June 21, 2024
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June 21, 2024
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Home Sweet Home: When College Kids Return for Summer

“My daughter was so independent in college! She organized a blood drive, resolved conflict between her friends, and followed through on a healthy and fulfilling schedule. I was so proud and amazed at all that she accomplished. Now that she’s home, we never see her and she’s fighting with her 15-year-old brother like she never left! What happened?”

Here are five important things that your newly young adult wishes you knew as she adjusts back home for the summer:

  1. I’ve spent the whole year navigating school and have my own routines. It’s incredibly jarring when you wake me up in the morning to tell me that you’re running to the store and I need to watch my little sister right now.

You may be used to a certain dynamic where you let your child know when they’re expected at the table for family dinner, ask them to help you unload the groceries and rely on them to babysit their younger siblings. Although this may have been the norm for your family when your daughter was in high school, she has spent the past year organizing her own time and creating her own schedule. While appropriate for your college-aged child to contribute to family life, the best way to make sure your expectations align with theirs is by communicating! Communicating in advance about scheduling and expectations can help create the harmonious environment that you’re hoping for.

  1. It often isn’t personal when I don’t want to hang out with you.

When your college kid comes home, you may be so excited to invite them out shopping or to movie night with the family; after all, it’s been a while since you’ve seen them However, they are still adjusting to being back at home. This means they may want to eat or sleep at times that are different from the family norm. They may prefer to go out with friends or watch TV in their room rather than attend family events. The more flexible you are about giving your new young adult personal space, the more likely they will be to join the family when they feel more accustomed to being home. Of course, an invitation to join family activities should always be warmly extended, even if it is likely that they will decline.

  1. I really do want to be more independent, even if I don’t express that to you.

College is a time for personal growth and identity development. When your young adult comes home, it is very easy for them to fall back into the same patterns they have always had at home. This may include you scheduling their doctor appointments, doing their laundry and reminding them to vacuum their bedrooms. The more you can teach your college-aged child to do these tasks, the more you are setting them up for success as they go forward in life. Although you may face resistance as you encourage them to do something that is a stretch (i.e., driving themselves to an appointment, calling the pharmacy to see if their prescription is ready, etc.) you are laying the groundwork for future accomplishments.

  1. I love you even if I talk loudly and continuously about how amazing school was and how I can’t wait to go back.

Remember how you took your child around to visit college campuses, filled out applications, listened to them cry about how they would never get in anywhere, and then listened to them cry about how scared they were to go? If they’re excited to go back, something went right! College is a unique environment where independence, social life, academia, and personal growth intersect. If your child finds that exciting and can’t wait to go back, then congratulations, you have helped them pick a place where they are thriving.

  1. I know you probably think it’s dumb that I’m a vegan now, but just go with it.

At college, our young adults are often exposed to new and exciting ideas. Some of them may sit well with us and some of them may not. The more we disrespect our college kids’ newfound interests, the more likely they are to cling to them. You spent 18 years raising your child with your family’s values and principles. Now is the time to sit back and trust that something sunk in. Steering clear of negative comments and judgments will help your new young adult see you as a supportive parent. If you have concerns about anything your college kid has come home with, discuss these concerns openly and with space for their thoughts and opinions.

“Wait a second,” you may be thinking, “this all sounds great, but my child was performing so beautifully at college and now at home she’s acting like a teenager! How am I supposed to treat her like a young adult when she is more immature than my 10-year-old?”

This is where patterns of behavior come in. For most of her life, your daughter has coped and managed with a few specific behaviors. If her brother is FaceTiming a friend, she responds by yelling at him to stop being so loud. If you sing along to the radio, then she responds by rolling her eyes and saying “Mom, stop.” When your child was in a new environment (i.e., college), she was able to form more mature patterns and habits on account of being in a different physical location. Now she’s back at home and if she isn’t actively working to break past patterns, she will most likely regress into the moody teenager you know and love. Working with a therapist is a great way for your new young adult to become aware of her patterns and move toward different behaviors that will shine a light on all the growth she has done at school.

As college students return home, it’s a time of reconnection and adjustment for both child and parents. By recognizing the growth and newfound independence that has emerged, parents can create a smooth transition. Embracing your college student with patience, understanding and a willingness to adapt will strengthen family bonds as we head into the summer.

Shira Somerstein, LCSW, is a therapist to teenagers and young adults struggling with big emotions, often brought on by big life transitions. Shira currently has openings for in-person sessions in Teaneck as well as virtual sessions for residents of New York, New Jersey and Florida. Shira utilizes IFS, CBT and DBT, as well as other modalities to foster resilience, empowerment and practical skill-building in every session. To schedule an appointment, visit www.collaborativeminds.net/shira-somerstein.

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