Surviving the Breaks with Your College Students
Friends often ask us something like this, “Why can’t I get along with my adult kids when they come home from college? They are really great people, but it seems like when they are here on break they become rude, sassy, lazy boogers. Help!”
We get it. Just a couple of months ago during the last break, Melanie remembers, “I was about to lose it as our adult kids laid around while the dishes got higher and higher and the house got more and more wrecked. I had to remind myself that they are thinking, ‘I’m on vacation. It’s so nice to just relax.’ Meanwhile, it’s like I invited the Mongol hordes to take over my home for a few weeks! I had a talk with myself, bit my tongue and kindly insisted that they get up and help.”
It isn’t easy, is it?
Living together in the in-between years of college are really hard on the parent/ adult child relationship. We’ve had some conflict now and then with each of our kids during college holidays even though we really have a great relationship with our adult children. There are a few reasons this seems to happen.
Our students get used to living out their own agenda. At school, they get to decide when they sleep, when they eat, what they do all day, every day. They don’t ever have to consult anyone but their roommate, if that, and the roomie is probably as random and self-focused as they are. When they come home, they may have forgotten what it’s like to be surrounded by family and have parents around again. The noise and chaos may drive them crazy. They forget the cafeteria lady doesn’t clean up here. They may seem self-centered and impatient with normal family life. And they may keep the most inconvenient hours.
On the other hand, parents sometimes struggle with treating their students like adults. This is really hard for the parent who hasn’t been intentionally working toward an adult relationship with their kids, but it’s tough in any circumstance when you have several adults in the home! It’s easy for parents to ask themselves, “Who do they think they are?” and neglect to remember they are dealing with a grown-up, not a child any more. Also, the intermittent nature of visits means about the time you discover a way to live in peace again, it’s time for them to head back to school.
How can you get through this with your relationship intact? Sometimes, it isn’t easy!
It may be helpful to talk about the coming “reunion” with your student. Disagreements usually start with disappointed expectations. If you both expect to need a little adjustment time to “re-integrate” into family life, you may be able to stay out of the rough water.
Parents: Remember that your college student who looks so idle at home probably just finished the busiest week of the term; a few days’ grace are a kindness while he catches up on some deferred rest. Sometimes they will need to study and work on projects which are due as soon as they get back to college, so you might need to make allowances for that. And you will gain your college students’ appreciation if you don’t immediately put them in the chore rotation as if they’d never left home. They’re not your 14-year-old any more!
You do have a home and a family to manage, though, and it’s entirely appropriate to ask your student to keep some of the college culture and declarations of autonomy at a low level while they’re home.
Students: Your parents may have saved your room, your bed, and your stuff just like you left it, but you’ve got one foot (or both) very clearly on the “independent adult” side of the threshold. You’d probably like that consideration from your family. You will make it much easier if you agree to follow the house rules while you’re home – not because you’re a little kid again, but because your parents do have younger kids to manage, and too much insistence on your personal liberty may cause struggles with the siblings you leave behind.
If you need quiet time to study or write for a class, or even if you just need some “mental health” time, you might consider moving to the library or a coffee shop for a few hours instead of complaining about the commotion which you used to be a part of yourself!
And ask yourself – when another adult comes to visit the family, does he or she expect to sit with their feet up and let others help with the dishes or run errands around them? Pitch in before you’re asked, the same as you’d do staying with a host family on choir tour or a mission trip. And remember your parents are still on duty here – don’t assume you’re Parent Number 3 unless they deputize you!
Special Note to Guys: You may not have noticed, but college humor and dorm life in general are pretty raw. We know you may be the most conservative guy on the hall, but you’re still probably accustomed to a great deal of chaff, horseplay, and rough language that’s normal for students – and shocking to the folks back home. You will do them a kindness and save yourself some grief if you dial back your dorm personality – especially around younger siblings and older aunts – until you get your “family mind” back. Keep your filters firmly in place.
For both of you, we’d recommend extra courtesy and extra reassurance that you love and respect each. There may only be a few more visits before they set up a home of their own. Take time to say, “You know, I love you,” and “I’m glad you’re home,” and, “It’s great to be back here.”
Try to see this time from both sides and to work hard to keep the peace for this short time. There are probably just a few more breaks and vacations before your student leaves for good — make the most of the limited time you can expect together. And remember that “a soft answer turns away wrath” — no matter which side is angry, parent or student. Getting riled up isn’t going to help. Instead, try to lift each other’s burden a bit today and “be an example of those who believe.” And enjoy it!
With you in the battle,
Hal & Melanie
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