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Parents and Your Love Life: How To Handle Being Home for the Holidays

For the majority of fall semester, most collegiettes are counting down the days to winter break.  I don’t need to tell you that being home over break can be awesome – with exams finally done with, we can relax with our families and hometown friends, catch up on some much-needed rest, and stuff our faces with holiday goodies in a socially acceptable way.  But sometimes, being home can be a downer.  We’re used to enjoying certain freedoms at college that simply don’t exist at home, like ordering pizza at 4 am or heading out to a party on a Tuesday. 

One of the most common complaints about being home, however, is how our families can impact our love lives.  Big holiday gatherings can be prime opportunities for relatives to grill you about your relationship status or slip you the phone number of some family friend “who happens to be about your age”, and living at home again means that your parents have a greater influence on your actions and might try to reinstate your rules from high school (12:00 curfew, anyone?).  But if you’re stuck in one of these sticky situations, have no fear – there are a variety of approaches that could help put an end to the meddling.  HC talked to licensed psychologist Dr. Walter Sobota for advice on how to handle these tough family dilemmas.

Your family doesn’t understand why you’re not in a relationship.

If Mom literally starts pulling her hair out over this, you should probably just ask the nearest boy out to dinner.

The Problem

Just like last year, you’re the only one who doesn’t have a date to a family party.  Mom doesn’t understand why you’re not actively looking for men, and you feel like the rest of the family is judging you.

“When I was in high school, I was seeing this guy nonexclusively for about a year,” Vanessa*, a University of Michigan junior, said.  “I was fine with the nature of our relationship, but my mom worked at my school and would freak out whenever she heard about him talking to another girl.  She just didn’t understand how I was fine with it, and ever since then she’s been questioning my decisions about relationships and guys.  Whenever I’m not seeing anyone, my mom always wants to know why I’m not in a relationship, or why I don’t want one – she even asked me if I was a lesbian once.  I’m just not big on relationships, and my mom just doesn’t get that.”

How To Deal

In this situation, it’s important to think about why your relationship status is so important to your parents – maybe they expected your love life to follow a particular pattern, for example, or maybe they don’t believe that you’re happy without a boyfriend.  According to Dr. Sobota, it’s important to understand where your parents are coming from during a disagreement, but decisions about your love life are ultimately yours to make.

“Nobody should be forced into a relationship if they’re unwilling, not ready, or otherwise unable to be in one,” he said.  “While a girl should be sensitive to her parent’s feelings, she needs to stay firm that a relationship just isn’t right for her at this point.”

If you anticipate this being an issue with your parents, you might want to prepare a list reasons for staying single, so that you’re able to defend your decision with confidence.  (For some suggestions, check out this HC article!).  Above all, make sure your family knows that you’re happy with your choices, because Dr. Sobota says that most of our families value our happiness and safety above anything else.

“It’s better to be in distant, non-committed relationships – or not in a relationship at all – than to be in a serious relationship that doesn’t make you happy,” he said.

The Bottom Line

Try to understand where your parents are coming from, but stay strong when you say that a relationship isn’t right for you.  Your happiness should be more important than your relationship status.
Your family members are constantly trying to set you up with guys.

Of all of the boys Grandma set you up with this holiday season, this one was definitely Best Dressed.

The Problem

You go to dinner at your Aunt Marie’s for Christmas Eve and leave with three telephone numbers, all for young guys that your family members know will be “just right” for you.

Lisa*, a freshman at the University of Michigan, knows all about this situation:

“My father’s side of the family is Jewish, and they’re all about trying to set me up with ‘nice Jewish boys’ who go to my school.  My aunt will send me lists of guys to introduce myself to, and one time she literally hovered over my shoulder and forced me to friend request this guy I’d never met.  Every time I see her, without fail, she asks me if I’ve met so-and-so yet – and of course, on this huge campus, I never have.  Thank goodness I haven’t, though, because if I did it would be beyond embarrassing.”

How To Deal

You might feel awkward when Grandpa starts raving about his golf caddy, but an attempted set-up is not necessarily a bad thing.  In this situation, your family members probably aren’t trying to make your decisions for you – rather, they want you to end up with a good guy, and they thought that Miss Ruthie’s grandson might fit the bill. 

“If someone is trying to set you up, listen to their advice, thank them for their suggestions, and then do whatever you feel comfortable with,” Dr. Sobota said.  “I wouldn’t recommend going on a date just to please somebody in your family, but at the same time, you shouldn’t refuse a date just out of spite for the person setting you up.”

The key here is to keep an open mind – while it can be annoying to feel like your family is playing matchmaker, it’s possible that one of their suggestions could be a great fit for you.  You might as well look the guy up on Facebook, and if he piques your interest somehow, why not go for it?  You and the Mystery Man could end up laughing about your awkward beginnings on your 50th wedding anniversary.   And if it doesn’t look like he’s your type?  Thank Grandpa but say that you’re not interested – or that your New Year’s Resolution was to stop dating guys with facial hair.

The Bottom Line

If you think he might be an interesting guy (or if he’s really cute!), go for it and see what happens.  But if the constant meddling is making you uncomfortable, politely insist that you’re not open to being set up.


Your parents don’t want you to spend time with your boyfriend over break.

Alright, maybe she’s being a little melodramatic.

The Problem

The holiday season can pose as many problems for chicks in relationships as it can for single girls.  Your boyfriend’s parents want to meet you but your family wants you to come home, both of your family holiday parties are on the same day, your family is annoyed that you’re spending all of your free time at home on the phone with your man…the possibilities are endless.

