Staying sane being with your family for a month

By Kristen Finley
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Car packed for long term travel. Photo by Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr.

If you’re not part of the group that gets to stay on campus during winter break, you’ll most likely be heading home for the month long break. For some, being home that long is a chore, while for others, it may be easier. If you’re cringing at the idea of going home for that long, here are some tips to keeping your sanity.

Knowing Your Place

Being away probably brought on a better sense of responsibility and independence. Without parents in your space, you learned to take out the trash, to wish your dishes and what conditions are or not acceptable in your living space. When you get back home, however, it’s important to keep in mind that you are now in a place where your levels of acceptance may not be up to par with your family’s. It is not unreasonable to ask you to meet their expectations.

If a parent asks you to take out the trash, to not leave your dishes in the sink or to vacuum every now and again, it’s not a ridiculous request. As a member of the household and of the family, it’s not absurd that you’re occasionally asked to help keep the place orderly. Be respectful and reasonable. You only have a short time with them, so be wise about which battles you choose to fight.

After all, college is supposed to make us more functioning and intelligent adults, right? Those moments would be the best time to prove that you’re no longer a bratty teenager, but a respectable adult. A little sacrifice goes a long way in the home.

Expect the Unexpected

For those who don’t have the luxury of going home almost every weekend, it would be wise to prepare yourself for some sort of surprise. It’s rare that people get to be away for extended periods of time and have their home life be exactly the same as when they left.

Someone may have forgotten to inform you that a relative has moved in (maybe even into your old room), or that something you once cherished is now gone or your old room has gotten a drastic makeover. My best friend came home to the Bay Area after being in San Diego for Thanksgiving, only to discover that her old room was now the family’s indoor gym and her “room” took the shape of a pull out couch in the living room.

Before you head home and have your expectations to relax in total comfort are shattered, it’d be wise to call and have a conversation about the current state of things – what the condition of your room is in, where you’d be sleeping (if not your room) and what the plans are for break. If you know what kind of situation you’ll be walking into, you’ll be better able to prepare.

It’s also wise to know that it’s not likely that you’re the same person you were when you first left for college or the last time you were home. You’ve learned to be a lot more independent from your family and they’ve learned to adjust to not having you around. So, it’s wise to assume that the dynamic is different from what you’re used to.

To compensate, be patient with any new expectations there may be by giving yourself a few days to get to “re-know” your family and how they’ve changed during your absence. Ask about any changes at work, in their social life and what’s been going on in the family that you didn’t get to hear over the phone. This helps give you any sort of context as to why they might act a certain way or why they might be doing things differently.

Be sure to fill them in on yourself, as to give them a better understand as to how you have changed as well. The more time you spend getting to learn new habits, opinions and thoughts, the better the experience will be.

Protecting Your Sleep Schedule

While it’s a blessing not to have to wake up for class at 7 a.m. to be at a class by 8 a.m., try not to sleep in or go to bed too late. It’s beyond tempting to sleep in until noon now that you have no responsibilities and nowhere to be, but it will likely come back to bite you once it’s time to head back for the spring semester.

I’m not suggesting to continue to wake up at 7 a.m., but keep your wake-up time reasonable. Trust me, trying to get your sleep schedule sorted out before the next semester is a crippling obstacle in itself. Plus, it would probably prompt comments about laziness or sleeping the day away, and that’s not fun for anyone. You will be the winner if you keep to a good sleep schedule.

Everyone’s Favorite Game: Twenty Questions

Related to my first point, expect to be berated with questions about your life in school. While it may be annoying, try to think of it from a different perspective: their contact with you changed from almost every day and all the time to every once and awhile, and odds are, they’re genuinely curious about how you’re faring away from home.

There’s no doubt that questions about who you’re dating, what your grades are, who your friends are or what kind of assignments you have to do are indeed frustrating. However, you are their child, and odds are, they’re spending a great deal of money to keep you enrolled and thriving. Give them some details, and save the annoyance and attitude for a time that calls for it. After all, if you someone you loved was gone for a few months at a time, wouldn’t you want to know what’s going on?

Think about a favorite class, or a subject you’re focusing on, that’s interesting to you. Discuss your new favorite hobbies, what you do to study, talk about friends you’ve made and what you like about them; talk about your campus. Show them pictures, keep them engaged. Shutting them off with the typical and tempting quick answers to deflect may hurt someone’s feelings and cause them to feel rejected.

Keep in mind, I’m not suggesting to accept or respond to questions that are offensive or abusive in nature. It’s always a good idea to have an established sense of boundaries and stick to them. If you’re confronted with a sensitive topic you’re not ready to talk about, or with a question that’s personally offensive or passive aggressive, it’s perfectly acceptable to say so and suggest another topic. If no progress is made, it’s also acceptable to remove yourself from the scenario altogether. Never tolerate an attempted assassination of your character.

Be Sure to Pencil in Your Family, Too.

Going home can sometimes mean being reunited with friends you haven’t seen for a long while. It’s exciting and it’s a great time to spend rekindling bonds stretched by distance, but it’s important to find a balance between them and your family. Your family is extending their place for you to stay in while you’re not in class, and it’s guaranteed they’ve missed you – so don’t leave them out of your newly found free time.

Schedule time for yourself, as well. You only have a little over a month to spend with quite a bit of people, but it’s essential to your survival that you have at least one day per week where you get to relax and be alone (if that’s how you recharge, of course). Don’t stretch yourself too thin. You deserve to actually have time off to yourself while you’re on vacation, after all.

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