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Having a collegian home for holidays can be a test

Used to freedom at school, students may chafe at restrictions. Best to talk it over.

With a college student home for the holidays, conflicts are common over curfews and housekeeping. (iStock)
With a college student home for the holidays, conflicts are common over curfews and housekeeping. (iStock)Read more

ORLANDO - Monica Wacks, who had arrived home from college, texted her mother: Can you go to the grocery store?

The first-year University of Central Florida student rattled off what she wanted: protein bread, organic macaroni and cheese, Swiss cheese, and raspberries.

"I'm busy, but you could go to the grocery store yourself," replied her mother, Sharon Wacks.

Monica's next question: Can I have some money?

So the awkward dance begins, as young people, liberated at college, must return to their childhood homes for the holidays and live again with their parents.

The dynamic can easily turn into a power struggle, said Karen Hofmann, the director of UCF's Counseling and Psychological Services.

Hofmann recommends that parents and their children talk early on about expectations about curfews and other issues over the holidays. Both sides should aim to be flexible and compromise.

"It's part of growing up. There's a loss and a gain - a loss of what things once were, but you're also now developing an adult relationship, which can be very exciting," Hofmann said.

Hofmann, the mother of a Florida Atlantic University sophomore, remembers the occasional culture clash when her own daughter came home for the holidays last year.

It was 3 a.m., and the family had returned home from a holiday trip to North Carolina. Hofmann's daughter asked whether she could go see her friends.

"In my mind, it was extreme, and in her mind, it felt like a very reasonable request," Hofmann said.

Her daughter ended up staying home.

For Sharon Wacks, a Jupiter, Fla., mother who sent the baby of the family to UCF this year, it sometimes felt like Monica was split in two worlds: one of complete helplessness and another of adult independence.

Weeks earlier, Monica was rear-ended in a crash that broke her nose and damaged her car.

She was 18, old enough to sign the surgery consent form at the hospital, old enough to sign a contract for a lawyer.

Yet why can't she put the dishes in the dishwasher? asked Sharon Wacks, who focused on her lifestyle business and went on a trip with her husband for the first time in years while Monica was in school.

Monica Wacks was different, too. She seemed more confident, more sure of herself.

"It's kind of like you jockey around," said Sharon Wacks. "You have to shuffle a little bit. They realize they've changed; you've realized you've changed."

She wondered what it was like in the homes of the other college students returning.

"Have you noticed you've all changed since they first left for college?" Sharon Wacks posted in a Facebook group for UCF parents who routinely ask questions about where the safest student housing is or what to do if their child is sick.

Within 45 minutes, other parents chimed in, complaining how their homes now looked like hurricane disaster zones or how they were tired of being hit up for money.

"I'm gonna have to beg on the corners to get thru the 2nd semester," one sarcastic mother wrote.

A few marveled at how their children were unexpectedly confident in the kitchen or seemed so mature.

Charlene West was amazed at how much time her son had spent sleeping or watching South Park on TV in his pajamas at her Jacksonville home. UCF freshman Alexander "A.J." Mitchell had crashed after passing all his classes, including his grueling chemistry exam.

West was a no-nonsense mom.

When Mitchell complained about being broke - he spent most of his money on food - West told him to find some handyman jobs.

Her house, her rules.

"He knows he can go do things because he was 18. He just had to realize he can't do that at home because he's 18," West said.

She joked that she didn't sound particularly motherly when she named her favorite thing about having her son home. Finally, somebody to sweep the steps and give the three dogs a bath.

But Mitchell - who had always helped his single mother out by doing his own laundry and mowing the yard - said he didn't mind.

At least now, he had the freedom to go out without his mother calling to check in, as she did in high school.

His mother stocked the kitchen with fruit and rib-eye steak just for him.