Back in fall 1992 when I was a college freshman, I remember anticipating that first Christmas holiday break with excitement as well as dread. On the one hand, I couldn’t wait for the semester to be over, for exams to be over, for the stress of the academics to be over—at least until the new year. And, I looked forward to the time spent with family.

On the other hand, I was really enjoying my college experience, and I found myself wanting to hang around after exams were over. Additionally, as much as I wanted to spend some extended time with family, there was an added layer of complexity that came with my status as a college student. More specifically, when I went home, there were a new set of expectations around my coming home that neither my parents nor I had anticipated. It wasn’t just me being surprised by their expectations: I surprised them with mine as well, and not in a good way.

What was the problem? Communication of expectations—or rather the lack thereof. Here’s a clear example. I assumed that I would spend a good amount of time with old high school friends during the break. I hadn’t communicated that expectation to my parents, much less asked them if that would work for our family plans. Understandably, they were put off when I told them what I would be doing. The problem was compounded in reverse. My parents had assumed that since I had not communicated what my plans were, that I would be spending my entire break with them. We had to work through the conflict in the moment, when everything was on the line in the middle of an already stressful time of year with church commitments, other family coming, plans changing, etc.

Although this example is innocent enough, it is a common problem that could be easily avoided. It is also just one instance of the larger piece of the communication puzzle that so many parents of college students struggle with. If you are the parent of a college student, here are some questions to ask yourself regarding the Christmas break:

  • How much time do I want to spend with my student? What activities do I have in mind?
  • What are my student’s expectations of how we will spend time together over the break?
  • To what extent have I intentionally listened to what my student wants over the break?
  • How much do I feel that my student has really heard me?
  • Bottom line, what does a successful Christmas break with my student look like?

Merry Christmas to you and your entire family.​

Interested in what you can do to help guide your student through their college transition? Check out John Basie’s book, Your College Launch Story: Six Things Every Parent Must Do!