Home for the Holidays

Freedom.  It is a word which we college students particularly like.  Academic freedom, intellectual freedom, free speech, freedom of the college press.  But there is one particular college freedom so heady it makes the eyes of many a high school senior at the cusp of graduation glisten—freedom from parental control.

And, indeed, such freedom is exhilarating.  The ability to stay out however late one likes, the opportunity to go out as frequently as one wants, the chance to study whatever, eat whenever, say whatever, dress however all with the only set of authority that could potentially limit us hundreds or thousands of miles away—how could that not be exhilarating?

But apart from this newfound *joie de vivre *that such freedom allows us, we finally have only ourselves to reckon with at school.  Yes, even (or maybe particularly?) at Stanford, it becomes *my *schedule, *my *activities, *my *work.  Apart from our extracurricular commitments here and there, our academic obligations (the bare minimum of which sometimes does not even involve attending class on a daily basis), or the sweet demands of a romantic relationship, there are little to no personal commitments that require us college students to forego any of our wants for the sake of those we care about.  Oh yes, perhaps with the exception of the half hour or so required for the bimonthly call home to let the folks know we’re alive.

As much as I love independence, I find the average attitude towards college freedom to be riddled with problems. These problems seem to be particularly poignant during the holiday season, when we return home to a life with schedules, rules, and parental authority, not to mention the chaos of family parties, Christmas shopping, and a never-ending list of last-minute errands.

But it is not so much rules or authority themselves which we seem to detest, but the friction that exists between the extreme individualism of college life and the demands of family life, the hectic nature of which indeed requires schedules, rules, and, yes, parental authority.  In other words, several months thinking only about ourselves makes it difficult to adjust back to living with a family, a social unit which naturally requires self-sacrifice on the part of each of its members.

How then do we reconcile our college freedom with family life, especially within the coming weeks? While there are possibly numerous solutions, I propose only one: living “family life” even at school by remaining interested in our families’ concerns.  This could make the transition between college and home life a little less jolting.

From a more practical standpoint, living family life could possibly come in the form of calls home that are more frequent than once or twice a month.   The 2007 National Survey for Student engagement reports that “undergraduates who frequently contact their parents and whose parents frequently contact college officials on their behalf are more satisfied with their college experience and report higher levels of engagement and academic fulfillment than do their counterparts.”  Without losing our autonomy, communicating more frequently with our loved ones could help prevent us from succumbing to the overwhelming pressures of being a Stanford student, relying solely on ourselves to pursue our goals.

Other ways in which we could remain more attuned to our families’ concerns would be to offer to help them in whatever ways we can, whether that be helping our siblings with their homework questions or assisting our parents in their work if they need it.

One could argue that such extra effort is unnecessary—after all, college is supposed to be a time during which we discover ourselves without the otherwise burdensome demands of family life.  Yet perhaps one crucial element to this process of self-discovery is the recognition that the true exhilaration of our college independence comes not from our newfound freedom from but rather the freedom to.  This holiday season, may our college freedom be freedom to live a greater sense of family life.

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