When Your College Kids Come Home for Winter Break: Expectations vs. Reality

The anticipation was high. I hadn’t seen my baby (i.e. my 18-year-old college freshman) in two (2!!) months and he was finally coming home. I expected family dinners and family game nights, trips together into the city to see a play, late night conversations and laughter.

And then there was reality.

Ok, it wasn’t that bad – there were plenty of moments of togetherness – but my Norman Rockwell reunion was not to be. My son had friends to see and sleep to catch up on. Treks into the city were not on his “to do” list unless, of course, they involved his girlfriend.


I’m on my 4th winter break (my baby is now a senior in college) and I can tell you it’s much the same as it was when he was a freshman. And, although I know better, I can’t help but hold out hope that every break will be a little different. So here are the top expectations I have every year for my college kid’s winter break and what I should know by now but clearly don’t:

Expectation 1: The first night that my son is back home we will have a long family dinner where he will tell us stories about school and his friends and we will all stare at him with adoration and laugh at all of his funny tales.

Reality: We eat dinner together. It takes about 10 minutes then his friends come over to pick him up and he leaves with promises to tell us stories when he comes home (and that doesn’t happen because I am old and asleep by 11).

Take away: But at least we shared a meal!

Expectation 2: We will all gather together to watch a holiday movie, snuggled up on the couch sharing a bowl of popcorn.

Reality: Everyone agrees to watch a movie but no one will agree on what movie. I feel dissension in the ranks so I demand that they stop bickering and watch Elf/White Christmas/Bad Santa and like it – damn it! About 30 minutes in I notice that my husband is asleep and the two boys are watching something entirely different on their respective computers only glancing up once or twice to watch the movie.

Take away: But at least we are in the same room!

Expectation 3: We will decorate the Christmas tree together – sipping hot cocoa and reminiscing as we pull out ornaments.

Reality: I tell everyone we are putting up the tree. Everyone says they can’t at that moment and I have to wait. So I wait. About an hour later I ask again and get the same answer. I insist we put the tree up NOW, reminding my family that it only takes 15 minutes – tops – to pull out the tree and hang the ornaments. I am met with more resistance. I threaten to cancel Christmas. Everyone begrudgingly walks to the living room to put up ornaments and I am sad because this was NOT what I wanted.

Take away: I should put the tree up by myself. Of course that would result in whining from my family that I didn’t wait for them so basically it’s a no win situation. Maybe I should invite friends to help and offer wine?

Expectation 4: I love going out for breakfast and he loves to eat so I will take him to this great breakfast place I used to go to in college that has the most amazing, over-sized, gooey, iced cinnamon buns.

Reality: He sleeps until at least 1:00 pm. every day and the restaurant closes at 2:00.

Take away: Take him to lunch or dinner.

Expectation 5: We all go Christmas shopping together!

Reality: We buy everything online because after one trip to the mall I remember how much I hate being at the mall around Christmas.

Take away: Start shopping around Halloween?

Expectation 6: We will head to the city to see a play/ eat dinner/see the Christmas lights and it will be magical – just like when they were little.

Reality: When the kids were little heading into the city to see a play/eat/see the decorations was usually a nightmare and did not improve when the kids became teenagers who would rather have been hanging out with their friends.

Take away: Let them bring friends and give them LOTS of advance notice and constant reminders or you will be met with: That’s tonight?!?! when it’s time to leave.

Expectation 7: I will miss my kid when he goes back to school.

Reality: I will miss my kid when he goes back to school and I will forget all about my failed attempts at togetherness which is why I repeat them Every. Single. Year.

Take away: Look for the spontaneous moments of togetherness and don’t worry if your plans fall off the rails.


Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, the happiest of holidays and a wonderful New Year!

On CollegiateParent – How Holiday Traditions Change As Kids Move Away

I am pretty excited to introduce a new collaboration with a site for parents of college students. CollegiateParent is a great resource dedicated to helping parents navigate their child’s college years from move-in day through graduation and beyond. I stumbled on the site when I was looking for some college specific content before my younger son and I set out on college visits but I kept returning to the site for the parenting advice.

My first piece as a freelance contributor for the site is about the shift that happens to your family traditions when your kids leave for college. Even though I expected some changes when my kids got married or moved away I was a bit thrown that we were expected to adjust long before either of my boys had even graduated from college. You can read What Happens to Family Traditions When Your Kid Goes to College here.



Managed Expectations

i suck as a parent

I just returned from a four-day tour of colleges with my son and aside from my scratched cornea and a cough that has forced me to sleep upright on my living room couch, we got nothing out of it.

I had grand plans for our trip. We were going to talk and laugh and bond over our weekend experience.  We would discuss the high and low points of the colleges we visited and laugh about the ridiculous questions that other parents asked (questions like, “How many volumes does the library have?”). We would return home with private jokes and be closer than ever.

