They’re back! College kids are home for the summer and while it’s normal to butt heads a bit during summer break, therapist, Julie Hanks, says there are ways to avoid clashes and enjoy the summer together.
As your college-age children come home for summer it’s important to address and renegotiate these “hot button” topics head on, before different expectations turn into sources of contention. Be proactive and address topics together adult to adult. It can be tricky to navigate the rules because they are technically an adult, but you still your home. Here are some common sources of conflict among college kids and parents and some tips to help you smooth the transition to parenting adult children during the summer months.
Curfew seems to be the most common topic of disagreement between parents and adult children. I’ve recently heard a fried say, “I know he’s an adult, but I just can’t sleep if I know he hasn’t come home yet.” I said, “You slept just fine for the past nine months while he was away at school!”
Revise house rules together ASAP
You are no longer legally responsible for your child’s behavior and whereabouts, but you do have the right to set guidelines for what goes on in your home. For nine months away at college your adult child has made choices for him or herself on when to go to bed, when to eat, how to spend money, how to spend her time. Don’t expect old house rules to apply to your college-age child when he or she returns home for the summer.
2) CHORES AND MONEY
It is reasonable to expect your adult child to contribute to the household in some way either financially or through participating in household chores. How much should I expect? Should my daughter get a summer job? Who pays for what? Do I make them pay rent? Should I pay for their car or gas? There are no right answers.
Focus on your boundaries, not theirs
Decide what you will and won’t do instead of trying to dictate what they should do. For example, you may decide not to do your adult child’s laundry. If son’s laundry is piling up all over the floor and he has no clean clothes, the best approach is to do nothing. Don’t nag or criticize. And if your child is asking for money to go out with friends say, “I will pay for your dinner if we’re going out as a family, but if you’re going out with friends you’ll have to figure that one out on your own.”
3) TIME MANAGEMENT
Many adult children look at summer as a break from the pressures of schoolwork, finals, and endless hours of studying. They want to relax and reconnect with old friends, and have more unstructured time. Parents, on the other hand, might view their child’s “break” from school as being lazy and unproductive, and may even wonder, “Have I failed as a parent?
Reflect, don’t direct
Reflect what your adult child is doing or saying without telling them what to do and how to do it. Instead of nagging about them sleeping in until noon say “You must be really tired”. Actively encourage their positive efforts and goals.
4) FAMILY TIME
While you may envision your college child spending a lot of time with the family, he or she may have different expectations. Previous norms of family dinners, family reunions, Sunday dinner at Grandma’s, and other holiday traditions may need to be renegotiated with your young adult.
Invite but don’t expect
Invite your young adult to participate in activities, but don’t expect them to join in every activity. Keep up your own interests and social activities, too. I came across this suggestion online and thought it was brilliant and may help you make the needed shift in expectations with your college-age child:
“Treat your returning child like a foreign exchange student — someone who might be persuaded to share your quaint customs (such as having breakfast before noon), while passing on a few of her own (such as the vegan cooking she learned from her roommate).” (USAToday.com)
“He won’t go to church with our family” is a common complaint I hear in my clinical practice with families when college kids come home for summer. During several months living away from family adult children may start to question his or her family’s beliefs Religious differences or having a child leave the faith can parents wondering, “Where did we go wrong?”
Place connection above conformity
Your child will have changed while they were away from school – in ways that please you, and in ways that disappoint. Even if you don’t love the choices and beliefs your child is making, be curious about your child’s thoughts and feelings in a way that allows room for open dialogue and mutual respect. Remember that your connection with them is the most important thing. This is the time of life where you child needs to room to sort through what he or she values and believes.
Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW is a therapist, self & relationship expert, media contributor, and director of Wasatch Family Therapy. Visit www.wasatchfamilytherapy.comfor individual, couple, family, & group counseling services designed to strengthen you and your family. We treat mental health and relationship problems in children, adolescents, and adults.
For additional emotional health & relationship resources connect with Julie at www.juliehanks.com.