Family Vacation Traditions: How To Adjust With A Child In College

Many families have beloved traditions when it comes to celebrating holidays and annual milestones like birthdays. For parents or guardians with a child in college, it’s common to wonder how family vacation traditions might change. If this sounds like you, rest assured that it is a completely normal experience and part of your student’s personal growth.

“As with every phase of the development of age, we have to parent differently and this one is no different,” said Jim Burns, Ph.D., executive director of the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at the Azusa Pacific University. “It is important to understand that your college student is now a young adult, so some roles and responsibilities have changed over the course of the semester and will continue to change throughout the college years and beyond.”

Remember, you are on a side trip

It is a time when students and their family members adjust to changes and growth in the relationship. Burns calls this a ‘side trip’ because guardians often learn how to raise a young adult for the first time, and middle school students typically learn to be an adult and behave more with adult family members on an equal footing. for the first time. . “Neither party has a job description or instruction manual,” he noted.

Your expectations of how time is spent, in terms of involvement with each other and with family, may or may not be completely different from your child’s. Remember that students return home after being in charge of their own schedule all semester. So how do we manage this uncharted territory together and manage expectations on both sides?

Practice proactive conversations

According to Burns, it’s often more difficult for parents to adjust than it is for students. Parents will likely expect family vacation traditions to stay the same, while many students might expect things to change. If you discuss expectations before your student comes home, you can avoid a lot of misunderstanding.

Burns said it pays to jump on the phone when your child is still in school. Consider having a conversation about how you want to spend time with your student while they are home for vacation. This allows you to make a plan and compromise if you need to.

For example, you might have spent the same three days visiting other family members each year, but this year your student is asking for more time at home to reconnect with old friends. You can compromise by spending two days visiting relatives instead of three. Changing some traditions while keeping the family connected can be refreshing for everyone involved. “When you go into these conversations, make sure the kids are nervous about it and it’s embarrassing for you as well,” Burns advised.

Consider potential alternatives

Also, when having this conversation, ask your child what they think about each tradition and your vacation program as a whole. Burns explained that using a “hold, throw, fit, or undecided” assessment approach can help facilitate the decision-making process. As a family, you can all decide whether you want to keep a holiday tradition as it is, get rid of it altogether, adapt it or decide at another time.

For example, if your student can’t come home for the holidays but still wants to be a part of some traditions, you might want to adapt the tradition to include them. You can call them during Thanksgiving dinner when everyone is walking around the table to say what they’re thankful for, or you can video chat with your student while decorating the Christmas tree and hanging an ornament in their honor. .

Be creative and flexible

If your primary intention is to stay connected with your student, then a flexible, creative, and understanding approach to adjusting your expectations is key, according to Burns, who has experienced this himself with his own children.

“As parents, we expected Thanksgiving Thursday would have passed with us as always, but one of our college girls came home and informed us that she was going to Mexico for a surf trip, ”says Burns. “By discussing it with my wife, we found a solution to make our holiday meal from Thanksgiving to Sunday every year.” It eased many conflicts in the Burns family – and it even applied beyond college, when the girl had other family members and friends vying for her attention during the holidays.

If your student is coming home for the holidays, Burns also suggested involving them in the more adult roles of holiday traditions, such as shopping, planning, cooking, and decorating. It helps both parties to see each other in a new light.

Letting your child know how you feel (and asking them how they feel) promotes understanding in your new adult-to-adult relationship. This way you can preserve traditions that may be important to you and adapt others. By speaking up front about boundaries and values ​​with a loving and welcoming attitude, you can ease stress and enjoy the quality of your new adult relationship as your family progresses through college and into the future. the future.

Curious to learn more about developing healthy family relationships while your child is in college? Check out Azusa Pacific University’s HomeWord Center for Youth and Family for more information and ideas.


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