Over the next few weeks, college students will be returning home for holiday breaks, and before you know it, the summer. How you get along will set the stage for a time when many move back to the nest for a more permanent stay.
Whether you will be together for a few days or weeks or longer, keep in mind that this is not the same person you sent off to college not so long ago. Parenting takes a new form that is less about being a parent and more about forming a camaraderie and collaborative partnership. This new frontier demands behavior that parents may not be used to: taking a step back from interfering in your child’s life, turning demands into requests, and withholding judgment.
The suggestions below apply for short periods and in the likelihood that your young adult will live with you again after graduation or at some point. According to Pew Research Center, young adults are living with parents longer than previously—a median of three years especially for young adults ages 25-34.
Whatever time you spend together, you are putting the building blocks in place for a long-term friendship. To make the transition smoother for everyone, here are some pointers to consider:
1. Be sensitive to the strong, at times overwhelming emotions your young adult child may be feeling. The steep increase in stress, anxiety, and depression among college students is well documented. In the spring of 2017, the American College Health Association found that “39 percent of college students reported feeling so depressed that they were having trouble functioning, and 61 percent said that they had overwhelming anxiety in the previous 12 months.”
Your college student may fall into that category and may need your understanding. Life can be daunting for Freshmen or newly minted college graduates as well, who may be worried about the direction their lives will take in terms of careers. Students and recent college graduates need to know that they have someone they can trust and who supports them through the ups and downs they face. Parents are good people for that job.
2. Accept that your order-giving days are over. Avoid being adamant or forceful even if you are positive your ideas are right. On difficult subjects, offer your thoughts with care. You might say, “What I have to say will make me feel better knowing I have offered my opinion whether or not you follow my advice.” In short, offer suggestions with care. And, remember them for what they are: suggestions, not the laws of the land.
3. Recognize the new reality of your child as an independent young adult. The rules you had when your child was in high school won’t work now. Revisit and revise the ones most important to you. For instance, mandating a curfew for the student who hasn’t had one for months or several years is unrealistic, but you can request a phone call if your child plans to miss dinner or decides to spend the night at a friend's house. You are simply asking for the same respect they would show their friends.
4. Stop being intrusive or manipulative. Probing your child about future plans, while coming from a good place, will only translate to unwelcome pestering. Your son or daughter will share more if you ask and suggest less. No adult likes to be told what to do or what they should be doing—and that’s what your child is, an adult.
5. Prepare yourself for how some of your child’s old habits may still annoy you. As much as possible, try to focus on the things you love about your son or daughter. Living together is an opportunity to know your offspring as an adult, to enjoy him or her, and share good times together. It’s quite likely that your son or daughter has formed new opinions and/or has new likes and dislikes that parents will want to listen to and embrace or at the least acknowledge.
6. Accept that your child will find his or her own path and way. The direction or influence you try to exert will probably go unused in the long run. Persistent prodding just feeds resentment.
7. Remember that no one is a mind reader. Ask for help so you don’t feel as if you are running a boarding house and he is a guest. Explain, for instance, that you would like your son or daughter to take care of the grocery shopping or mow the lawn, take the car for an oil change or ...
8. Don’t rearrange your social life or give up the things you love to be available for your grown child or to be sure you are home to feed him. He or she survived on his own for during those months or years without your doting or supervision.
9. Understand that there will be an adjustment period. Tuck away the thought that you are building toward a positive long-term friendship with your college-age child that you want to endure and thrive long past the time he moves on to live elsewhere.
10. Above all, strive to enjoy the time you have together. How often do adult children and parents get to truly spend time with one another?
Copyright @2018, 2019 by Susan Newman.
Cohn, D’Vera and Passel, Jeffrey S. (2018). “A record 64 million Americans live in multigenerational households.” Pew Research Center, April 5.
Fry, Richard. (2017). “It’s becoming more common for young adults to live at home – and for longer stretches.” Pew Research Center, May 5.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2018). “College Students and Mental Health Confronting an Emerging Crisis.” The Forum.
Newman, Susan. (2010). Under One Roof Again: All Grownup and (Re)Learning to Live Together Happily. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press/Globe Pequot Press.