Instead we bickered and fought and I threatened over and over again to fly home without him. Our discussions about the schools we visited were reduced to single sentences like:

“This tour guide is TOO happy. I don’t want to go to school here.”


“I really…

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The Last First Day of High School


When I first quit my job to stay home with my kids I had big plans. Being with my kids was my only job and I was going to make the most of it. Those warnings about “appreciating the time with your kids because it goes by so fast” were not going to be lost on me!

I learned, rather quickly, however, that it’s really hard to appreciate EVERY moment, like the ones when, sleep-deprived and delirious, I would curl up on the floor of my younger son’s bedroom, praying that my mere proximity to him would help him drift back to sleep at four in the morning. I wasn’t trying to wish away his babyhood but, at that moment, while he giggled and babbled at me through the slats of his crib, clearly not going back to sleep, I would silently repeat the mantra, this too shall pass.

Then there were those mind-numbing days when we would make our daily park/library/grocery store circuit, desperate to fill the hours before bedtime. Soon they will start school full time and I will finally be able to get things done, I would think.

Once they were in school I longed for the days when they would be able to do their own homework without my nagging, take care of their own things, and eventually be able to drive so I could skip the carpools and late night pick ups. Just this summer, for instance, as I waited up—again—for my youngest son to get home, I caught myself thinking, once summer is over and he is back at school I can finally go to bed before midnight.

This too shall pass…

And then it did.

And now summer is over and it’s my youngest son’s last first day of high school and I’m wondering what happens when this passes??

What happens to me when my nest is empty?

When I dropped him off for the first day of his senior year of high school I thought I was simply sad because it had all gone by so quickly; he would be heading to college next year and, given his uncommunicative nature, I would probably rarely, if ever, talk to him. But then, when I realized that at this time next year I will have no one left to drive to school (or pick up after or make dinner for or dote on…), my unease grew rapidly. Suddenly I was faced with the prospect of doing whatever I want with my time and I wasn’t sure what that was supposed to be.

In my rising panic I turned to my good friend (who also happens to be a therapist) to help me deal with my immediate need to calm the f**k down. Christina Jones, LCSW, suggested that I view this new phase of my life as a time to figure out who I am today and who my “future self” can be.

“What if you see this as an opportunity to discover who you are now and accept that it might not be who you used to be, even as a mother?” she asked me.

I could tell this was not going to be a quick fix.

“You can never really go back,” she added, “But you can take who you’ve been – in every chapter in your life – and figure out who you are now. That can be exciting.”

Hmmm…exciting, terrifying, anxiety provoking, all of the above?

This isn’t the first pivot I’ve had to make. When I decided to go from full-time lawyer to full-time mom, I went into a bit of spiral, as well. I would joke that I was a “retired lawyer” instead of admitting that I was a stay-at-home-mom – I simply couldn’t let go of that persona even though it was my idea to make the change. It took me a while to let go of who I had been—or thought I was—and to come to terms with the idea that my focus had shifted and continued to shift with each new phase in my and my family’s lives.

And here we are again; new phase, new focus.

This time, as I plan my next act, I will try to be more mindful of the passing days and try to embrace even the moments that can’t end fast enough. In a year I will be a “retired stay-at-home-mom,” and who knows what else. Maybe “the mom who has to nag her college graduate son who moves back home for a year to save his money while he works before grad school”?

This is very exciting.



Savoring Those Last Moments With Your College-Bound Kid

Parents everywhere are preparing for the imminent departure of their soon-to-be college kids. Some parents are shedding tears of sorrow and some (if not most) are crying tears of joy as the unending power struggle between parent and child comes to a close – at least until fall break.

When my oldest was a high school senior I remember thinking that he could not leave soon enough. Every day was a battle and every fight was punctuated by the words, “I can’t wait to get out of this place!” I don’t know what my son was saying because I was yelling those words so loudly that the neighbors started to ask where I was going and when I was leaving.

But seriously, my son could not wait to leave and every day –sometimes every hour – I had to remind him that although he would be going to college soon and I wouldn’t know where he was or what he was doing while he was living at home we still had rules, which included being civil to everyone around him.

College couldn’t come soon enough.

Senior year in high school and the summer right before college is a time when kids really start to separate from their parents. They are testing out their independence to ready themselves for the moment when mom and dad will no longer be there to guide them – except via text at all hours of the day and night.

This separation is known in parenting circles as “soiling the nest,” (not literally, in case you are worried). As kids try to come to terms with the idea of leaving the comforts of home and deal with their uneasiness about entering “adulthood” they develop a swagger, an I-don’t-need-my-parents façade to mask their nervousness with the transition. Instead of wallowing in their anxiety and sorrow they tend to separate messily and make everyone involved want to shove them out of the tree (not literally, in case you are worried).