“Last Christmas, I was dating a guy that lived in my hometown but didn’t go to my college, so I wanted to see him as much as possible over break,” said Lauren*, a junior at the University of Michigan.  “But my parents were mad that I wasn’t spending a lot of time at home, and my dad tried to limit how often I could see my boyfriend.  I get why they wanted me home, but it just really made me mad – I felt like I was in high school again, and I had really been looking forward to seeing my boyfriend a lot.”

How To Deal

It can be hard to say no to your sweetheart, especially during such a romantic time of year.  But Dr. Sobota says that it’s particularly important to consider your family’s perspective in this situation.

“If you’re going home to visit your family over the holidays, then you need to keep your family’s wishes in mind,” he said.  “You’re a part of that family, and sometimes people have to sacrifice things for the greater good of the family.”

So does that mean you have to cut off all ties with your beau in favor of family sing-a-longs and watching your brothers wrestle all break?  Not necessarily.

“Talk to your parents about what kinds of interaction they’d be comfortable with,” Dr. Sobota said.  “Things like this are usually situational in nature, so while they may not be OK with one plan, another one might seem more acceptable.  And be flexible – try to keep in mind where your parents are coming from and what they need, and you’ll be more likely to find a solution.”

It sounds like the key point here is to try to compromise.  Maybe your parents don’t want you to visit your boyfriend’s place, but they’d be OK with him coming over to your place.  Phone chats may be off-limits during dinnertime, but it might be alright to talk later at night when people start going to bed.  Do your best to find a middle ground, but Dr. Sobota suggests not challenging or defying them if things don’t work out your way.

“The biggest issue here is to avoid having a power struggle with your parents,” he said.  “Even if you don’t agree with what they’re saying, it generally won’t work to try to hammer in your point, and nothing will be resolved.  And you have a better chance of resolving issues with your parents down the road if you avoid power struggles now.”

The Bottom Line

If you’re visiting your family at home, their wishes should come first.  But try to be flexible when asking for a compromise, and don’t allow power struggles to creep into your arguments.

The dating/hookup habits you’ve gotten accustomed to at school aren’t going over too well with your parents.

Sure, this is practically protocol in your apartment, but try it at home and Mom and Dad miiiight freak out.

The Problem

Let’s say you’re at college, and you meet an irresistibly attractive guy at a bar.  You might take him home and have loud, hold-nothing-back sex before he slips out of your apartment the next morning.  Or maybe you invite him to your friend’s place after the bar closes, where you’ll continue the party and get to know each other before you pass out on her futon.  Or maybe you’ll just give him your number and end the night alone, stumbling into your kitchen with smeared makeup and a broken shoe at 4 am to make some spaghetti.  Typical?  Maybe.  But for most of us, none of these scenarios are considered acceptable when we’re at home.

Alright, so that might have been a particularly wild example.  But while we’re used to dating and hooking up a certain way on campus, our parents probably aren’t comfortable with certain kinds of behavior going on in their home.  Maybe they don’t want you to go out to the bars at all, or it’s possible you could still have a curfew if you do.  Maybe you’re still not allowed to spend the night with your boyfriend, or perhaps you have to stay in a public area of the house when you have male guests.  “My house, my rules” seems to be the theme when you’re visiting your parents.

How To Deal

It can definitely be frustrating to go from having total independence on campus to submitting to the same old rules when you return home.  But consider the policies you have at your place at college that you expect your guests and roommates to abide by, like not leaving the dishes out overnight or not bringing guys over without warning.  With that in mind, “my house, my rules” might seem more understandable.

“Ultimately, if you’re home, you need to respect the rules of the house.  If you can’t handle it, then don’t go home,” Dr. Sobota said.

That being said, certain factors like age and the reasonableness of your request might have an impact on your parents’ mindset.

“The age of the college girl could make a difference here,” Dr. Sobota said.  “A college freshman returning home for the first time since high school might be expected to live by her high school rules, while it might be understood that a 21-year-old senior or a recent graduate might be given more freedom at home.”

The reasonableness of your request matters, too.  Your parents might be more likely to let you sleep over at your boyfriend’s house if there’s a legitimate reason for you to stay – if he lives far away, for example, and driving home late at night could be dangerous.  Similarly, you might be more likely to get an extension on your curfew if it’s for one or two big nights, instead of every night that you’re home.

In general, Dr. Sobota says that it’s important to try to understand why your parents think the way that they do.

“Some parents have a hard time accepting that their kids are growing up,” he said.  “Yes, parents need to acknowledge that their kid is becoming independent, but girls should recognize that it can be very difficult for a parent to do that.”

The Bottom Line

Respect your parents’ rules while you’re home, although your age and the reasonableness of your request might warrant some exceptions.  You’ll be back on campus soon enough!
Dr. Walter Sobota, licensed psychologist
Anonymous college girls

Sarah Smith is a junior at the University of Michigan, Class of 2012, majoring in Communication Studies and Political Science. She is the Editor-in-Chief of The Forum, Michigan's Greek Life Newspaper, and the secretary of Michigan's chapter of Ed2010. Sarah is also an active member of Alpha Delta Pi Sorority, and she currently serves Michigan's Panhellenic Association as the Vice President of Public Relations.  A native of Sterling Heights, MI, she has been a Michigan fan since birth and loves spending Saturday mornings cheering on her Wolverines. Some of her favorite things include The Office, Audrey Hepburn, women's magazines, and microwave popcorn - preferably with lots of butter and salt!