How to negotiate a summer at home with your college student

It can be a jarring transition for the both of you, so set ground rules and talk them over together.

College students are coming home for the summer. It’s a huge readjustment for older teens who were living in dorms and in off-campus housing.

At school, they had complete freedom to come and go as they please, with no parental oversight. No one to ask you when you’re coming home, where you’re going, who you’re going with, or what you’re planning to do. No one to bug you about cleaning up your room or folding your laundry.

I remember when our kids came home from college — especially their first summer. They were snarky when I asked them when they were coming home from a night out with friends. They rolled their eyes when I wanted to know where they were going. They loved to point out that when they were at college, we never asked them what they were up to.

I suppose there is some truth to “out of sight, out of mind.” I rarely did wonder what they were doing on a Saturday night when they were off at school. But when they came home, it was entirely another matter. We were back to high school days— except that my parental authority was at a new low.

It’s important to remember that you and your children are making a big transition in your collective lives. They are taking their first steps on the adult stage — but they are still dependent on you. It’s natural for them to want to have more freedom and autonomy. And you are becoming less responsible for oversight.

So how can parents negotiate their college-aged kids’ summer at home?

Have a family meeting. Don’t wait until problems arise — an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Your house is not a hotel and you are not the bellhop. I liked to remind our kids that when people live together, it’s common courtesy to let others know what you’re doing and when you’ll be home. We didn’t set a curfew for them (that seemed hopeless, since they had none at college) but I did remind them that I did want an ETA so I wouldn’t worry. And, if something came up, I needed to get a text. This was not a “one and done” conversation — several reminders during the summer were required.

You are not the maid. The first summer they were home, I would wake up in the morning and find a complete mess in the kitchen. My daughters would stay up late baking and then leave everything as is. I made it very clear that I expected them to clean up after themselves. We also had to have this conversation many times over the summer.

We expected them to work. They were required to contribute to their college educations by earning their own spending money during summers. No work, no spending money when they were at college. They both liked to be independent and were used to having a job during high school, and so this went smoothly.

What’s yours is yours. The family car(s) is not the family car — it’s yours. You have total and complete say who drives the car, when and where. Sometimes, this was the only leverage I had when the going got tough. If things got too messy, I took their transportation off the table. Of course, they could always take the bus.

No matter how well you prepare for these summers, set ground rules and have frequent discussions. There will be rough spots. Everyone regresses back to high school days, and that’s no day at the beach. Be patient with your youngster and yourself.

After the first summer, our kids found ways to work in far-off locations. My older daughter worked in New Hampshire for the Appalachian Mountain Club; my younger daughter landed a paid internship in Boston. They still enjoyed short family vacations — but were happier to be on their own.

Paul Schoenfeld is a psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.

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