By Deborah McKew
On my son’s first visit home, after big hugs and a few good home-cooked meals, it became apparent to me that college kids are a different species than high school kids. Expectations can run high, on both sides, and clashes inevitably occur. Here are five pointers from seasoned parents that can help you avoid unnecessary pain and misery when your college student comes home on breaks.
1. Adjust your Attitude
Kids are “going through profound changes” during this time, says Contoocook, N.H., resident Mitch Simon, father of two recent college grads. When his boys came home for school breaks, he and his wife expected they would spend all their time catching up with each other. The reality, he says, was “we hardly saw them.”
“You have to pull back,” says Diane Rankin of Newbury, N.H., whose only child, Scott, is a sophomore at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. She acknowledges that to have happier visits, she “needs to be careful not to revert back to parent/child roles” of life before college.
2. Never Show Fear
When her daughter, Kai, now a sophomore at the University of Chicago, spent a gap year traveling and working in third world countries, Sunapee, N.H., resident Sophie Sparrow expected that upon her return Kai would be so grateful to be home she’d be helpful and pleasant around the house. Instead, Kai acted more like “a moderately grumpy hotel guest.” Sparrow’s initial “polite” approach to encourage her daughter to participate more in household chores resulted in the perfunctory, “leave me alone” response. By the end of that first break home, “I had to confront her,” she says. Don’t be afraid to tell your children up front what you expect and what is required of them while they are living at home between semesters.
3. Let Them Sleep
Don’t be alarmed if your child acts like a “zombie,” says Simon. Parents forget how exhausting it is to study for exams, trek across campus, party all night, and lug all those bags of laundry home. Expect your child to sleep a lot while on school breaks. Although it might be difficult to see your children “lazing around the house,” says Rankin, you have to remember that, after all, they are “on vacation.”
4. Stock that Fridge
When he’s home, “My son constantly complains, ‘There isn’t anything to eat,’” says New London, N.H., resident Nina Kozain, of her son Billy, a junior at Stonehill College in Massachusetts. Perhaps the single most important thing a parent can do for their college student home on break is to provide a steady flow of food. Sometimes, that’s easier said than done.
5. Love Them for Who They Are
The college years are a “time to appreciate our children for who they are” as people, says Kozain. “It’s a new world, and they are never going to be the same.” When students come home, “they want to be recognized for being their own person,” she says. Understanding that there is a lot of pressure on college kids to figure out who they are in a broader world helps parents temper their expectations about what living with them should and will be like.
More on the Topic
There is great advice in Karen Levin Coburn’s book, Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years. Coburn is considered the ultimate authority on the subject; her book is in its 5th edition!