Dr. Burt Burleson, Baylor’s University Chaplain and Dean of Spiritual Life, is a Baylor grad and parent of two grown children. Here, he shares insights from ministry with our students.
For families whose students are away at college, the Christmas holidays arrive with extra excitement. Our students have missed home, and been missed at home. They’ve navigated and endured a semester of collegiate challenges and have stories to tell. They’ve grown and grown up... some (we pray), and as we retrieve our attic boxes full of decorations, traditions and memories, our hearts grow warm anticipating the days we’ll spend together.
The “Christmas Song” reminds us over and again, “everybody knows, some turkey and some mistletoe will help to make the season bright,” but we as parents are wise to think on what else we might add to the holiday mix to nurture it’s brightness. Although every family and their story and their dynamics will be utterly unique, just as their student is, there is some parental wisdom floating about “out there,” so a few conversations with veteran college parents might be in order.
Here’s some of what I learned along the way:
Be mindful that your daughter or son is likely to be exhausted.
For about three weeks, they’ve been preparing for and taking finals, juggling study times for exams, managing significant inner stress, perhaps pulling “all-nighters,” and doing the math over and again on what their semester GPA might be. So, fatigued at their homecoming, they may just sleep for days or be giddy in a goofy way or seem a bit blue... exhaustion takes us all to different places.
Be mindful that your daughter or son has been enjoying a new level of freedom and autonomy.
They may need a reminder that you’d like to know when they’ll be home. They may have some plans already to meet up with old friends and with new college friends, so think with them as you make plans day to day or evening to evening.
Be mindful that your daughter or son may be trying on some new ideas.
Take a deep breath... lots of deep breaths... as you hear new opinions, being ready mostly to listen and say things like, “tell me more” or “it sounds like you’re really engaged in some important conversations.” Remember that they’re on a journey, as are you.
Be mindful that your daughter or son needs a parent who is doing the spiritual work to be present to what is.
God is in all things and will be made known in this unique chapter of your family’s life. Be present to that... to what is and be careful about your expectations for something that Norman Rockwall might have painted.
Be mindful that your daughter or son may be making a journey through these sacred days as they are dealing with some crisis or personal problem or loss.
My father passed away last December and this year, our first without him, will be different... and I think very tender. For some families where the pain is acute and still near, conversation together will be important about what would be most helpful and healing in this time that just won’t be the “hap, hap, happiest.”
Finally, be mindful that the season of Advent is a season of waiting for something that you cannot control but only prayfully anticipate.
Let us all pray, let us all hope each day. Tis the season. “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”