Dear Parent of a College Freshman Home for the Holidays

Dear parent of a college freshman home for the holidays,

Thank you for sharing your child with our campus community. It has been a joy(ish) to have your student in the classroom. They have attended almost all and been awake for most of my classes. Participation has been nominal, but we can blame that on the mask mandate. Even though we’ve never met, I think of us as partners. I advise your student in matters of academics and professionalism, while you love them and nurture their gifts and talents.

Since there are no Monday Memos or parent-teacher conferences in college, you may have wondered what I am teaching in the classroom. In one course, Life Cycle Nutrition, we learn about nutrition through every stage of the life cycle, from pre-conception through older adult. One of my favorite life stages is adolescence. Adolescence is a time of profound physical, emotional, and cognitive change comparable to the toddler years. While puberty and cognitive changes occurred on average between 12-16 years of age, psychosocial development continues up to age 21. Your freshman is likely in late adolescence and still experiencing some of these changes.

It’s ironic that I teach in higher education because my college years were not my favorite. In my first semester, I was overwhelmed with loneliness. Sorority rush and fraternity parties were a roller coaster of experiences, showing me the best and worst that Greek life had to offer. I walked with new friends through personal and life-changing suffering frequently experienced on college campuses. One friend’s parents were divorcing, and another’s mom had severe mental illness. By the time I returned home for the holidays, I was disoriented and depressed. I slept a lot and lied to everyone, including my family, about how I was doing and how college life was going.

In one episode of Ask Alice, Alice Churnock and Anna Meade Harris talk about the home being the place where college students can launch and land. In August you helped your student launch. Over the next few weeks you have an opportunity to provide a safe landing for your student, before they will launch again in January. I recommend three Gospel-centered approaches to providing a safe landing zone for your child in the coming weeks.

Eat Together

First, eat good food with your child. If you’ve read my other posts, you know I am a dietitian biased towards the power of food to point us to gospel love. When the disciples were disoriented after being separated from Jesus at the cross, one of the things he did after the resurrection was feed them. In John 21:1-19, Jesus makes breakfast and eats with them. It is while eating together that the disciples realize that Jesus is with them. Family meals over the break have the potential to remind your child that you are “with” her and, even more, that Jesus is with her. Shared meals provide a safe space for intentional conversation. What better time of year to remember Immanuel, God with us (Mat. 1:23)?!

Encourage Rest

Second, prioritize sleep and rest. We would never tell a pregnant woman she was lazy for resting, wake a baby, or judge a toddler for napping too long. Remember, the growth and development of adolescence is like those other intense stages of growth and development. One of my favorite verses is Matthew 8:24, “And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep.” Even Jesus slept. Sleep is a gift from the Lord. It reminds us of our humanity and God’s sovereignty, our limits and the Lord’s limitless help (Psalm 121).

Worship Together

Third, invite your child to church. Whatever your child’s involvement has been with a local church or parachurch ministry while away at college, the invitation to be welcomed (back) into his home church community has potential to bless your child, your family, and your church community. Weekly worship at church is a spiritual launching and landing for Christians. Like a child returning home from college, each week every churchgoer is invited to land in church for worship, confession, and the reading and preaching of the Word, and then launched with a benediction to go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

My friend who is a commercial pilot reminds me that parenting is like flying a plane. Pilots rely on runways and lights to take off and land safely. God’s Word is a runway for us and for our children. Breaking bread together, resting in the Lord, and participating in corporate worship become runway lights that parents and ministry leaders use to show the teens and young adults in our lives where the runway is, especially in the dark. After a difficult first semester my freshman year, Christian community at home and on campus reoriented me towards Jesus and restored my soul, allowing me to continue to safely launch and land between the two destinations.

Consider, too, that your child may feel like they have been studying abroad and living in another culture. Those who travel overseas often report that moving between time zones takes a day per hour difference in time to adjust. Your child may require a similar adjustment period as they return home. Ask your child what they hope to do over the break and mention some specific meals, rest periods, and church activities ahead of time, so you can both calibrate your expectations. Don’t feel too bad if your child is more excited to see the family pet than parents and siblings. If we are honest, when we think of Heaven, we sometimes get more excited about being reunited with loved ones than we do about seeing our Heavenly Father or Christ our brother.

Christian professors care for your child like we care for other adolescents and young adults in our church families. My Christian colleagues and I are involved with Faculty Commons, a ministry to professors. I pray for your child throughout the semester using the Pray for Me Prayer Guide by Tony Souder. I look forward to welcoming your student back in the new year and helping him land safely on the return flight to campus. I am also excited about the opportunity he will have in a few years to launch from our academic community into a career that will allow him to use his gifts to glorify God.

As you welcome your child home, let this reminder fill you with hope: the birth of Jesus began when Joseph returned home (Luke 2:1-7).

Merry Christmas,

Melissa C. Powell, PhD, RDN

Follower of Christ and Assistant Professor

Dr. Melissa Powell is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Assistant Professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance (HHP) at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga (UTC). She is married to Chris Powell, Executive Pastor at North Shore Fellowship, and the mother of two children. An old dog, a good book, a big salad, and a long walk are a few of her favorite things.

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