When I was in high school, the most common Facebook cover pictures I saw were poses with friends or random aesthetic succulents. Now, it seems, pictures with parents and siblings have dominated my news feed. From my experience, my peers and I have been opting more for #MimosasWithMom, rather than the infamous #foodporn or #nature. Life at college, it seems, is instilling in students value and pride for their families rather than despoiling it.
My freshman year, I think I thought pretty much the opposite. Everybody on campus seemed to be studying and working all the time, barely having enough time to think of their families at home at all, let alone call or visit them. When students weren’t studying, they were partying, which seemed like the last thing someone who highly values their parents would spend their expensive university time doing. My second semester freshman year, I spent exactly one night in Bloomfield Hills. One night!
Granted, I spent my Spring Break in Atlanta participating in Alternative Spring Break, but the fact that I didn’t think about or miss my family at home much at all supported my idea that college was a time for students to grow apart from their families.
However, this year, after noticing the opposite trend, I caught on to reason why I didn’t notice it my first two semesters at Michigan: I didn’t have to go home to Bloomfield Hills for a family recharge because I had so much family already here with me. My sister, two years older, was already a University student when I came here — I didn’t have to go home or call my parents to necessarily get that family-values feeling. Every time I felt stressed or needed to talk to family, I would call or text her to meet up for a bit at Bert’s in the UGLi.
For example, when I really needed someone to be there for me in times of personal distress, I didn’t have to go all the way home to see someone who was unconditionally there for me. Instead, I just had to walk five minutes to meet up with my sister at a coffee shop. While I imagined I was floating away from my family life, I was, in fact, just developing it in different, more adaptable ways. I didn’t have to be living at home with my parents to know that I had the support network I needed.
This Thanksgiving break, some high school friends put together a reunion event of sorts. The Facebook event was actually titled “Re-onion 2: the onioning.” On the day of the event, our friend who goes to Princeton posted:
“OK, I’m the worst, but I can’t make it. I’m leaving tomorrow morning and I only have a day left with my parents and (sibling name). frown emoticon. I really suck because I had the day changed for this event. Please leave all hate messages below:”
At any point before this year, I almost certainly would have actually left at least some sort of passive remark in the comments about how we changed the event date just for her, and how I haven’t seen her in months yada yada yada (I used to be — still am? — a high-maintenance friend).
But this year, after almost three semesters in college, I can totally understand where she’s coming from. While at face value it may seem that university students are drifting away from their parents and siblings, they are simply developing a more complex relationship. I’m no longer just living at home, in need of my parents’ and siblings’ constant support. Instead, I know I have that support even when I’m far away, and my family knows the same from me. Therefore, when I do actually go home and physically spend time with them, that time is more precious than ever, and I think many college students also appreciate that added value.
So what does this mean for our home life? Succinctly, home life has become a precious, almost nostalgic time to take selfies with Mom and genuinely enjoy being in the presence of one’s family. I honestly feel like I’ve become so much less of a brat than I was in high school (but I really couldn’t have been more of one, so that’s not saying much), because being away at school forces me to appreciate every minute.
School life away from home is now a time when I’m physically separated from my family, but feel the support (and expectations!) more than ever. And if I’m ever unsure about that, I can give them a call anytime and know they’re willing to take an hour out of their day just to talk.
I love going on Snapchat while on break. During holiday time, rather than expecting to feel FOMO when opening friends’ stories, I can always look forward to cute sibling pictures and posts of gratitude for parents. Though at times University life is separating us from these family moments, in actuality, it only makes us value them even more.
Liam Wiesenberger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.