Thursday, December 19, 2013

Coming Home For The Holidays by Guest Blogger Caryn Ritchie

Just in time for the holidays - we welcome recently retired psychotherapist Caryn Ritchie. This is our gift to all mothers with kids returning home from their first semester at college. Take heart, they are still your kids, despite how different they may seem after just a few short months out of your nest.

Holidays take on a special meaning for those of us who have children (adults?) coming home from college for the holidays. The exciting part is that you never know who is going to walk through the door. The only thing certain is that whoever walks through is not going to be the person you dropped off at the dorm just a few short months ago. 

The key to enjoying the holidays with this person is taking the time to get to know them, like you would a stranger. Because in some ways, they are now a stranger to you. In the short time that they have lived away from home, they have managed to make more changes than in the entire eighteen years at home. They have completely changed how they look, what they eat (Didn’t I tell you I’m a vegetarian?), how they think, and what is important to them. Your preconceived ideas of the past are no longer relevant. 

You can try and fight this, and you can mourn the loss of “my little baby”, but the best thing to do is to try and understand them and enjoy the ride.

As parents you will have some major adjustments to go through. You will go from empty nest to full house and back to empty nest again in a few short weeks, although sometimes it will seem forever, and others like a blink of an eye.   

The roller coaster is all part of the ride. You now have a house of adults, not really children and adults anymore, so some of the rules may change. You still set the house rules, but strive for a happy medium. Be clear when you set boundaries, and be flexible with your limits. Remember as always in life, pick your battles, and usually three is enough.   

I find that mutual respect goes a long way. I try not to get involved with things that are trivial to me, such as hair, clothing, music, and eating habits. At the same time I do let them know what my expectations are in areas that do matter to me, such as class attendance, drinking, safe driving, and casual sex.  

Even though I know my children may now have some different values from me, I am firm about setting up house rules that reflect my values while they are in my house. There will be no underage drinking. I don’t need them to have a curfew, but I do need to know whether or not they are coming home. That is just courtesy. I set the sleeping arrangements if girlfriends are staying over, no matter what they do at college. At home it is my choice. We may not always agree, but things do not have to turn into a battle. I try to be nonjudgmental of their lifestyle while having them respect mine.

Once your children leave home and come back, it’s like having extra people in the house when they’re there. As much as we miss them, we do adjust to a quieter, less complicated routine when they’re gone. Now it’s time to talk about sharing the car again, and sharing any house chores while they’re home. Your bedtime is now earlier than theirs, you enjoy different TV shows; they no longer eat meals at regular times. You need to adjust to this, without losing yourself in the process.   

It is Ok for you to go your separate ways at times. Actually, it’s a good thing. Too much togetherness can be hard to take. Your children will probably want to spend a lot of time with their friends anyway. Don’t feel hurt by this. They missed them as much as they missed you, and they all have a lot of catching up to do. The kids should make sure they do put some time aside to see Grandma and Grandpa, but you can’t expect them to spend all their time visiting extended family. Don’t make this an issue, or you’ll all be resentful.

The best time for me when my kids are home, are the quiet unexpected moments when we actually sit down to talk and share. This is a great time to find out who they are now, and what they are thinking. But, you have to cultivate this conversation. Don’t expect it to happen as soon as they walk in the door.

First everyone has to get used to each other again, and the seeds need to be planted. Then you need to show that you are worthy of having this conversation by showing them empathy, and accepting their feelings. You may agree to disagree, but do it in a respectful way. As a parent you need to LISTEN, a lot, before talking. Encourage their sharing with you, again don’t be judgmental. You need to look at the total picture of who they are, not just the parts that make your hair stand on end.   

As different as they are now, in many ways they are still the children you dearly love and would give your life for.  Look beyond the piercings, and the long hair. Listen past the casual swearing. Share their passion and their enthusiasm for life. Let them light up your house with their new ideas. And most of all, love them for who they were and who they are now.   

Peace and Happy Holidays.


Caryn Welz-Ritchie is a recently retired psychotherapist and columnist for The Register and Gateway Publications under the tag line Free Thoughts. She is currently working on publishing a book of her writings.

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