Linda Lewis Griffith

Enjoy college kids when they’re home for the holidays — but set limits


Your college kids are home for the holidays. You’re thrilled to see their ever-maturing faces and catch up on the news since they’ve been gone.

But you’re also bowled over by the instant anarchy their presence creates in your household.

For instance, they storm through the front door wielding armloads of backpacks, suitcases, laptops, guitars and sports equipment, reclaiming their territory with the ferocity of invading Huns. Tennis shoes the size of horse troughs are dropped randomly in the kitchen and hallway. A mountain of dank, fetid laundry (have they washed anything since they moved out?) materializes beside the washing machine.

House rules they once complied with are seemingly forgotten. They stay out all night without thinking to let you know where they are. Or invite friends to the house to play music and clean out the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, the merest thought of fitting into your schedule completely eludes them.

That’s what makes the situation tricky. You want to see your adult kids. And you hope they feel comfortable in their surroundings. This is, after all, still their home. You want them to return often.

At the same time, you don’t want to be taken advantage of. You’re already orchestrating the holidays. You may have other family members visiting from out of town. There are siblings and spouses who need attention. You would like grown kids to shoulder their share of the workload, ideally without being asked.

What we fail to understand is that college-age children don’t have the perspective of their parents. They haven’t had enough birthdays or life experiences to understand their broader role in the clan. Regardless of their academic prowess, their focus is self-directed; their attention spans are short.

Rather than being angry or resentful and saying something you’ll later regret, try viewing this as a teachable moment. Set limits on unacceptable behavior. Be patient with their adolescent thoughtlessness. Savor their exuberance and joie de vivre.

Remember, they’re not finished products. Enlist your wisdom and sensitivity to guide them through yet another developmental stage.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit

How to handle college age kids when they’re home for the holidays:

  • Respect their independence. They live on their own most of the year. Honor the fact that they are grown and can manage their own lives.
  • Enforce any non-negotiable rules. There are certain behaviors, such as smoking in the house, that are unacceptable. Remind them of your policies. Expect that they will toe the line.
  • Be willing to negotiate: “I love hearing you and your friends play music. But Mom and I get up early in the morning. The house needs to be quiet after 9.”
  • Don’t baby them. Let them do their own laundry. Request they clear the table, prepare a meal, entertain younger siblings or run errands while you’re at work.
  • Arrange for a shared activity. Look for things you can do together. Let them know it’s important for you.
  • Be patient. Know that they’ll be leaving soon and you’ll have the house back to yourself.