You and your college student have both changed during the last year. Here’s how to renegotiate living together when they return for summer break so you don’t drive each other crazy.
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I’m writing this in a Brooklyn Airbnb rental, surrounded by suitcases and tote bags, as I prepare to escort my rising college sophomore home for the summer after a successful first year away at college. This is my third child to make the transition from full independence away back to life at home for the summer so I’ve had two chances before to see what works and what doesn’t as we ease back into our old living situation.
Here are five tips that have helped me ease the transition from dorm life back to home life for both parent and child.
1. Accept that your child has gained independence they don’t want to lose
This isn’t new information, I’m sure, but it really can be hard to accept. I, for one, can sleep like the dead when my child is one thousand miles away from me doing who knows what who knows where until who knows when, but I’ll pace the floor when she’s 15 minutes late getting home after midnight and I know where she’s been. Unfortunately, it’s time to let go of that control and just go to bed, expecting that you’ll be called if you’re needed. It’s definitely not unreasonable to ask for general information for safety purposes; after all, I tell my husband where I’m going and when I’ll be back when I leave the house and I know my daughter lets her roommate know when she’s going to be gone. But the days of dictating a specific curfew time are over (within reason).
2. Accept that you have gained some independence that you don’t want to lose
This is an easy one to forget! But if Thursday nights have become your time to spend with Olivia Pope and the Gladiators of Scandal or if you are binge watching your way through all of The Wire, don’t give that up just because the living room TV has the XBox attached to it again! If the two of you are to renegotiate a new relationship as adults, then that means your child will need to learn to respect your needs just as you are learning to respect his. (Note: You
might definitely will need to explicitly explain this piece of information to your child.)
3. All members of a household – even temporary ones – contribute to its upkeep
I’ve already learned the hard way how important this is. When my daughter came home for Christmas I was so happy to see her, I treated her as an honored guest. This was a mistake. Honored guests don’t stay for a month and they don’t leave Diet Coke cans lying around all over the house. This summer, my daughter will be reminded that she is a member of our household, with all the responsibilities that go along with that honor. Dishes, for example, go into the dishwasher and dishwashers full of clean dishes should be emptied. This will be the biggest challenge but I know from past experience that making sure everyone pulls their own weight can mean the difference between, “What a lovely summer. We all had so much fun.” and “I hate to admit it, but I’m glad they’re gone.”
4. Everyone needs a place to call their own
Now that I’ve emphasized the importance of keeping common spaces places where everyone can be comfortable, it’s important to also remember that everyone in the household needs a sanctuary that is comfortable for them. If this means, one member of the household is most comfortable in a room with what was described to me as a “floor closet” – meaning all clothing laying on the floor – well, then, so be it.
5. Nocturnal folks are free to be nocturnal but need to respect quiet hours
The college years are late night years. I look back at the heart to heart conversations I had with friends at 2:30 in the morning and treasure them still. I also can’t believe I was up that late since these days I’m happy to be in bed reading at 9:30. It’s unrealistic to expect that a schedule formed over the last 9 months away can be reversed immediately or to even expect that your child wants to try to change a sleeping schedule that works just great for them. But it’s not unreasonable to expect to be able to maintain your sleep schedule as well; household quiet hours when those who are still awake need to keep quiet and let sleeping parents lie are a must.
Looking over this list I see it’s really just a common sense list of tips on negotiating potential conflicts for any group of people living together, not just parents and their returning college students. That makes sense, doesn’t it? We’re negotiating a new relationship with our children during this time: one that’s more even, and hopefully more open, on both sides.
Enjoy your summer!