It’s been about a month since college students returned home for the summer. I’ve heard from many parents that the “honeymoon” is over. It was an adjustment when the kids left for college and now that they are back, it’s an adjustment all over again. Here are some tips for parents.
Above all, keep expectations realistic. If parents expect things to be exactly as they want, they’re going to be disappointed. Avoid the letdown with realistic expectations.
Avoid power struggles: communicate instead. For example: it’s normal and natural under the circumstances for parents to want to know the whereabouts of the people are who are living in their house; it’s also normal and natural for a returning college student to not want to check in with parents after nine months or more of freedom. The power struggles that occurred before the child went to college can re-emerge. Ideally, parents and young adults should discuss their concerns in advance and develop a plan that works for everyone — maybe an agreement that the child will check in with parents if they’ll be home after midnight, with no curfew imposed. If your child has already been at home for a month, have a family meeting to discuss what’s going well and what isn’t going well. Communicate a message of compromise, realizing that the adult child has surrendered independence in returning home and the parents need to respond with increased flexibility.
It’s OK to expect that adult kids help with chores such as driving siblings places, cooking meals, doing laundry and running errands. In addition, they should be responsible for getting a job, and unless the child is financially independent, parents should discuss with them how the money from their summer employment is going to be allocated. Remind them that if they want to be treated like adults, talking money is one thing adults do.
If established rules are violated, parents should be able to impose consequences that were agreed upon by all parties upfront. The flip side of this is that if parents should overstep agreed-upon boundaries, adult children should be able to give feedback that parents are open to hearing.
As soon as possible, parents should share scheduled commitments that involve their child’s participation — such as family get-togethers, vacations, and dentist and doctor appointments. Attempt to get buy-in by reminding them of the benefits of their participation both in family activities and self-care. Try not to get impatient if they have an attitude about some of these things. Remember: Keep realistic expectations (who really wants to go to the dentist or to see an aging aunt?).
Know that if your child has some angst about changes you’ve made in the house or his room while he was away at school that it’s to be expected. Try not to react to it. After all, they left things one way, and even if you described the changes to them over the phone, seeing is believing.
Try not to react outwardly to changes in appearance, such as the new tattoo or the extra 10 pounds. They’re home and healthy, that’s good enough.
Insist on weekly family meetings and dinners together at least once (preferably twice) weekly, and let kids know beforehand when they’re going to occur. Remind them that you are not treating them differently from anyone else who visits your home—in fact, when Uncle Joe lived with you for a month a couple of years ago, you expected the same from him. The message is that your house is not a hotel to anyone.
Be flexible regarding lifestyle. For example, if your child is used to sleeping in when he’s away at school, allow this in the initial transition phase with an understanding that by week three, they will be on a schedule that allows for their responsibilities to be met.
Show them that you want them home by cooking their favorite meals, taking them to their favorite restaurants, having them invite their friends over, embracing their culture through texting, and knowing about their social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.
Stay away from judging their behaviors that don’t directly impact you. In general, their friends, their choices and their pursuits are not up for you to comment on. Brain development continues to occur until a person’s mid- to late-20s. The choices they make are part of growing up.
Enjoy their new adult status. Talk to them like a peer and share concerns about their younger siblings. Remind them with praise that they’re role models now. Bond through discussions about your own college years. Debate current events and be open to their opinions.
Remind yourself of how much you changed during the ages from 19 to 29 and, when needed, get support from spouse, family, and friends.
Dr. Kate Roberts is a psychologist and parent coach on the North Shore. Questions can be directed to www.drkateroberts.com, www.twitter.com/DrKateParenting, www.facebook.com/Dr.KateRoberts or www.pinterest.com/DrKateParenting.