Advice for the First Time You Go Home for Christmas

Categories: For the Soul, Life at Columbia, Uncategorized

Going Home for Christmas

~ Written by Kathleen Doll~

“So, you’ll be home by 11 tonight, right?”

15 years later, I still remember my dad trying to enforce a curfew when I got home from college for the Christmas break. It was, in fact, an even earlier curfew than the one I’d had in high school, which did not help his case when our first “home for Christmas” fight started.

Didn’t he know I was in college now? Didn’t he know that some nights I would hang out with friends, studying at the Timmy’s within walking distance until 3am? Didn’t he trust that I could make good decisions after 11pm? (And yes, I think I actually said a couple of those lines out loud.)

The fact was, in the four months that I had been away, a lot had changed for me. It was my first experience of living away from home, away from my town, away from my friends. I had grown in courage and boldness, in my understanding of the Bible, in recognizing how little I am compared to how great God is. All of my assumptions had been tested. My reliance on Jesus had developed. The lens through which I saw life had changed.

Coming home, I started to experience tension. For me, my home was a place of safety and a place where I knew I was loved: at the same time, it was a place where we had a certain routine and a way of communicating. The challenge was, my own routine and my personal way of communicating was not the same anymore. Falling into the “old habits” of my home life was at the same time comforting and frustrating: I knew what my parents expected of me, but I was not the same person I had been four months earlier. And so the first fight ensued.

What would I have told my 19-year-old self, ready to head home for the first Christmas?

Seek to understand.

While I had changed a great deal, I don’t know if I took the time to think about how I had changed. I did not recognize that the changes I had experienced would affect others. Prior to going home, I wish I had reflected on some specific examples: in what ways had I grown?

I also never really thought about how my departure from home had affected my parents. What did life look like for them now? What had they learned, experienced, been thinking about, in those four months? What new routines did they establish without me home? Maybe my coming home, as much as they loved me, was also stretching for them. They knew how to be parents of a high school student, and an away-from-home-college-student, but how confusing was this transition for them too?

Ask questions.

I wish I had asked. I wish in the midst of my dad’s curfew request, instead of responding in frustration to his limitations, I could have asked what he experienced with his parents when he came home from college. Perhaps then, with some understanding, we could have re-negotiated together (rather than the alternative, which if I remember correctly was choosing to come home at 1am out of defiance).

All too often, the questions we ask ourselves, we hesitate to ask out loud. If I could do it again, I would have brought up some of those above questions at the dinner table. Whether my parents would have answered or not would be their choice; the opportunity to ask was available to me. Asking these questions would have benefited us both as we figured out this new reality.

 Share what has happened.

I have a hunch that my parents would have actually really loved to hear my stories, my experiences, the ways in which I had grown. They probably would have laughed at the first time I met my friend Nate (as he borrowed my knife in the cafeteria to scratch his arm under his cast), or felt for me as I shared about my anxieties for second semester (an unknown Urban Missions Dynamics was about to take place for the first time), or they could have helped me consider whether or not to go to Vegas on the Spring Break Missions Trip (which I did end up going on, and which really changed the direction of my life).

I do not really know why I didn’t share those things as much as I could have; perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I hadn’t reflected on it. I didn’t know exactly what to say.

And so here I sit, anticipating going home for Christmas again.

Truly, honestly, these are the same three things I need to practice now. What has happened for me in my life in the last two months since I saw my family? What questions do I have for them? Will I be courageous in sharing these?

Today I choose to learn from my past. Today I choose to let going home for Christmas become a beautiful opportunity for my family to grow closer.


Kathleen Doll is Columbia’s Associate Dean of Students and a grad of the Caregiving & Counselling program.  She waits until December 1 to put up her Christmas decorations, but drinks egg nog as soon as it arrives in stores. (She’s fully aware of the double standard.)  She recently rebelled against here family’s ‘real’ Christmas tree tradition and bought a fake tree. She’s still wrestling with that decision.