How to cope when your family only sees who you used to be

Emily Becker

The first time I came home after being away at college, I was nervous our family dogs had forgotten me. My bedroom felt like a distant memory. How did I still have all of my journals, stuffed animals, and CDs from high school and middle school? 

I didn’t keep up with my siblings much while I was away. I felt like a stranger in my own home. Our kitchen had been remodeled, and I had no idea where any of the dishes or silverware resided. And though I had only been gone for a few short months, I knew inside I had grown so much. So why did it feel so odd to try and prove I was an adult, and not the little girl everyone in my hometown knew me as?

I was an adult, not the little girl everyone in my hometown knew me as.

If you’ve ever had to go back home during the holidays, this unsettling nostalgia may feel familiar to you. Good news: It is possible to go home without going crazy. Here are three ways I’m learning to cope with the friends and family who expect me to always be who I was at 17. 

Set boundaries from old habits. 

My first few times visiting home created an internal conflict I never felt before. In high school, I felt a sort of invincibility within my friend group. We got away with small rebellions and formed bad habits that are typical for teenagers. Now that I had matured into a young adult and grew in my faith, these habits seemed silly. Yet, when I saw my old high school friends, it was easy to slip back into that scene. I didn’t know how to be genuine in those friendships without falling into temptation. 

Over the years, I began to set boundaries while I was home. I limited myself from visiting certain friends. It was hard to let go, but that’s what was best for me in order to sustain the work Christ had done in my life since the start of college. What boundaries might you need to set when visiting home? Consider how this may show maturity to the family who still sees you as a little girl.

Have confidence in who God has made you to be.

Your parents may still see you as their baby boy. Your older siblings may still make fun of you. Your friends may think you’re the same ol’ goofball you were in high school who doesn’t take anything seriously. Regardless of what they think of you or their disbelief in your change, you can have confidence in who you are in Christ. 

1 Timothy 4:12 says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” 

You may be young to them, but the work God has done in you stands true.

Visiting home can be difficult for all sorts of reasons, but trying to prove who you are becomes exhausting. Rest. Relax. Allow the light of Christ to shine through you naturally rather than pushing or proving that you are mature. Eventually the doubters will see you for who you are and take you more seriously, even if it takes more time than you’d like. 

You may be young to them, but the work God has done in you stands true. What changes has God done in your life since you’ve left home? Hold onto those truths.

Give grace to those who don’t.

Visiting home has become easier for me over the years, but not without learning to give grace. It has been six years since I left for college, and a lot has changed since then. I changed majors several times. I graduated from college. I moved several states away for an internship my parents didn’t fully understand. I remained several states away to try to start a career. 

I am a fully grown adult living on my own, supporting myself with a full-time job, yet my parents still ask me, “When are you moving home?” Each time I visit my hometown, I still feel like that 17-year-old in the presence of my family. But it’s OK. I’ve learned to give them grace, knowing they haven’t been where I’ve been. They’ve grown in their own ways, and they’ve had their own journeys, but I must remind myself they only see me a few days or weeks during the year.

Even Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home,” (Mark 6:4). Jesus gets it. He had to convince His family that He was Who He said He was. He gets your struggle and gives us an example for how to get through it. 

Give grace, and don’t give up trying to share how your life is different now. The chance to explain how you’ve grown could be an opportunity to share the Gospel with someone who needs Jesus. 

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