Home for the Holidays! How to Cope With Coming Home on Winter Break

By Lauren Joffe for The Real College Guide

Fall and winter breaks are fast approaching. And transitioning back home after a full semester away can serve up a chock-full of challenges .…

No biggie, right? You just left the home front a mere few months ago, so you should know what to expect upon your return. Well, not so fast. You might be in for a few, uh, surprises. Before you go assuming everything will be business-as-usual, check out what some college student vets have encountered, and learn how they managed their sticky situations. You can thank us later.

The Real College Huide

“The folks still want me on curfew!”

As an independent college student, you might think 4 a.m. is the new midnight. Meanwhile, your parents believe the old-school rules still apply. Syracuse University junior Kallen Smotzer laments going home each break, when her parents enforce rules she’s no longer accustomed to following. “The second I walk in the door, my mom wants to know where I’m going, who I am going out with and when I’ll be back. And when I tell her to chill out — whoa — that makes things even worse,” says Smotzer.

How to Deal
To offset a shouting match with Mom or Dad, be sure to keep your cool. If you lose it, they will perceive you as immature. And let’s be real: That won’t support your I’m-in-college-and-can-do-what-I-want stance. Calmly tell the parentals you would like a few minutes to discuss some things. (BTW, you might want to avoid disclosing beforehand that curfew is your discussion topic so they don’t immediately shut you out before you even get a chance to make your case.)

Once you have their attention, explain how you feel. Acknowledge that you see the validity in their POV and suggest a compromise. For example, you can promise to check in with them if you plan on staying out past a certain time.

“Eventually, my parents and I came up with a situation where I have a more reasonable curfew,” says Smotzer, “but it isn’t set in stone. I call home if I am going to sleep out or come home late. This gives my mom, especially, some peace of mind. This way, she isn’t up waiting for me to return, and I don’t have to hear about coming home late in the morning.”

Chances are that if you keep them in the know by volunteering information about your activities and whereabouts, they will ease up on the strict policy and let you come and go more freely. Demonstrating a little consideration and sense of responsibility goes a long way in the art of renegotiating house rules.

“My little brother has taken over my car!”

“I remember coming home to find my car absent from the driveway, so I was stranded at my house,” says Michelle Wallace, a junior at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. “The biggest problem was that because I was home for a full month, the day-to-day expectation that I could get where I wanted when I wanted didn’t exactly pan out as I had imagined.”

How to Deal
Keep in mind that you did leave for college, and your younger sib needs a way to get around. Do not have a fit about how it’s your car, because frankly, it’s not if your parents are footing the bill. Unless you bought it yourself with all the money you earned working part time at Dairy Queen (and are continuing to pay for the auto insurance and car maintenance), you really don’t have much of an argument here.

Yes, you just got home and want to socialize or whatever — but the fam’s life has to go on while you’re away. So, again, keep your cool. Explain to your sibling that it’s important you have a way to get around and that you’d appreciate it if you two could work out an arrangement to share the vehicle while you’re home.

Because of the differences in scheduling between college and high school, it’s possible your sib is still going to school during the day. Offer to drive him or her to school in the morning and to do a pickup at dismissal time. Sure, it’s annoying that you’ll have to wake up when you’d rather be sleeping in … but, hey, you get the car for most of the day.

“Who is this stranger, and where did she hide my BFF?”

Yikes! Your bestie since pre-K is now sporting a ton of piercings, a new neck-tattooed boyfriend and a passion for strictly vegan cuisine? Coming home to find your old confidant knee-deep in a completely new lifestyle can be somewhat of a shock. But remember that while your friend has undergone significant life changes, so have you.

How to Deal
Remind yourself why you two became buds in the first place. If going to Barnes and Noble to read magazines was your Saturday afternoon routine, try hitting up the bookstore again to catch up and reminisce. And leave your judgmental ways at the door, please.

Your pal’s new persona can be tricky but is acceptable; however, some friends may morph into something you no longer want to be associated with. Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol are common plights college students face … and there are those who get caught up in that world.

“All of a sudden, my friend Mark* became way more involved with drugs,” says New York University junior Danielle Mandel. “I guess his friends created an environment where he could be lazy and not ambitious. He got accustomed to living this way and now lives this life surrounded by drugs.”

The best you can do in this case is express some concern to your friend, but let it go at that. You can’t control how another person leads his or her life. What you can do is decide whether you’re willing to spend time with that person. You can choose to discontinue the relationship or to get together only occasionally. While it is painful to accept, not all friendships last forever. That’s life.

“My house just doesn’t feel like home.”

Regardless of how great college might be, you still dream of your queen-sized bed and other familiar comforts of home. But whether your parents completely relocated or turned your bedroom into a gym, office or naked room (you’ve seenFailure to Launch, right?), going “home” just doesn’t seem quite right. “My friend’s parents decided to move out of Manhattan to the suburbs while she was away,” says Stephen Smith*, a senior at University of Michigan. “Luckily, she was a quick train ride away, but I remember her feeling so out of place in her new house.”

How to Deal
Smith’s friend had the right idea: “To make things better, she focused on things like decorating her new room and discovering new restaurants in the area,” he explains. Focusing on the positives of this new situation will hopefully remedy some of the letdown you feel.

If you still have your own room, giving it your personal touch is a great way to spend your time. If you’ve been relegated to a guest room or the sofa bed in the den, sulking about it won’t do any good.

Instead, get out of the house and clock in some quality time with your parents or siblings, who’ve undoubtedly missed you while you were gone. Hit up a local cafe or take a stroll around your new hood. You’re an adult now, so act like one. And that means learning to adjust to new situations.

“I ran into my ex and her new squeeze.”

The ’90s boy band 2Gether (remember them?) got it right when they sang, “Breaking up was hard enough.” Yeah, and running into your hometown ex with his/her new BF/GF is even harder. Recounts Melissa Witkin, a junior at The New School in New York: “Carl and I dated for a little over two years, and when the relationship ended, it was an out-of-sight-out-of-mind type of thing. So when I ran into him at a restaurant over break, I was totally annoyed that he had found someone else while I was still alone. All I can say is that the encounter was a train wreck … and my awkwardness definitely didn’t help.”

How to Deal
While we’d usually tell you to express yourself with integrity, here we’re going to highly recommend that you feign happiness. When having a run-in with an ex, you want to adopt an in-and-out type of policy. The quicker it is, the more painless it will be. So flash your best smile and engage in a little small talk before saying you have to be somewhere else.

And as soon as you get home, feel free to cry along to Taylor Swift’s “Love Story.” But hold it all in until you are officially in the clear.

*Some names have been changed by request to respect the privacy of those involved.

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