Home for the Summer
Suggestions for Parents of College Students
Parents greet the summer return of their college student with mixed feelings. It’s gratifying to see that your child is still part of the family, but you know your child has changed and you have to admit—you have changed too.
The first days following a student’s return from school rarely meet the expectations of the student, the parents, or brothers and sisters. Family members expect that things will be like always, and the student will slip back into the daily routine and take on typical family roles and chores. For the student, however, coming home is not just a return but a genuine transition. He or she has developed a whole new life outside the family, including new daily patterns. Any transition requires energy, and students who have just finished up exams, packed up their rooms, and said goodbyes to good friends are already exhausted. They’re not prepared to take on the stress of figuring out how to fit back into the family.
Scott Slattery, staff psychologist at the University of Minnesota’s counseling service, suggests that parents talk with their student about re-entry into the family, keeping in mind that parents and students will have different expectations.
Newly returning students will remind their parents that they’ve managed their lives just fine without rules and curfews. Parents, on the other hand, may want to maintain some level of control over family schedules, noise levels during the day and night, and assignments for household jobs. It’s true that students gain skills in self-care at college, but it’s also true that when people live together, it’s necessary to have agreement on how they will co-exist. Dr. Slattery says that the family expectations that students grew up with are like a contract. If that contract is to be changed, it requires conversation, compromise, and renegotiation.
Some points to consider when your student returns home this summer:
- Before your student comes home, discuss plans for the first few days. Rather than inviting grandparents and neighbors to greet the student on arrival, Dr. Slattery suggests it’s better to ask the student how to handle the homecoming. Maybe a quiet day or two with time to rest, unpack, and make a few phone calls to friends would be a better option. After a few quiet days, the student might be more graciously receptive to a celebration.
- Students will be exhausted after the end of the semester. Parents worry because their students are sleeping so much. They are recovering from the stress of final exams and packing, but students also use sleep as a way to gradually fit back into home routines. They may appear briefly, chat a bit while having a sandwich, then disappear back into the bedroom. A nap provides an escape and a chance to think about what to do next.
- Students will miss their college friends. They may have family and high school friends close by and anxious to spend time with them, but those friends from college shared the hard-to-explain experience of living together 24 hours a day, struggling with the same social and academic issues, and sharing the challenges of creating a whole new independent life.
- They never fully unpack. Boxes will be rifled through for the essentials, but finding a place for every item they own seems unnecessary. After all, they are thinking they’ll be moving out again in just a couple of months, so why bother?
- They want to use the car. Students who have been without a car all year see the car keys as the symbol of their independence. They will not want to explain where they’re going or when they’re coming back. In fact they don’t want to think about those limitations. They just want to drive.
- They are on an entirely different schedule than the rest of the family. College students strive for a course schedule that allows them to stay up until 3 a.m. and sleep in until lunch. It will take time to adjust to family schedules. Rather than set curfews or try to regulate their student’s sleep, some parents have found it useful to allow the student to set his or her own hours with the stipulation that the house is quiet and the car is in the garage between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Discussion and compromise are important to a good start to the summer. Dr. Slattery provides insights into the student perspective of the return home on a podcast, “End of Semester Re-entry.”