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Your child is home from college for an extended summer break. While you’re thrilled to have her back, you are quickly reminded of the friction you felt over the relatively short holiday visit last winter. You begin to wonder how you’ll be able to manage three months.
Emerging adults come home from a year at college with new (sometimes troublesome) habits, contrary political views, and a fresh sense of independence ⏤ not to mention, they’re often utterly exhausted. Nurturing them while trying to maintain your home and your sanity is a tall order. And you may find yourself trapped between a need to maintain your routine and their apparent need to disrupt your life.
While preserving the peace through the summer is important to your health and sanity, you can use this natural tension to help your child continue to grow. The process is at least as important as the outcome. Here are five ways you can have a summer that is fun, loving, and that sets your kid up for a tremendous next year at school.
Respect their developing independence
First, remember your child has been independent. Even if he maintained close ties over the course of his first (or second or …) year away, he made his own decisions and lived to tell about it. He ate and slept well enough to survive. He was well-behaved enough to not be suspended from campus or placed on academic probation. You may find his habits strange — even infuriating — but they worked for him. If what he’s doing doesn’t make sense to you or bothers you in some way, talk to him about it. Take his lead, though. If he wants you to leave him alone and what he’s doing isn’t dangerous, there may be not need to push it. Parents of other college kids are endlessly helpful in cases like these. Ask your friends with similar-aged kids about what’s going on with them. Their answers might surprise you.
Teach your kid that life has rules
Even if things went well enough at school, this is your home. You have worked hard to provide your family with a safe, healthy, and comfortable environment; you will not tolerate behaviors that threaten it. This balance can be difficult to maintain but will be easier if you consider whether each problematic behavior is dangerous or unhealthy or just annoying. For example, you might want to give up the fight about their sleeping habits or the cleanliness of their room. You’ll need energy and leverage when you take your firm stand on drugs, alcohol, and other non-negotiable issues. Keep in mind, there are standards for behavior on campus, too; you are not introducing something entirely new. Make the rules about healthy community living as opposed to attempts to control her life, and they’re more likely to be accepted and followed. Because entering and exiting the house is likely to wake people up, it makes sense to make rules about curfews. If your kid is using your car to get around, it’s important to set standards for safe use and for who will be paying to fill the gas tank.
Help them link behaviors and consequences
When your kid’s in college, your summer job is helping her become a healthy adult. Your involvement in encouraging healthy behaviors like a good diet, exercise, and work-life harmony will depend on how able she is to make adult choices. Keep in mind that you and she might have vastly different definitions of “healthy.” If you’re truly concerned about her diet, how much time she spends on social media, or a lack of exercise, talk to her about those things. Hear her out and remember she survived a year away. But be wise: you will always know at least a little more than she does (Keep that part to yourself. Reminding her of that will not help make your case). And rely on natural consequences when they occur: if she slept too late for you to drive her to work, point out how that connects with being up all night.
Emphasize the value of hard work
Yes, your college kid must work for part of the summer. Housework is good, but not enough — that’s just the equivalent of rent. He must have a paid job, internship, or volunteer position during each summer he is in school and staying in your house unless he is taking full-time in-person or online classes, in full-time athletic training, or working independently on a book or research project. Independent work experience will be invaluable upon graduation, and he’ll have a chance to practice being an adult in more than one context.
It is best to expect your kid to set up his own summer job, but using your connections is okay in this case. It’s important that he apply and interview on his own. If he seems unwilling or too slow to apply to jobs, force the choice between applying for and getting a job or taking over house and yard work from you or the people you currently pay to do those things. Volunteer work is also an acceptable substitute for paid positions. There are a virtually endless number of community, charity, and church organizations that would love to have your kid’s help.
Encourage appropriate assertiveness
Perhaps the hardest part of living with your college kid is to fight when you must. While a nice, quiet summer sounds great, it’s unlikely that you’ll have that ⏤ and that’s okat. Three months together is bound to cause some chaos for everyone in the house. Disagreements are to be expected and welcomed. Any valuable relationship will have difficulties and knowing how to handle disagreements is an immensely valuable tool. When you see a problem, say something. Expect her response to be difficult to manage. Work through disagreements together, compromise when appropriate, and encourage your kid to do the same thing. Also, remember that it’s important to model appropriate responses. For example, if you become more involved in winning a fight than reaching a workable compromise, show her how to walk away. Admit when you are wrong or when she has changed your mind about something.
A truly rewarding summer with your emerging adult is going to have peaks and valleys. It will be part vacation and part hard work. If all goes well, as September approaches you will feel confident you are raising a healthy adult you’re sad let go of again.
Shane Owens is a dad and a board-certified behavioral and cognitive psychologist with years of experience parenting, helping families raise successful adults, and training other psychologists to do the same. Follow him on Twitter @drshaneowens.