Kids Again

Mid-May marks the end of the college year and the beginning of a very long summer vacation. For many students, adjusting back into home life can prove to be difficult. Freedom from direct parenting is abruptly over and they miss the busy social life afforded by a college lifestyle.

This reality definitely poses a difficult adjustment, but re-entry is even more difficult for parents. The shock of more noise, bickering, laundry and food consumed is challenging; the unrelenting mess in every living area overwhelming. Yet home seems as if it’s merely a place to sleep and eat before running off to see high school friends, causing parents to feel resentment that erases memories of having missed their child. Most poignant is the feeling that they no longer fill their child’s emotional needs, and home is not where their child really wants to be—college and friends rank first.

Yes, re-acclimating is hard, but the summer doesn’t have to be doomed to bitterness. A well-placed conversation and a hefty dose of compromise will result in a pleasant summer for all.

A successful summer with a college student at home begins with mom and dad making the first compromise by resisting the urge to insist that bags must be unpacked and laundry done immediately upon arrival. Instead, for a few days, allow them to sleep and refrain from asking questions. Returnees need time to recover from final exams, mourn the end of another year of their college experience and find their place back home.

Then it is time for a chat. This conversation should be pre-emptive, rather than resulting from a fight. Remain calm, listen at least as much as talk and understand clearly that household rules should not return to pre-college expectations. Parents must take into account that a college student has been making independent decisions for the past 10 months.

Asserting a curfew is, in most cases unfair. If a parent trusts their child to make daily decisions about when to return to their dorm and how much to sleep, the same respect must be afforded when the child is home. It is fair to expect one’s child to send a text as to their whereabouts and what time they will be home, especially when driving. This assurance should be explained as a simple courtesy from one family member to another.

It is also reasonable for parents to place demands as to how much a child should participate in day-to-day life at home, including regular chores and respect of communal space. Compromise is definitely in order if there is to be harmony at home. Parents can’t expect perfection and need to let many things go if they want their child to look forward to coming home. One pair of shoes in the den? Let it go. Five pairs? Okay, say something! Mom and dad can also voice the importance of their child getting a job, volunteering or finding an internship, but these opportunities often have to be planned in advance.

Many arguments result from differences between acceptable college behaviors and those that are okay at home, such as underage drinking, smoking marijuana and having sex. It is important to clear the air here. Parents may be more or less lenient, and each parent is entitled to dictate what feels right for them. A child doesn’t have to like the rules but must respect them.

Finally, it is a good idea to schedule time with one’s child for relaxed chatting, bonding and making memories. Don’t leave this to chance because the summer goes fast and suddenly the car will be packed again to return to college.

dr. susan bartell

dr. susan bartell

Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally-recognized psychologist and author practicing in Port Washington. She also speaks throughout the country on a wide range of topics to help individuals and groups improve emotional and physical health and life balance.