The College Kid Comes Home: The Stress Free Version
Most families spend so much time thinking about how they will send their son or daughter out into the world, they hardly have the time to consider what it will be like when you welcome them back from that world. Going off to college requires students to mentally shift into the free form world of almost-adult living, full of autonomy and expanded degrees of freedom. It is no surprise then that there are often conflicts when the college student returns home with all of its rules and norms.
In our coaching program, we spend a lot of time working with families on establishing a solid communication routine and household ground rules aimed at avoiding the high stress that often accompanies the college search. Our go-to mode is always going to lean on proactive, up-front, communications, and healthy priorities in the sending out, and in the welcoming home.
Here's our top three keys to keeping things stress free when your college kid returns home for the holidays.
Space is important
When I returned home from college, I was heartened and comforted by the fact that my bedroom was left mostly untouched by my parents. It was a very real symbol that I still had a place, familiar and mine in the home. Now certainly I recognize that this is highly context dependent, and in some cases that space needs to be repurposed, in which case, simply try be more communicative than you probably need to be about the change and make sure to put in some extra attention to the space you are providing for the newly home college student.
Mental space and privacy is also vital as we don't want to smother them in their return. Remember, they have been carving out their own spaces in the world and may not want to participate in every little thing the family does. Here, the little things can go a long way, from texting when breakfast is ready rather than banging on their door, to asking them about any special items they enjoyed at school that they would like to have on the grocery list.
They are NOT a housemate
While it is important to not trample the autonomous spirit with which your young adult has been building, let's not lose sight of the fact that they are STILL your son or daughter, and your house has expectations and standards. Yes, they have been at college, and away from your direct supervision, but last time I checked, college residence halls, RAs, and college roommates all have standards of behavior and simple expectations of courteous community living. So does your home.
Be flexible, but clear about what boundaries are important. Cleanliness, mutual respect for people, curfews, roles, and responsibilities are all important expectations to iron out early. It isn't healthy for there to be a lingering expectation by the son or daughter that house rules no longer apply to them because they have been at college. It wasn't a complete free for all there, and it isn't at home.
Stay rooted and enjoy this new version of family life
My father passed away in 2014 from complications from a heart transplant. He and I were very close. I think the source of our closeness was that when I returned from college, I noticed that our conversations started to shift toward a more adult-like variety. He would ask me about my major coursework, what I thought of world events, and how he made certain career choices throughout his life. He treated me more of an equal and I began to see myself that way.
Your son or daughter has returned to your home changed in ways that you may not expect, and way they haven't quite figured out themselves. And while only you know what that looks like up close, I would simply encourage you to embrace it, enjoy the time you get with them, and begin the lifelong joy of getting to know the newest version of them.
"Proceed as the way opens."
Earlier this week, a GEC client family shared this Quaker sentiment with me and how they use it to remind themselves that while we always endeavor to do our best, that we must also try and accept the journey as it comes to us. I immediately wrote it down and have been staring at the scribbled phrase all week. As your family moves into this new reality, we encourage you to stay grounded in all of the things that make your family what it has been, and embracing of all the wonders and surprises yet to be.