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Surviving the Holidays at Home

By Taylor Allen, MS

Going home for the holidays can be a great time to see family and friends you haven’t seen in a while. There are home cooked meals, readily available washers and dryers, and potentially a room all to yourself with no roommates/dormmates!

Meme of basket of dirty laundry with caption of "Dirty laundry? Bringing it to Mom's house."

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It can be a time to see friends from home and spend quality time with parents, siblings, and sometimes extended family. However, coming home for the holidays after experiencing the independence of college life (whether it be for the first time or the third or fourth time) can have its challenges as well.

Family Expectations Versus Your Expectations 

When students come home for break, parents and family members can sometimes expect a student to spend most of their time with the family because they’ve been away for quite a few months.  It’s also a little different than coming home over summer break because the holidays are typically time to spend with immediate and extended family. On the other hand, as a student you might want to see all the high school friends you haven’t seen in months or make some extra cash at a part-time job for the upcoming spring semester. 

It can be important to have a conversation with your family before you arrive home for winter break to discuss their expectations and your expectations for the break.  For example, their expectations of how much family time you’ll have and making sure to set aside time to see your hometown friends. This way everyone is on the same page and you get the most out of your time at home! 

Relatives Who Just Don't Know What to Say, or Don't Care...

We all know that one relative who just doesn’t have a filter. Whether it’s Uncle Bob or Aunt Lisa, relatives can be very direct about many different topics when you come home to visit.  

Meme from Game of Thrones.  Man standing with sword and a caption of "Brace Yourself. Annoying relatives are coming."

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Relatives tend to have opinions about your weight and eating habits, your love life (or lack thereof), politics, and other topics that they just shouldn’t comment on at a family gathering.  If Nana comes up to you and says, “Wow, you look a little heavy, you should get on a diet,” it can be very hurtful and upsetting. Some ways to confront Nana, or anyone else, are:

  • "Nana, that's a pretty rude thing to say to someone.  Let's talk about something else."
  • "Aunt Leslie, my body isn't up for discussion.  I'm going to pretend you didn't go there.  How's your Etsy business doing?"

If someone continues to press you about something personal or something that makes you very uncomfortable and upset, you don’t have to engage in the conversation. This sometimes requires a very direct, but respectful statement, such as, “I’m not interested in discussing this, we need to talk about something else.”

It can be very difficult to confront the ones we love, but it’s important to know how to switch the topic or have a way out of the conversation if you need it. 

Ways to Cope with the Family 

If going home is something you know will be a challenging time for you, make sure you have friends you can visit or call to vent and let it all out. Removing yourself from a trying conversation and using a meditation app, listening to a couple of your favorite songs, or even taking a quick drive around the neighborhood can help relax you before re-entering the battlefield of over-opinionated relatives.  

Going home for the holidays can be a bittersweet experience, but hopefully you’ll be able to use some of these tips to make sure your time at home is enjoyable! 

We know that there can sometimes be a lot of family stress to deal with and these tips are not exhaustive. The Carruth Center for Psychological and Psychiatric Services offers free individual and group counseling if you need someone to talk to or would like to learn about different ways to manage some of this family stress. You can call (304) 293-4431 to schedule an appointment. 

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen is a second-year doctoral student in Counseling Psychology at WVU. She is a supervised advanced trainee at the Carruth Center, where she provides individual counseling to students. She received her master’s degree at Florida State University in Sport Psychology and has worked as a supervised performance coach with collegiate athletes. Outside of school, Taylor can be found at Crossfit, hiking around Morgantown and Ohiopyle (weather permitting), and listening to live music. 

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