Home (or not) for the holidays

By Diane Schwemm

“Our daughter’s school is a 3-hour plane trip away, so she spent Thanksgiving with her roommate’s family. We couldn’t wait for winter break — it felt like forever since she’d been home. Then it turned out she had to be back on campus right after New Year’s for basketball. Not only that, she’d already applied for a spring break community engagement project on campus. It’s great that she has these opportunities, but… I just didn’t realize, when she left for college, that she might not come home all that often.” — A first-time college dad.

We’re still getting used to our students being gone when suddenly it’s time to prepare for their first visit home. I use that word intentionally — it is a “visit.”

Home will always be home, but usually by the halfway point of the first year in college, the center of a student’s universe has shifted. Though we understand it’s supposed to happen that way, it can still be hard for parents to accept. We’re glad our students have new friends, aspirations, and commitments, but that doesn’t mean we can’t acknowledge that it makes us a little bit wistful, a little bit sad.

Not every student is in a hurry to fly the coop. It varies, and you know if you have a homebody or an adventurer. Still, even as early as freshman year, many students make plans for long weekends and spring break that don’t involve coming home. January term internships and summer jobs lure them to other locales. When time at home is a rare commodity, look for ways to make the most of it.

Tips for parents of long-distance students

The university may provide shuttles to local airports and train/bus stations. Is there a Ride Board or Facebook page where students can find and offer rides? Double check the academic calendar and exam schedule with your student before booking tickets.


This might be your student’s first visit home. Stories may spill out right away, or it could take a few days for him to open up.

  • Ask about his new friends and where they hang out and what they like to do together.
  • How is coursework going? Offer tips for making it through finals.
  • Look ahead to winter break. How long will he be home, and does he plan to work or just relax? Many schools have most of January off, but he may need to be back on campus earlier than you expected (for winter sports, for example, or to take a class).
  • Send your student back to school with a first aid kit, a filing system, or anything else he may have forgotten at the start of the school year.

Winter Vacation

Once your student has caught up on sleep, he might take off with old (or new) pals. In the time you do have together:

  • Encourage him to reflect on first semester, and set goals for second semester. What were the highlights? Did he establish good study habits or is that still a challenge?
  • Help him take stock of his budget. How’s the money holding out?
  • Point out that, if academics are under control, the midpoint of the school year is a good time to get a campus job, join a team or organization, or volunteer.

Spring Break

If your student is home for spring break, he may just want to flop around playing video games. Rest should be the top priority; the rest of the semester will be intense. But this week is also a perfect chance to tackle, in a low-key way, one or two of the practical life skills that will come in handy sooner or later:

  • Car or bike maintenance
  • Meal planning and cooking (especially if he’ll live off campus next year)
  • Filling out income tax and financial aid forms
  • Working on his resume and summer job search

Plus maybe you’ll find a quiet moment for one more talk while he’s still a freshman…