The Twelve Days of Christmas for Current College Parents

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For current college parents, the twelve days of Christmas don't end with a partridge and a pear tree.

In fact, the year-end holidays don't seem to end at all. Increasingly, colleges and universities are scheduling longer and longer periods of time between the last day of fall finals and the first day of spring semester.

Beginning as early as mid-December, those of you who are current college parents began to have your sons and daughters come home for the holidays. And their rooms were probably still waiting to be cleaned from the mess they left at Thanksgiving.

Some of you may not have seen your student until much closer to Christmas, but then you may be rewarded (or penalized depending on your point of view) on the back end. The later your son or daughter's school stays open in December, the later it will be likely to open up again in January.

In my column on Thanksgiving eve, I offered some general behavioral suggestions as to how you might want to interact with the new young adult in your household as he or she returned for the long Turkey Day weekend. Much of it could be summed up as "get off your kid's back and don't try to force too much to happen in too compressed a timeframe."

A compressed timeframe is anything but the issue as your son or daughter continues his or her calendar year-end break. So, in that spirit, I offer the College Parents of America 12 Days of Christmas. If you are reading this on day of issue, Monday, December 27, then the suggested activities below will take you through Friday, January 7. (And if you have followed the plan, and your son or daughter is still home, then just spend the weekend of January 8 and 9 in celebration of a successful Winter Break.)

DAY 1: PLAN with your young adult how the next twelve days could/should shape up. Be sure to listen and not just to dictate.

DAY 2: Let him or her HAVE FUN WITH SOME OLD FRIENDS. This will give you some winter-break capital to utilize when you need it over the 10 days remaining.

DAY 3: Suggest to your young adult that this is a day to RECONNECT WITH EXTENDED FAMILY. Make plans to visit an aging relative in a nursing home, or the cousin across town who never seems to make it to family functions.

DAY 4: Work together with your son or daughter on an IMPORTANT PROJECT AROUND THE HOUSE. There are plenty of home-improvement shows on cable TV to inspire you, and it might be fun to see what decorating habits your young adult may have formed during his/her fall away at college.

DAY 5: If he or she actually did spend the past two days with family members and on a home project, then REWARD YOUR YOUNG ADULT BY SUGGESTING (not just allowing) ANOTHER DAY WITH OLD FRIENDS. (And secretly pat yourself on the back for being a "very cool" parent.)

DAY 6: You are nearly halfway through the twelve days of college-parent Christmas, now is the time to have a FAMILY RETREAT. Just like you might in business, go away somewhere that is distant from the rhythms of everyday life. Geographically, it doesn't have to be far, but it should feel like it is far from the norms of home. Use this time to talk with and, more importantly, to listen to, your adult; learn about the issues on his or her mind and, where appropriate, offer solutions to problems in the manner that a trusted mentor at work has done for you.

DAY 7: If your retreat was successful, then you will no trouble in convincing your son or daughter to spend this day HELPING A SIBLING, OTHER FAMILY MEMBER OR NEIGHBOR IN NEED. Part of the goal of the previous day was to establish sympathy and empathy for others.

DAY 8: I think you are getting my drift by now. If the two previous days were accomplished with a positive outlook by your child, then ANOTHER REWARD IS DUE. This is probably best fulfilled BY SUGGESTING ANOTHER DAY WITH OLD FRIENDS.

DAY 9: Keep this day open for your son or daughter to RECONNECT WITH FORMER TEACHERS from his or her K-12 years. If school is back in session locally, this can still be accomplished, though respect must be paid to the local policies on visitation.

DAY 10: Your son or daughter probably has spent a fair amount of time by now during the winter break on the computer. However, today is the day to focus on APPLYING FOR SUMMER JOBS OR INTERNSHIPS. Or, if this is something accomplished already, then he or she may want to try to schedule some interviews for today with organizations where applications have been previously submitted.

DAY 11: Yes, you've got it: this day should be set aside for your son or daughter to SPEND ANOTHER DAY WITH OLD FRIENDS. Imagine how good you will feel if he or she decides that the old friend is you.

DAY 12: Presuming it's the final day of winter break, this is the day to RECOMMIT TO EACH OTHER, PARENT TO YOUNG ADULT and YOUNG ADULT TO PARENT. There is no better way to say it than in five words: "I love you without condition."

And there is no better to have those five words ring true than by proving them accurate over the next five months during your spring-semester interactions.

Good luck with your winter break 2004-2005. My column will be back next week, contained within a whole new look and feel to our Web site. We hope you will like it. Happy New Year!

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