Inside: Is your college kid coming home for break? Here are 10 tips to help you actually enjoy the time and make your visit go a little smoother.
College kids who live away from home are in a strange in-between place. They live as if they are independent (mostly on our dime), yet come “home” for visits. They will always be family, and many still have their own room in the family home, but in some ways, they are now actually guests. This stage is unsettling for parents and kids alike.
Many of these college students will soon be arriving home for Thanksgiving and then heading back again so quickly that parents may swear they can feel the breeze from the swinging door.
But many of our kids will soon be back for an extended break that we may be eagerly anticipating or dreading (or a little of both). To make things more enjoyable for everyone, parents of college freshmen may want to start thinking about their own expectations and then share these thoughts with their young adults. Establishing new rules and learning to respect your adult child’s boundaries can be tricky, but is essential to fostering positive relationships and maintaining family harmony.
Ten tips for a smooth visit when your college kid comes home
1. Let Them Have (Some) Down Time
After a semester of classes and a week of final exams, Your kids will need a break. Give them a couple days (okay maybe a week, if you’re feeling generous, after all it is the holiday season), then insist they do something. This can be a job, spending time with family, helping around the house, anything besides spending full days holed up in their rooms or sitting in the living room on their phone.
You may also like to read: Dear Son At College, That’s Not My Job Anymore
2. Talk About Curfews
Clear and consistent boundaries become even more important when your teen comes home from college and has not needed to be accountable to you for their comings and goings. When you think about it, insisting on a curfew for an adult is sort of strange. While you’re entitled to say “My house, my rules” you might get more cooperation by discussing the impact arriving home late has on the family. College kids may not understand why it is that you can’t sleep until you know they are safely in the house (unless they personally have experienced a sleepless night over a roommate who unexpectedly stayed out overnight). But they will understand that it is difficult to wake up early for work, and more so if you stay up too late or are awakened by the opening of the garage door.
3. Keep (loose) tabs on them
This may be controversial, but I think it is just good manners to let people you live with know you are going out and approximately when you expect to return. If they balk at this, give them reasons: you want to know how many people will be home for dinner, or you need the car by a certain time. It’s also okay to ask where they are going (maybe they can run an errand for you while they are out). Unless they have a record of being untrustworthy, resist the urge to follow their every move with tracking apps. While treating your kids like adults can be hard, you trusted them to act appropriately while they were away at school; there’s no reason not to do the same at home.
4. Set Guidelines on Car Use
Unless they have their own vehicle, they will want to borrow yours. Discuss expectations and set guidelines that will work for everyone. This might mean they take over chauffeuring younger siblings around. If they need the car to get to work, consider compiling everyone’s schedule on a family calendar to make it easier to work out necessary rides.
5. Watch for Substance Use
It’s no secret that many college students ignore the law and drink alcohol, sometimes to excess. While it appears that the incidence of underage drinking has been on a downward trend, according to the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, those who are underage are more likely to engage in binge drinking than those of legal age. When you consider that many holiday celebrations include alcohol, a conversation about the risks is appropriate.
6. Refuse to Become the Maid
After getting used to a cleaner house, a college kid coming home can disrupt your routine. Unless your college kid has a suite, they’ve likely had someone to wipe the toothpaste out of the sink, remove clumps of hair from the shower, and restock the toilet paper. Remind them that there is no maid service at home. While it may feel strange to reinstate chores for someone who is really “just visiting” at this point, there’s nothing wrong with asking them to clean up any messes they make or even help out if needed.
7. Create Kitchen Rules
The initial excitement of your college kid coming home may wane after you see the state of your kitchen. Your teen may need reminding that food service doesn’t exist at home. Yes, they may have snacks and meals with the family, but they must adjust to your schedule. There is no unlimited buffet or 3-hour window for meals. They may also need a reminder that if they’re preparing food for themselves, they should leave the kitchen looking how they found it (or better).
8. Establish Rules About Houseguests
Parents often don’t want to think about it, but at school, many college students have sleepovers with their significant others. After spending almost every day together, it makes sense that winter break may be too long to go without seeing their boy/girlfriend. And, unless they live close by, this may involve an overnight stay. You may be okay with them sharing a room or may insist on one sleeping in the guestroom or on the couch. Decide in advance what works for your family and communicate this clearly beforehand. Don’t assume your college kid knows where you stand.
9. Family Time – Mandatory or Optional?
You’ve missed your college kids and can’t wait to spend time with them. They may feel the same, or may want some time alone or with friends (most likely it’s a combination of the two). Let them know of any family obligations (such as holiday events and visiting grandparents) ahead of time. While it’s okay to force some family fun, give them grace to skip some events to work or spend time with friends they otherwise wouldn’t get to see.
This may be the most important thing you can do. The kid that comes home for break is not the same one you dropped off at school. They’ve had experiences you know nothing about. Be prepared for new ideas and attitudes. It’s entirely possible there may be things that they now know more about than you do. You may have some intense conversations and lively debates. They will want some family time but are also going to want to spend time with high school friends they haven’t seen for months. They may want to take a trip or have college friends visit. They may plan to work, or not. Remember that, even though they are still your child, they are also an adult, and likely as conflicted about all this as you are.