Dear Parent Coach,
My daughter is just finishing her freshman year at college and is coming home for the summer. Of course we’re excited to have her back, but it feels a bit awkward not knowing how to deal with a few issues. I’m wondering if I should allow her to have a messy “dorm room,” and are the days of having household chores over? Do we set curfews, or will she keep college hours — after all, we haven’t known how late she’s been coming in while at college. I’d appreciate ideas on how to handle some of these questions.
Each time a college student departs or arrives back home again, every member of the family is affected and must make adjustments. Think of your family as a well-balanced mobile. When one person leaves, such as your daughter, there is a period of time when there will be disequilibrium and a need for re-balancing.
The same is true each time she returns home for vacations. Everyone needs to pause and stay calm as the family mobile bounces and shifts, and settles in once again.
Your daughter is undoubtedly a different person than the one you sent off to college last August. She may appear more competent, mature and savvy. She has begun to learn a great deal about herself, has had to assume responsibility for the myriad details of her daily life, and has begun the process of becoming separate and independent from her parents.
It is quite normal for there to be some tension during the integration process as this “new person” returns to the family unit. However, the joy your family members will feel in reconnecting will help you all recover quickly from this initial awkwardness. Next, you’ll have to figure out how to merge your different lifestyles — think of mixing oil and water.
Many college students actually dread returning home and being held to the same rules and demands of younger siblings after they’ve tasted a fairly “rule free” living experience. With some forethought, this doesn’t need to be the case.
In her book, “Letting Go,” author Karen Coburn acknowledges that “Parents may find it tricky to strike a balance between respecting their son’s or daughter’s emerging independence and wanting to run their household with some degree of order. They may need to modify some of their old rules in light of the increased freedom their child has become accustomed to. I think it is fair for parents to expect the same things from their children that they would expect from a courteous guest.”
Communication is key in making this homecoming transition smoother. After a week of enjoying your daughter (and letting her sleep in and just relax as she recovers from finals week and packing up her dorm room), have a straightforward conversation regarding plans, expectations and practical matters. Acknowledge how much she has accomplished and how you respect her independent capabilities, but gently remind her she is now part of a family again for a time.
Work with your daughter to compromise on rules while she’s living at home. Using the phrase, “Would you be willing to?” might work better than a commanding and demanding parental attitude.
Remind her that her siblings are still being held to school routines, responsibilities and appropriate bedtimes. She needs to be sensitive to them as they finish the school year, even though she’s already in vacation mode and is used to staying up late.
Whatever your standard is for bedroom cleanliness, ask your daughter to comply or keep her door closed. She should be expected to contribute to family responsibilities on some level. Perhaps she can assist in preparing meals occasionally, running helpful errands and transporting siblings to activities.
Instead of setting a curfew, allow her to choose (like she’s been doing at college), but ask her to let you know a reasonable time she expects to be home from an event. If she’s going to be later, she needs to inform you by calling or texting. By allowing her to decide, you will respect her independence, but at the same time, invite her consideration for family members as well.
Many parents require their college student to work part-time in the summer to save money toward next year’s college incidental expenses. This provides good job experience as well as giving them some financial ownership in their own education. Although college students love having endless get-togethers with high school buddies, having some responsibility tempers a party-filled summer.
Once your daughter has made the transition back into the family, allow yourself to enjoy her new perspectives, exuberance, old and new friends, fresh ideas and the music and laughter your daughter will bring back into your home for the summer months.
It won’t be long before your daughter heads back to college again, so savor the time you have with her. When she’s gone, the family mobile will be sent into a spin once more.