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Home for the Holidays


There's no place like home for the holidays. Commercials and holiday shows tell us that the holidays should be shining and perfect. As end of the semester pressures subside, most students can't wait to get home, relax and be around family, eat some decent food, see old friends, go to some parties and participate in family traditions. There is nothing more joyful than a happy holiday season.

However, where there is so much potential for happiness, there is also great risk for disappointment and sadness. Students returning from college can experience a let-down when their expectations are not met.

Some students may have been remembering only the good things about being home, and when they get there, remember that there is a lot of stress in their household. Many students, exhausted from the general stress of college life, are looking forward to a sleeping vacation punctuated with seeing old friends. Meanwhile family members are expecting their college student to be home in both body and spirit. They may be expected to attend a high school concert for a younger sister or do everything a little brother has planned to do. Parents may have plans for a student to help in holiday preparations. When students do get to see their old friends, they often find that everyone had changed and things just aren't the same anymore. Maybe instead of being able to just relax, a student will have to work long hours.

There may have been some changes in family financial status and it is just not possible to have the same level of material gifts a student may be used to. Or as students, there are a million things you want and need and the big gift is an electric blanket.

Holidays are a challenging time for children of any age who have divorced and separated parents. It can be especially difficult if the separation has occurred during the last year and this is the first holiday to negotiate the time between two households.

There may have been other big changes in either the immediate or extended family that may be especially poignant at holiday time. A married sister may be spending the holidays in another state with her husbands family. Maybe Aunt Sadie died last spring and she is the one who always made sure the lighting of the Menorah for Hanukkah was done properly. Maybe a grandfathers health has deteriorated to the point that he can't read the Christmas story for the family on Christmas Eve.

There can be a million other glitches. Students can stretch their physical capacities to the limit, pull several all-nighters, make it through finals and go home and get sick. It seems that holiday time is often a time for broken hearts. A student may be trying to recover. All they want to do is be left alone and get lost in a mystery novel. The car that is desperately needed for student teaching or an internship breaks down. Then there is the stress of the parents who want to relive their lives by talking about everything that is going on in the life of their college student. Besides that, grades from the fall semester can help or add to the tension. 

Communication and negotiation with family members can smooth out many potential problems. Let parents know what your needs are. Be prepared to do some of the things your family has been planning for you. If it is your first time home from college, you may also have to negotiate a curfew.

Negotiating with divorces parents can be extra challenging. There may be situations which you can do nothing about. Think realistically about what would be best for you, and let both of your parents know. Maybe that is just what they need to know. Sometimes there is just nothing you can do, but accept what "is." Sadly, this is also true of families where the parents are still together, but where there is a great deal of conflict.

Be prepared to discover that both you and your friends may have changed and it may mean that you can appreciate the changes rather than just mourning the way things were.

Maybe you are one of those with a broken heart for the holidays. Grieving a lost relationship takes energy. So it's okay to take time out and isolate a little, but also plan to reconnect with family and friends.

Maybe you are one who has suffered some losses in significant people since last year at this time. If that is the case, even if it seems hard, don't run away from the sadness or try to make yourself forget. Plan a more relaxing holiday and give yourself time to remember and be sad and even be glad for the memories. Holiday and family gatherings present an opportunity to reminisce.

To waylay the disappointment from gifts and the loss of holiday magic, try to change your focus outward a little. Look for some new holiday traditions, maybe help in a soup kitchen, play Santa Claus for the neighborhood, visit a nursing home alone or with friends. Cook something new. Plan a different kind of party.

Having realistic expectations, being able to negotiate and making some adjustments can help make it a happy and healthy holiday season.

If you are concerned about your holiday and having a difficult time managing some of your feelings, call 436-3368 to make an appointment with the counseling center.