college students.

It never hurts to remind your child that family living requires mutual respect and some give-and-take. Then, as parents, we must also remember to heed our own advice. Compromise and communication are key to a cohesive winter break with your college student!


What about you? What wisdom do you have for parents navigating winter break with a college student? 

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