Coming home for the summer: Your college student and you

It can be tough going and conflicts will arise, but don’t worry, parents — they’ll be back in school soon.

In the spring and early summer, hordes of college students return home after living in a dormitory with several hundred 18-21-year-olds! They’re used to making their own decisions, going to bed and eating when they want, and coming and going as they please — total freedom! Woo-hoo!

And then they arrive back to their ancestral home. Let the party begin.

I remember those days well. My daughters were always happy to come home — at least for the first couple of weeks. But then, our shine would wear off, and pretty soon, we were back to the same old conflicts that we saw in high school. I could find Maya by following a wake of shoes, Coke cans and magazines that followed behind her. Mornings, I would come downstairs and see a kitchen sink filled with baking tins, dishes, cups and bowls crusted over with flour Sigh, late-night baking.

But what do college students think about their sojourn home? I asked a college student, home after her freshman year, to ask her friends what they thought about their homecoming.

What’s it like being home for the summer?

“Interesting juxtaposition of novelty of being home and falling back to old habits”

“Family life just kind of resumes. They expect you to go back to adhering to the rules”

“Boring; Other than work, there is nothing to do other than read and spend endless hours on the internet”

“Awesome; easier to do laundry. My mom just does it! Now have a car. Sister has to adjust. Now we have to share a bathroom again”

“Like it; freedom to go places, but not “on my own”

What are the challenges of being home?

“Making money, getting a job”

“Staying in contact with friends. Focus on being with parents”

“Have to chauffeur sister around; high school friends spread out”

“My parents are treating me like I’m still a high school senior”

“It was nice at first. But now I am itching to get back to school because of parental rules”

“I have to obey my parent’s rules”

So how can parents make this an easier transition?

There is no going back. The first couple of years of college are transforming, demanding and stimulating for most young people. Your college student comes home and has a set of new experiences that have changed their view of themselves and the world. They’ve tasted the joy of independence.

Establish clear expectations and revisit them regularly. I always expected my kids to work during summers, but some years they had different ideas. I wanted them to clean up after themselves (good luck!) and they wanted to come and go as they pleased. I needed to know when they would come home. All of these issues need to be addressed and then revisited during the summer on a regular basis. The tendency is for both parents and kids to fall back into old patterns of behavior — both good and bad ones.

Cut them some slack. Establish a few clear expectations that you hold onto firmly, but don’t go overboard. Recognize that they’re making a transition and that being at home can be a challenge for them, too. It is hard to go from total freedom to having to follow your parent’s rules.

Breathe easy. They’ll be back in school soon. Before you know it, college students will be back in their late adolescent pressure cooker and their younger brother and sister will get their bathroom back again. Life will return to the new “normal” for everyone.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www. healthwellness-library.html.

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