Home for the Holidays

After end-of-the-semester papers are turned in, and you take your final exams before the winter break, students can be excited and anxious about going home for the holidays. 

College is an important time and amazing experience that shapes who you are and your values for the rest of your life. For most students, college is the first time you are out of your parents’ house and making your own decisions. You meet new people from different backgrounds and cultures, develop new and diverse relations, and are challenged to explore new ways of thinking through your academics, all while examining who you are and what is important to you.

You may have a roommate who is a different race than you and learn more about their culture, become friends with a lesbian couple, work on a class project with a trans man and better understand their journey, volunteer on a campus service project helping an immigrant unhoused community, and have had open discussions about politics and religion. You may have learned more about yourself and how you experience the world around you – coming out as gay to yourself and others or realizing that you no longer believe in the religion you grew up with. 

As you grow and develop as a human being, you change from the person you were in high school and living with your family. You, like many other students, may worry about going home, getting along with family members, and being accepted. Effective communication and mutual respect can help create a harmonious atmosphere. Here are some tips for navigating this situation:

  • Open and Honest Communication: Communicate openly with your parents about your beliefs. Be honest but respectful, emphasizing your desire for understanding rather than trying to convince them to share your perspective.
  • Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries regarding discussions about politics and religion. Let your parents know what topics you’re comfortable discussing and what areas you’d prefer to avoid to prevent potential conflicts. Focus on shared values and interests.
  • Participate in Family Traditions: Engage in family traditions and religious activities to show respect for your parents’ beliefs. Most “religious” activities during the holidays have pagan or nontheist origins. Participation doesn’t necessarily mean agreement, but it can demonstrate your willingness to be part of family experiences.  If you are not willing to participate in specific activities, share that with your family ahead of time and come up with a plan.   “I found this movie really heartwarming, and it’s become a bit of a tradition for me during the holidays. Would you like to watch it together?”   “I want to spend a little bit of time with my friends. While you are at church, I am going to Facetime with them. Then we can spend time [usual family activity you would like to do] together. “
  • Create Shared Experiences: Plan activities that don’t revolve around politics or religious activities. Enjoy shared hobbies, movies, games, or outings that focus on your shared interests and strengthen your bond.  “I’ve been exploring [shared interest]. Do you have any experiences or thoughts on that?”
  • Be Patient: Recognize that your parents may have different beliefs, and it’s okay to agree to disagree. If difficult discussions arise, stay calm and composed. Focus on maintaining a respectful and open dialogue.  “Well, my beliefs might be a bit different, but hey, at least we can all agree that [light-hearted topic] is pretty great, right?”
  • Share Your Values Positively: If your parents express concern about your beliefs, share positive aspects of your value system. Emphasize the principles and values that guide your life rather than focusing on what you don’t believe in. Take the opportunity to educate each other about your beliefs. Share information about your worldview, and be open to understanding their perspective as well.
  • Plan an Exit Strategy: If tensions rise, have a plan for a temporary break or change of topic. Sometimes, taking a step back and revisiting the conversation later can be more productive.  Social media is also a great way to connect with like-minded friends, vent, and feel supported.  “I’m going to take a little break and enjoy some fresh air. Can I help with anything before I step out?”

Remember that navigating political or religious differences is a process, and it may take time for both you and your parents to find common ground.

It is also important to recognize that you don’t have to go home, especially if it is not a safe environment for you. Your mental health and physical safety come first.  You may be able to arrange to remain on campus during winter break, stay at a friend’s apartment near campus, or go to a friend’s home for the holidays. No one should make you feel guilty or ashamed about not going home if it is not the best option for you.


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