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All the surprises aren’t under the tree

College is a time most students look forward to as they test their newfound independence and take on the role of adults in August. Then those December finals start popping up and so does the concern of going back home for the holidays and risking all the newfound freedom.

Are students willing to pay the price of reinstated curfews, chores and Velcro-like parental attachment for homemade food and free laundry?

“The students have been in school a while without having someone telling them what to do; they return home, not used to structure. Parents still have expectations—curfew, car limitations, chores—while their offspring have new outlooks on their role,” Peg Leonard-Martin, director of Counseling Services, said.

Going home for the holidays, some Belmont freshmen know their parents will try to remind them of the good old pre-college days.

“I know that when I go home, my parents are still going to expect me to follow what they want me to do,” freshman Erika McElroy said about going home to Sunbury, Ohio. “I’m in charge of myself here and they are in charge of me there.”

College has broken McElroy out of her introverted shell. Prior to leaving for Belmont, McElroy said she was even afraid to call to order pizza on her own.

Not being able to be dependent on her parents has given McElroy the chance to become more independent, which her parents will have to endure when she comes home in December.

“I’m so used to doing things on my own now and my parents aren’t used to me doing things on my own,” she said.

Other changes for McElroy include traveling more on her own and disciplining herself to get her homework done. She also plans to become officially engaged in December.

Her beliefs haven’t changed, but her confidence in doing things on her own has.

When a student’s newfound freedom collides with a parent’s need to still have control, it can cause tension.

Parents deliberately may set boundaries to show they still are in charge and expect their kids to behave the same as before they left, Leonard-Martin said. This conflict may commonly arise because both parents and students just have not thought the transition through because they have never experienced it before.

Nevertheless, McElroy  forward to going home in December.

Transitioning from dependence to independence in college is an adjustment for some Belmont freshmen like McElroy, but for others, being independent is not new.

“I’ve always been really independent. I was a really independent little kid, not even letting my parents pick out what I was going to wear when I was 5 years old,” Caroline Barnard, a freshman from Dallas, said.

When she turned 18 her senior year of high school, both her parents worked more than they had in the past,so Barnard had fewer rules and more responsibility.

“It has 100 percent helped me to my advantage,” she said. “It has made it a lot easier for me because I am not naturally dependent on people and I am not absolutely dependent on my parents so it’s easier for me to go out and fight for myself.”

Having an older brother who was dependent his freshman year of college has played a part in Barnard’s decision to approach her college experience differently.

“He’s always been the one who needs my parents more than I do. I think that’s why I became more independent because they are already so busy having to coddle to his needs,” she said.

Even though Barnard is an independent person, she feels her parents will still want to resume their role in her life.

“I think they are still going to want to know where I am all the time and want to know what I’m doing and who I’m with,” she said.

Going home, she feels her parents still won’t understand she no longer needs them all the time. She also wonders if they will try to enforce a curfew she hasn’t had in months, Barnard said.

Barnard isn’t the only one going through a change by moving away to college.

Now empty-nesters, Barnard’s parents gave away one of their dogs, work a lot more, have downsized to a smaller apartment and go out to eat; something Barnard isn’t used to.

“They go out to eat a lot more than when I lived at home. Every time I call them they seem to be out dining with somebody at a really nice restaurant that they would never take me to,” she said.

Despite changes due to college, Barnard is looking forward to going home to Dallas for the holidays.

Some freshman like Barnard, bring aspects of their personality to college. Others come to college with intentions of finding themselves, leaving some of their responsibilities at home in favor of new experiences.

Aleq Bateman, a freshman from Turlock, Calif., was home-schooled his entire life with the responsibility of helping care for his seven younger siblings.

“Being the older brother, I was very used to taking care of everyone else,” Bateman said. “My whole life was living for other people.”

Coming to college, he has had the chance to set aside those duties to make time for himself.

Going away to college is normally the first time a child leaves home for an extended period of time, Leonard-Martin said. “Everything is new and for better or worse that student is in charge, or should be, of all decisions.  This new found freedom is often both exhilarating and overwhelming.”

This semester has been an opportunity for Bateman to choose his own path without worry about what’s best for someone else.

He doesn’t know if his family has adapted to life without his help.

“I’m kind of worried about it because I still want to be needed,” he said.

His 15-year-old sister has taken on Bateman’s role at home, so he calls her frequently to make sure everyone is taken care of.

“I have no idea what it’s going to be like going home. I have that habit where I want to take care of people,” he said.

Having such a habit makes for a very close relationship between Bateman and the rest of his family regardless of the distance.

He is excited to go home for the holidays because he misses his siblings, Bateman said.

Moving away from home to college is a transition in itself, but returning home from college is quite another.

“One must adjust all patterns and rhythms of life when transitioning from place to place,” Leonard-Martin said.

The holidays will be both a chance to reconnect with family and friends as well as see the world through adult eyes.

“Students change over time as human beings and so do parents,” she said. “With patience and compromise, the holidays can be a time to celebrate.”

Getting there

With the semester ending and holidays with family beginning, student stresses can rise. To talk to someone who can help you balance things, call Counseling Services 615-460-6856 or stop by their office, above the campus bookstore, to set up an appointment.

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