The stacks of boxes and bins, bags of clothes and bedding, and random loose items like lamps and rolled-up posters can mean only one thing: your college kid just got home for summer break! While parents (and maybe the siblings) are thrilled to have all their chicks back in the nest for three months, there is a new family dynamic that will definitely take some getting used to. Your “child” has now experienced nine months of independent living, and any expectations that this summer will be like their high school summers may be quickly dashed.
It’s a new normal in your parent-child relationship—and it is definitely on the positive side. Your student is a young adult now, even if they still have “-teen” as part of their age. They’ve experienced huge personal growth and will likely not be the same person they were last September. Their sense of independence is high right now, and you need to respect that. That being said, they will be living in your home, and they need to respect that. Here are our tips on finding a balance and making this transition smoother for everyone.
Give Them 48 Hours to Decompress
Empathize with them about finals being exhausting, packing and cleaning their place being a pain, and not seeing their college friends all summer being a bummer. Let them sleep in till noon, raid the kitchen, and not unpack or do laundry. For 48 hours. Then give them a good, strong nudge to put away all their stuff and ease themselves into the rhythms of home.
Talk About Expectations
Don’t expect that they’ll be home for dinner every night, or that they’ll be up early having breakfast with you. Assuming they are working, volunteering, or interning during the summer, they will be setting their own schedules. College kids don’t necessarily adhere to a daily routine that you may think makes sense, but if it works for them, let them do it. Clarify that it’s not your job to wake them up to go to work. If they stayed up till 3am bingeing Netflix and slept through their alarm, their being late for work is not your emergency. It’s tough love, but if they expect to be given freedoms then they should be accountable for their schedules.
Revisit House Rules
Your college kid is not a guest in your home, so they should not treat it like a B&B with all their favorite foods. At the same time, don’t expect they are rejoining the family this summer as a child. It will be hard to do but consider letting them keep their room as they wish—to a degree—with the caveat that they respect shared spaces and basic house rules.
Sync Your Calendars
Go over calendared events together so there are no surprises. You can’t tell them on Wednesday that you’re all going camping this weekend because they may already have their own plans. Let them know which things they need to attend (e.g., family reunion, grandparents visiting), and which are optional. And in turn, add their events to your calendar.
Ease Up on the Curfew
Your kid has been coming and going as they please for nine months, and it’s not realistic that they’ll be agreeable to an 11pm curfew again. A more reasonable request would be to say, “Text me what time you’ll be home or if you’re staying at a friend’s so we don’t wait up for you.” This compromise gives them a lot of freedom but also lets you sleep peacefully.
They Still Need You
They may be taller than you and making their own decisions about a lot of things, but you’re still the parent and they still need you. While they’re home it may be a good time to check in on them and see if they need extra support. College kids experience stress, and you may not get a sense of that over text or phone conversations. Anxiety, depression, social issues, dating, and alcohol/drugs are examples of issues to ease into your conversations. You’ve got ten weeks; make these deeper conversations count.
It’s not a bad idea to also have a conversation about your student’s finances. Were they able to manage their budgets successfully, or did they fall short? What were the challenges, and how can they reprioritize? Do they have work study, part-time jobs, or student loans that they need some guidance on? You might also consider this a good time to start building their credit history—they will definitely need your sage advice on this.
Take Younger Siblings Into Account
While your college kid got a mega-dose of independence at school, their younger sibling(s) also experienced a new kind of freedom: not having big sis or bro around. To keep things harmonious, have a family meeting and arrive on a consensus regarding the need-to-share-again items. It may be their room, the car, the TV/Xbox—help the kids set up rules or a schedule that is fair and agreeable to all. And be sure to include household chores as one of the shareables!
Enjoy Their New Independence
Don’t be surprised if your son or daughter comes back with new ideas, lifestyle changes, or habits. They are moving into adulthood and expressing themselves, even if it’s experimental. They may be vegan or vegetarian now or have thoughts on faith and politics that don’t mesh with your own. Keep an open mind and heart, then be amazed at their intellectual independence.
More than anything, your college student being home for the summer gives your family a great burst of energy! Have fun with the whole family together, as well as one-on-ones with your young adult. Remember that eventually, their summer home will be their last, and then you’ll be helping them move into their first real place. Cue the tissues!