I worry about this phenomenon as my youngest son starts his senior year of high school. Even though I know what may (I’m optimistic) be coming, I will still be shocked and saddened when my usually polite, sweet child tries to push the limits of our house rules and the limits of my patience. I really don’t want to spend this year fighting with him, resenting him and wishing him away.

And, yet, that seems to be the norm come the end of August.

So how do you make the most out of the little time you have left before your kid goes to college? (And don’t say, avoid him at all costs). 

Even if the last thing you want to do is spend another second with your kid, believe me, when you are ugly crying at drop off you will wish you did.

Here are some ideas from seasoned moms about how to spend those final weeks, days and hours with your kid before they start college:

  1. Invite another friend and his/her mom for a lunch, a mani/pedi, a baseball game, a movie – whatever your kid is into. Tell your kid it was the other mom’s idea if that will get him to go.
  2. Enforce a mandatory dinner – at least one. Include your kid’s friends if that makes it easier. Whatever it takes.
  3. Sneak in a family game night, even if “family” includes friends. Board games not your family’s thing? Play tennis, go to a movie, go golfing, go for a bike ride, just do something with the family. Feel free to riff on this line: “Your little/older sister/brother is going to miss you a lot so maybe we can all go to a movie/dinner/football game so you can spend time with her.”
  4. Use the family pet as a bargaining chip and “suggest” your son or daughter join you for a few walks around the block with the dog/cat/pet rat to ease the pet’s transition.
  5. Go shopping. Bribery works.
  6. If your child surprises you by sidling up to you and chatting pleasantly, don’t do a double take and say something like, “Now there’s the sweet boy I know. Where have you been?” which can only lead to your baby bird reverting to his vulture self. Instead, as my friend, Kim, said, “Pull up a chair and enjoy the moment because it’s probably all you are going to get.”
  7. And, if you are down to the wire and it’s move-in day eve, splurge on a movie and room service if you are in a hotel. My older son and I did this before his freshman year and it became a tradition of ours. It was 2+ hours of uninterrupted time together. When I take him back this year – the last year of his college move-in days – we plan to do the same thing. Sure, room service and an in-room movie are ridiculously expensive but those 2 hours are worth every penny to me.


Any other thoughts for spending time with your college-bound kid?



The Amazing Race: Family Edition!


I love a good scavenger hunt, which is why, when I was searching for a way to teach my family where we store essentials items in the house I thought about creating a treasure hunt to help them learn.

I know what you are thinking, what a fun way for young kids to get to know where things are! Yes, it would have been fun for my young kids only this treasure hunt is for my 17-year-old, my 21-year-old and my husband.

Apparently, I forgot to train them at an early age.

I think it really shouldn’t be that hard to remember where the extra jarred tomato sauce is, where we keep the extra sheets for overnight guests, or where the cupcake pan is because they have all been in the same place for the 20+ years we have lived in the this house.

And, in case you think my system of organization is at fault, I believe that I have organized our home in a way that makes sense. For instance, the dishes and glassware are in the kitchen and close to the dishwasher; extra towels, toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, etc. are in all of the bathrooms; and cooking utensils are organized by use, i.e. measuring cups and other baking needs are in one area, small appliances are grouped together and grilling accessories are in a separate area.

Sounds logical, right? (and, yes, maybe a bit uptight – I’ll own that)

And yet…

Not a day goes by without a “where is the…?” question. Does my family think that once a week I rearrange the shelves and closets just to mess with them? Although messing with them is something I might consider doing, I assure you that I have not done that (who has time for that!?).

I realize that no one in my house really needs to remember where anything is kept – why would they when I am always available to tell them. It’s like being in the passenger seat when my husband is driving. He doesn’t pay attention to where we are going because he knows I will tell him.

But, what if I’m in a coma? How will they find the toothpaste? Or the peanut butter?? I truly believe that dying is the only thing that would stop my kids from asking me where something is in the house.


Because even if I’m not home, it is apparently easier to text me and ask where something is then to look for it. And, yes, I realize I don’t have to answer them but they are very persistent and I am clearly an enabler.

Since I don’t think I’m going anywhere soon (knock on wood), I had to come up with another way to train my boys. I remembered the time when my kids were little and the only way to get them to do anything was to turn it into a game. If they needed to get dressed I would say, “Go get dressed, I’ll time you!” and they would race off to see how fast they could get dressed. If I needed them to clean the playroom it was a race, and if I needed them to go get me something it was timed. So in that vein, I’m creating The Amazing Race: Family Edition.

Except without the million-dollar prize and the weird foods.

Whatever, it will still be fun!

