You’ve missed them more than anything. They’ve missed having a fridge full of free food and a laundry machine that doesn’t need coins. And although you might have a laundry list of fun activities to tackle together, they may have other plans. But instead of fighting all fa-la-la-la long, here’s how to stay drama-free this festive season.

Sure, sweaters are nice and chocolate is sweet, but for many parents with college and university-aged kids, having them home for the holidays is the greatest gift of all. Between visions of long, teary embraces and late nights talking, sharing and creating memories, the unlimited possibilities for bonding are enough to make a mom swoon. Unfortunately, these Hallmark moments may be as fictional as the jolly guy in red himself, as what’s realistically going to come down the chimney – or rather through the front door – is an independent young adult who has been living by his own rules for the past few months. And he’d like to keep it that way, thank you very much.

Say hello to a new dimension of parenting, where a lot of give and a bit of take are needed to make the break more fun and festive than awkward and argumentative, says Sara Dimmerman, pyschologist, author of Am I A Normal Parent? (Hatherleigh Press) and creator of HelpMeSara.com. Here are her tips for surviving the holidays, drama-free.

Get Real
You’re so psyched to see your daughter that you’ve made a list and checked it twice. Got all her favourite meals planned? Check. Got a handful of holiday-inspired rom-coms ready to watch? Got all the ingredients for your cookie-baking marathon? Check and check. Got your daughter? Here’s where some of the best-laid plans can go south.

“Although many parents can’t wait to see their children and anticipate hours of family time catching up, that doesn’t always happen,” says Dimerman. “Along with coming home to see you, they’ll also want to visit their friends in the area. This can lead to disappointment and hurt feelings because your child is not spending as much time with you as hoped.” To avoid feeling ditched, Dimerman suggests making a plan before your child even arrives. Ask her to pick two nights and put them aside for the two of you. Any extra will be icing on that gingerbread house you bought for the two of you to put together.

Establish Boundaries
Just because your son is used to partying until 3 a.m. doesn’t mean you want him coming home that late – especially if you have to work the next day. But, give him a hard-and-fast curfew and he may feel like you’re treating him like a baby and rebel anyway. This is why Dimerman suggests setting boundaries like adults. “Sit down and acknowledge your child in a fair, logical manner,” she says. “Explain that him coming home so late isn’t conducive to your lifestyle, and that it disturbs your sleep. Then work to establish a time that works well for both of you.”

Pick Your Battles
Yes, it may drive you crazy when your daughter doesn’t put her dirty dishes in the dishwasher or leaves her bed a mess, but is it really worth fighting about? Do your best to let the small things slide, but inform her of your messy deal-breakers – whether it’s when she leaves wet towels on the floor or dirty dishes on the coffee table – and do so with a kind approach. The rest of it? Don’t sweat it, advises Dimerman. “Although you don’t want to tip-toe around your child, you also don’t want to get too caught up in it. After all, they’re only home for a short time. You want to make it a pleasant holiday.”

Cut Scene, Drama Queen
Having your child move away has its ups and downs. For some, the transition is very difficult and may evoke periods of sadness and depression, while for others the mere thought of increased freedom can cause outright jubilee. Whatever spectrum of the scale you sit at, don’t be overly dramatic about it. “Try not to say things like ‘I’m so glad you’re home. It’s just terrible being here without you.’ You don’t want to put that on your child,” says Dimerman. Instead, if the topic comes up, simply relay your joy that your child is enjoying their program and that although it is an adjustment not having them home, everything is fine. Conversely, even if you finally have room for that treadmill you’ve been eyeing, don’t rush and turn their bedroom into a home gym. “Keep their room as intact as possible,” says Dimerman. “You don’t want them to feel like you renovated the space and made it your own the minute they left for university. After all, you want them to feel like they’re still coming home.”