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A well-known proverb reminds us: "What children need most are roots and wings." As students experience the freedom that college brings, their return home at Christmas can provide both joy and tension for everyone. It's not unusual for budding scholars who have completed Psych 101 to make pronouncements at the Christmas dinner table about the level of dysfunction in their family, or, having read a short essay by Plato, to pontificate about the evils of democracy. One of the admonitions I give to students is: "It is great to be open-minded, but do not become so open-minded that your brains fall out!"
Of course, parents naturally are tempted to quickly (and loudly) "correct" these conclusions, but it might be more helpful to listen and calmly respond. One of the best ways to make the Christmas vacation time enjoyable for both students and parents is to be clear about expectations as soon as the student returns home. My advice to parents is that it is important for students to get reacquainted with the rhythm and expectations of family life. They may push back and declare their maturity and independence, but I have found in life that discipline is usually least welcomed by those people most in need of it.
Accountability -The first few days after finishing their final exams students may require a lot of sleep. After that, they should be rising and going to bed at "normal" hours. Staying up all night "texting" their friends and sleeping all the next day is not conducive to using the time between semesters in the best possible way.
Family expectations - It takes a "team" effort for a student to go to college. The whole family makes sacrifices to provide the student with opportunities to pursue his or her dreams. When the student is at school, his or her job is to study. When he or she is at home, the job is to contribute to the family unit. Whether it is helping with the laundry, cooking, baby-sitting, shopping, or doing other tasks, it is important that students remember they are not guests in a hotel, but contributing members of a mutually supportive family.
Reconnect with Church community- Students have different levels of involvement with their faith while they are away from home. Many grow in their faith and in its practice, while others unfortunately neglect attending Mass on a regular basis. The holidays provide an opportunity to reconnect with faith. Going to a penance service as a family and attending Mass together are great ways to recommit to living the faith. Some pastors gather college students for prayer and a dinner to welcome them home and to help them reconnect with their faith and their peers. If the local parish does not host such an event, it could be offered by parents of students.
Reconnect with extended family and school community- Visits with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives are important for family members and students. It is truly sad that too often loved ones go unvisited because of trivial distractions. Nothing gives us a sense of "rootedness" more than spending time with our older family members. As we age, we realize how precious these moments are, so even though the students understandably will want to spend time with their friends, they should be encouraged in the strongest possible way to visit their elderly family members.
Similarly, they should be encouraged to contact their mentors, teachers, coaches, and neighbors to thank them and to catch up with them. These meetings are mutually beneficial and help the student connect the seemingly unconnected parts of their lives.
Across our campuses, the campus ministers hear about how the examples of their parents, grandparents, or other relatives have served as an inspiration for them as they grow in their own faith lives. The words that parents hear at their child's baptism still ring true almost two decades later: "[Parents] will be the first teachers of their child in the ways of faith. May they also be the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith in what they say and do." The vocational responsibilities of parents do not come with a time limit. Even as children give their "wings" a good tryout, they still need their parents' love, wisdom, guidance, and example. In fact, as they transition into young adulthood, students may need their parents more than ever.
Father Richard Clancy directs the Campus Ministry programs for the Archdiocese of Boston. Campus Ministry is one of 60 programs supported through the annual Catholic Appeal.