If you have a student coming home from college this holiday season, maybe you can relate to Lisa Heffernan’s Thanksgiving experience:

Here is the fantasy: After months of missing our college kids we eagerly await their return for Thanksgiving. In our dreams we spend cozy hours in the kitchen listening to them recount their experiences and marveling at the newly mature teen who sits before us. Our kids have looked forward to these days of rest and reunion and are thrilled to come home to the embrace of their families. Food will be abundant and family time sacred.

Here is the reality: One of my college sons gets a ride home for Thanksgiving. He steps just far enough into our home to drop his dirty laundry in a large unkempt pile on the floor. He is barely across the threshold when his high school friends pull into our driveway. Before my husband and I have laid eyes on our son, he shouts “I’ll be back, see you later. It will probably be really late.” and walks back through the door he entered, let’s call it, 45 seconds earlier.


Heffernan tussled with her two kids when they came home from college for the holidays, and battled her own frustrations:

The collision course of parent expectations and college student reality is one that plays out over each holiday break and summer vacation. Battle lines are drawn soon after our kids arrive home and despite the best intentions we begin to argue. They sleep when we are awake and vice versa. They forget that family members work or go to school as they and their friends wander in and out of our house at all hours. They spread debris over every horizontal surface, leaving our homes looking much like their dorms.


Then Heffernan came to this important realization:

For me, the “my house, my rules” axiom doesn’t work, because I wanted this to be, now and forever, our house.

I want our family home to always be just that, all of our home. I want to it be a stress free zone in a stressful world, a place they look forward to returning to. And if I open my mouth, if I give voice to some of my thoughts (is it possible that you are 19 years old and have not yet learned to wipe a kitchen counter?) then it will be anything but that.

My mistake was in viewing this visit as the lingering days of their childhood. Instead, this was the first moments of adulthood.


Read the rest of the Lisa Heffernan’s excellent article on the New York Times’ Motherlode blog here.


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