It is not unusual for young adults to feel anxious about the voyage home for Winter break. It is probably the first major event during the school year that warrants time off and also the first opportunity to see your family after months of separation. In particular, college students, especially freshmen, will face a slew of scrutiny from their families. You’ve inevitably changed a bit and everyone wants to know what’s up.

Filling everyone in about your dating, work, and personal life wouldn’t be so terrifying if they reacted in a reliable way. While home for the holidays, you will probably have at least a dozen conversations dripping with sarcasm and tainted with backhanded compliments that will leave you thinking, “should I be offended by that?” Our mission: learn how to decode the hidden messages that lurk in the commentary of your family and friends.

If your mom says, “Honey, the bread is gross and stale from sitting out this whole time. Why don’t you finish up the broccoli instead?” She means, “Clearly all you’ve been eating is carbs so why don’t we offset that freshman-fifteen with some veggies…before it’s too late.”
Of course it’s offensive when someone insinuates that you’ve gained weight. But it’s entirely probable- I mean possible- that you did put on a few pounds since moving out of your parents house. No one is calling you fat, but if your mom, the person who has tracked every inch you’ve grown and pound you’ve gained since birth, notices a difference to the point that she is practically hiding the bread basket from you at dinner, maybe it’s time to check in with the scale because numbers don’t speak in code.


If your parents “happen to have” a coupon to the local barber shop, they are politely asking you to get a damn haircut. This request can also come in the form of your parents constantly patting your hair or tilting their heads to the side and exhaling deeply when they look at you; they are trying to remember what you looked like six inches of mane ago. They just don’t know how to say, “No one will date you or hire you with that mop on your head.” You have to be realistic, it takes a very special person to pull off the mun (male bun.) If your parents, the two people facing eternal debt for your education and living expenses, are offering to shell out a few bucks on top of that to tame your quaff, get a haircut.


If your friends consistently comment “that’s new” on any of your clothing or accessories, they are severely concerned about your style choices. They might try to be slick and bring up old pictures on their phone and say, “That jacket always looked so great on you, do you ever think about getting another one like it?” The literal translation of this is, “Your current wardrobe is disgusting. Please burn it so we can go to lunch and I don’t have to be ashamed of you.”

If you run into someone from high school, friends start any sentence with an elongated “s-o-o-o-o-o,” and then proceed to ask about how your life has changed- grades, dates, jobs, etc- they have an agenda. The first possibility is that they heard a rumor about you and they are seeking confirmation. The second option is that that are having a huge personal success in one of these areas and they are taking advantage of the opportunity to brag. Thankfully, if you’re in a public place they should restrain themselves. And be wary of how old peers ask for information about your family and friends. If they ask “how’s the gang?” referring to your group of friends back home, or “how’s the family?” keep your answer to a bare minimum. The reason this person is asking about a group of people in bulk is because they don’t have time or interest to invest in individual updates. If they ask specifically, “how is your dad’s restaurant doing? I heard they updated the menus,” and blah, blah, blah, then be prepared to spend at least a few minutes shelling out a few extra details. And for your own sake, please pay attention to body language. If this person keeps taking little steps implying that they are trying to leave and you should just let them; chances are there’s a reason you didn’t plan to run into them over this break.


If your siblings are pushing for details about a specific area of your life, they were commissioned by your parents to get more information and report back. Maybe your parents want you to get a job (or get a better, higher paying job) but they don’t want to seem insensitive to your student schedule or post-grad stress. Instead they’ll probably ask an older sibling to casually slip in questions about salary, or say something like “Back in college I had so many jobs to help out with tuition, man it was rough but it was the right thing to do, you know? What kind of on campus jobs are available at your school?” A younger sibling will be sent in for more social inquires. “Do you go to a lot of parties?” Read between the lines.

If your grandmother asks about your dating life, the phrasing of the question hardly makes a difference in this scenario, she wants to know, “Where the hell are my great-grandchildren?” When your grandmother was your age she may have already been married with kid number three on the way. Now, she is popping eight pills a day and made the drive on her bad knee to spend the holidays with you, all for the hope that you’ve got the ring and you’re setting a date for the big day. On the one hand, she genuinely wants you to find love and be happy, but on the other hand, she wants some babies around this time next year.

The general key to getting through the holiday break without revealing too much information or misinterpreting what your family and friends have to say: self-reflect before you see them. Self-assess your physical, mental, and emotional state before you come in contact with any of these people. If you are content with where you’re at, then you can’t let anyone else’s judgments derail your life. Granted, if after this self-assessment you have an idea of what everyone back home might pick on, like your weight or your hair, then be prepared for it. Don’t be scared of the hidden thoughts and opinions of folks back home: be ready to crack those codes and then you have the power to decide what to do with them.