Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring, and Summer break are when many parents of college age offspring, look forward to their student coming home with hope, excitement and a little trepidation. You hope you don't say too much, ask too much, or commit the worse crime of all, give unsolicited advice.
It is such a strange and awkward dance that many parents find themselves in when their child/young adult comes home for vacation. The college kid has been used to making decisions for themselves about what, when, where, and with whom, they eat, drink, sleep, study, etc...
Hopefully there will be some lively discussions about politics, or some other intellectual pursuit, and less wanting to fill in all the blanks (like, what have you been eating? have you been drinking? who are your friends?). Things we're better off not knowing.
And then they come home to rules, and really, it's as if practically nothing has changed since they left. Often, little has changed, other than a lighter food bill and less laundry. There may still be younger siblings at home, so there is a need for keeping the status quo.
The goal is that your college kid enjoys your company and would like to move back home one day. We hope! So there is the delicate balance of enforcing rules and not being the ultimate "buzz kill." You don't want to scare them off, so he/she won't want to come home next time.
Here's some things I've learned in the trenches:
1. Let them sleep as much as they want the first few days. (They're sleep deprived from dorm living, late nights and just noise), because cranky isn't fun for anyone. Staying out till the wee hours of the morning sounds awful to adults who have to get up early the next day, (and don't take naps), but to kids it's the norm in college.
2. Have lots of good food in the house. You know this is 100 times better than the stuff they eat at college... this can be good leverage. If you can slide food under the door (especially during the first few days), so much the better. Fresh baked goods are premium.
3. Don't be completely available. It puts too much pressure on them if they think they need to be with you every minute of the day. Don't feel guilty about it either. They probably want some time to just chill, see friends or just walk around the house or hang out in the pantry.
4. Spoil them, but don't do everything for them. Don't underestimate the thrill of letting them get their own snack from the refrigerator. Helping out too much can make them feel like a guest in their own home.
5. Did I mention giving them space? This is so hard, since you might not have seen them in months and it goes against the nature of being a parent, but you have to do it to keep the peace.
6. Try not to speak too much or ask too many questions. You'll be amazed at the snippets of information that come your way, when least expected.
7. When the time is right, sneak in lots of hugs and kisses.
Have any of your own tips for surviving the holidays?
"Discuss the expectation of parents and kids in terms of how you behave at home and what responsibilities they have," said Katherine Newman, dean of the school of arts and sciences at Johns Hopkins University and author of The Accordian Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents and the Private Toll of Global Competition. "It's better to talk these things over rather than be silent and grinding your teeth behind closed doors." Groceries, cooking, laundry and tidiness can all be areas of conflict, so lay down some ground rules. Photo courtesy of jim212jim
"Instead of saying, 'I don't see you applying for jobs and this can't go on forever,' talk about what you expect," Newman said. Discuss goals for hours per day that will be spent networking and searching for jobs or choosing and applying to graduate schools.
While you're talking about autonomy, also lay down some ground rules for privacy. The most obvious: Knock before entering. Photo courtesy of ricky.montalvo
Boomerang kids are young adults who have typically become accustomed to keeping their own schedules without answering to anyone. That can rattle parents who want more accountability, or just a little courtesy. It's fair to ask an adult child to text you if they are going out rather than coming home for dinner. While it may be fine for them to keep their own hours, it's not fair to come home late and disturb the sleeping occupants of the house who have to work in the morning. Photo courtesy of srwsrwuk
If young adults are doing everything they can to move toward autonomy, parents should be patient and recognize there are larger economic forces at work. Rather than having them pay rent, focus on steps toward independence -- such as eliminating any revolving debt and paying student loans on time.
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