After months apart, parents, students find changes in relationship


November 22, 1990|By Randi Henderson

As the Thanksgiving holiday approached, Andres Viroslav found himself missing Dallas, his friends and his family -- in that order.

"I'm really excited about being at a college so far away from home but I'm ready for the vacation," said the Goucher College freshman, who hadn't been home to Dallas since the semester started. But, he added quickly, his parents have traveled to Baltimore to visit him this fall, which is why he ranked family third on his miss list.

Deborah Schwenk, a freshman at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, had similar feelings of anticipation last week about the upcoming holiday. "I can't wait, I'm doing my laundry right now," she said.

Ms. Schwenk was planning to come home to Columbia Friday for the Thanksgiving vacation. She hesitated not at all when asked the first thing she would do here: "I'm going to the mall. That's one thing I never get to do down here."

For thousands of college freshmen, Thanksgiving vacation marks their first return to the nest since striking out on their own.

Most, like Mr. Viroslav and Ms. Schwenk, have approached the )) holiday eagerly. But they may return to school next week with tarnished illusions and unfulfilled expectations, experts warn. And their parents may feel similar disappointments about how the vacation went.

"Thanksgiving vacation is often a time that is very intense," said Karen Coburn, associate dean for student development at Washington University in St. Louis, and the co-author of "Letting Go, A Parents' Guide to Today's College Experience."

"Students come home for such a short time, the parents can't wait for the kids to get there and emotions run very high," Ms. Coburn explained.

"This can be a very stressful time," agreed John Greene, director of student health services at Vanderbilt University. "The parent will comment on their child's sleep habits, their dress, their hair. There are a lot of potential points of friction."

"Every year we see students excited about going home and at the same time a little anxious," said Andrea Perry, director of residential life at Johns Hopkins University. Last week Hopkins conducted a seminar for freshmen about how to deal with tensions during the vacation.

"Students often come back from the Thanksgiving vacation and report it wasn't totally positive," Ms. Perry said. "Sometimes it comes as a surprise to people that life isn't what it was, even as recently as this past August."

In most families, the primary bone of contention usually turns out to be the issue of independence.

"The kids are living independently, but handling things on their own is still very tenuous, very new," Ms. Coburn said. "When they're challenged they may react emotionally.

"And the parents, for the past three months they haven't had to lie in bed late at night waiting for the front door to slam so they'd know their child was home. But now that the kid is home, they're doing that again. Once a parent, always a parent."

Tabatha Garvin, a Morgan State University freshman from Pontiac, Mich., thought about these things at least a little before she left for home yesterday. "Here I have all the freedom I want," she said. "I know when I go home I'm not going to be able to come in at 4 in the morning. I wouldn't even try. I know the rules in my house."

Expecting things to "look a little different at home," Ryan Lamberg, a Washington University freshman from Pikesville, predicted before leaving for vacation that "I'll fall back into the cycle. My parents aren't very protective. I'm not worried about anything they're going to ask me to do."

But his mother, Lynne Lamberg, might surprise him with what she has in mind.

"I've been saving up a lot of chores for Ryan," she said. "He's a terrific house painter and I have some rooms that need painting."

She laughed and allowed that "he won't be home long enough this time. But over Christmas -- that's another story."

As far as granting her son independence, Mrs. Lamberg has been through it once before with an older daughter. "The parent-child relationship is constantly being renegotiated," she said thoughtfully. "Ryan did have a curfew when he left, but I guess we'll have to assume now that he's able to make his own judgments."

In Dallas, Dr. Joseph Viroslav, Andres' father, also has older children. "We've learned by experience you can't interfere with their lives," he said. "Usually the kids try to please their parents by having dinner with them, then they wait until 10:30 or 11 when they figure you're going to bed and go off with their friends."

The conflict between seeing friends and family is one that often arises during the Thanksgiving break, which is usually less than a week long.

"The major thing both parent and student need to do is talk about their schedules and plans prior to the student coming home," Dr. Greene advised. "Sometimes it's easier to talk with kids this age by phone than in person. When they get home and you start arguing, nobody is going to win."

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