I started compiling a list of questions to guide my family to certain often used items.

One of my favorite questions that I’ve come up with so far is, “Where is the water?”

(I assume no one knows where the water is because they always say out loud, “The dog needs water.” But no one fills up the water bowl. It must be because they don’t know where they water is!)

I’m envisioning a sort of scavenger hunt/multiple choice game with prizes hidden in certain locations if they actually go find the needed item.

For instance, one of the multiple choice questions is:

You want to spit out your gum but the garbage can in the kitchen doesn’t have a garbage bag in it. You:

a) spit your gum in the toilet and flush;

b) wrap up your gum in a napkin and leave it on the counter or;

c) find a garbage bag. Extra points if you know where the extra bags are kept!


I can’t give away too many of the questions now because they haven’t played the game yet. I’ll let you know who wins. My boys are nothing if not competitive so this may actually work.

Stay tuned.


How about your house?

Do your kids know where the flour is? How about the extra sheets? The extra dog food?

Sharing is caring!


Some Dos and Don’ts to Help Your Kid Deal With a Broken Heart

I just got off the phone with a friend of mine whose daughter, a senior in college, broke up with her on-again-off-again boyfriend. According to my friend, the couple could never quite get on the same page at the same time even after four years. This time her daughter wanted the relationship to progress but her boyfriend’s heart wasn’t in it.

“She’s devastated,” my friend told me. “Part of me wants to make her comfort food and the other part of me wants to tell her to get over it because we all know he’s not ‘the one’ anyway. What do I do?” she asked.

I’m no expert on counseling anyone with a broken heart. Even with the hundreds of hours spent as a teenager dissecting every little detail of my friends’ and my relationships, none of us really knew how to help anyone through the painful stages of a breakup. But – my friend wanted my opinion and who am I not to over-analyze a relationship with a friend – old habits die hard, I guess.

So here are some dos and don’ts for helping a kid through a breakup.

  1. Don’t bash the ex.

My friend’s first impulse was to remind her daughter about all of the bad things the boyfriend did. Really rip into him to remind her why the relationship hasn’t worked and why it wouldn’t work. I suggested she not do that because chances are it will bite her in the ass.

I know of what I speak.

When I was in law school, a good friend of mine was dating a girl who flirted with Every Single Guy She Met – often in front of my friend. It made my blood boil. I was so excited when they broke up that I forgot about the cardinal rule of friends and exes: Do Not Speak Badly About Your Friend’s Ex Because She Might Not Stay an Ex For Long. So I happily told him how bad she was for him and how she flirted with everyone and how he was better off without her.

Then they got back together.

Then they got married.

Needless to say we weren’t close after that and I was not invited to the wedding. But I learned my lesson. Even when they got divorced I didn’t say a word about her because you never know…

Granted it’s not quite the same when it’s your kid. You want to protect you kids and seeing them in pain can bring out the claws on the momma bear but can you imagine bad-mouthing the boyfriend and in six months having to welcome him into the family when he proposes? That’s not the position you want to be in as a parent.

  1. Don’t push your agenda directly –be subtle with your advice.

I’m not one for holding back but when my older son and his ex-girlfriend did that on-again-off-again stuff I really tried not interfere. I knew from experience and from watching friends go through this that a clean break was a much better plan but I refrained from screaming, “Let it die already! You will never know if you guys like anyone else if you keep getting back together!” Instead I told him in a very nice, very optimistic way, “Maybe if you guys stay apart for a while you can see if you really like each other and then you guys might get back together again after many, many years.”

See. Nice and optimistic.

Then when he tried the, oh, we are just friends bulls**t, I casually asked, “But isn’t it hard to meet anyone else if you guys are together all of the time?”

Subtle, right?

What I wanted to say (actually yell) was that they should delete each other’s contact information, they should date many, many other people, and they should stop pretending that they can just be friends.

But I didn’t.

  1. Do recognize that it is not your problem to fix.

First, it wasn’t my problem to solve. All the advice I could give him was based on my experiences – my own and my friends’ – and none of it was really relevant (or welcome as he pointed out when I started to speak). He needed to work through this on his own.

Second – and this is also based on experience – no one really listens to anyone’s advice when it comes to relationships. It’s really hard to see the logic in something so emotional – at least at first. I couldn’t talk my son out of caring about this girl anymore than my friends could have talked me out of caring about the people I cared about.

  1. Do lend an ear and a shoulder if requested. Just be there.

Give your kid space and lots of ice cream. Maybe throw in some shopping. Then hunker down with a few movies- preferably one where the girl (or guy) realizes she is better off without whoever she is pining for (Legally Blonde, Sliding Doors, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall come to mind). Just because you can’t give advice directly doesn’t mean that you can’t subliminally make your point…

Any advice you would give?





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