Dear Conflict Coach,
My family at home told me that they are so excited to see me and they’ve planned out my entire Thanksgiving Break–lots of time with my parents, my younger siblings, and my extended family. I’m excited to see them, but I also want some time for friends that I haven’t seen since I left home this summer. I’m also worried that my parents think my old high school curfew applies. I’m the first one of my siblings to go to college, so I’m feeling the pressure to pave the way for my siblings. How do I tell my parents that I want to see them and others in my family, just not all the time, and that I’m not in high school anymore?
– Home for Every Minute of the Holidays
Dear Home for Every Minute,
This is a classic challenge for students who go away to college and their families eagerly awaiting their student’s visit home, especially if a family also hasn’t seen their student since August. And, for you, since you’re the first one of your siblings to go through this, it sounds like the expectations aren’t quite clear for anyone.
The good news is, you can use this upcoming break as an opportunity to set expectations with your family. They may be nervous and anxious as they try to figure out how to welcome you home and they will be wondering how you have changed since you’ve been away. I suggest some clarity before you arrive home for this holiday to help everyone have a better and less stressful time together.
As a starting point, consider acknowledging to everyone how excited you are to see them and that the time is limited, so you probably can’t do everything that everyone wants to do. Also, consult with both your family and with your friends about what they are hoping for during your visit, and share your thoughts with them as well. This will help everyone feel heard and will help you make the most informed decisions about how you spend your time. You can also ask each of the people who are important to you what their most important event/gathering is during this time. As you learn about their needs, you can share what ones are meaningful to you.
As you frame out expectations, try to use affirmative phrasing–specifying what will happen, rather than what won’t. Being specific is also really helpful. So, stating something like, “I will be home or I will call/text to check-in by midnight,” will help everyone know what to expect instead of saying something like, “I won’t stay out too late.”
If possible, try to take the pressure off this break. I know it feels like a ‘big moment’ to try and cram everything in. But, also remember that (if you want) you will likely have the opportunity to interact with most of these people again, potentially in a couple of weeks during winter break. While it’s hard to split time between the important people in your life, highlighting for them that they are all important and that you are committed to the value of your relationship will go a long way to helping people be flexible about their hopes for seeing you this Thanksgiving holiday.
Try also to leave some room for flexibility. This is a new experience for both you and your family, and it is likely that those expectations will adjust over time.
Finally, now that you know how the pressure of these times at home can feel, think ahead to what your priorities will be over winter break, and consider asking your family and friends ahead of time–including if you simply want to ask to leave the time and plans open-ended. Once people have a chance to contribute to expectations, they typically feel more prepared to support what happens.
And, most of all — have a happy, restful, and safe Thanksgiving Break!
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