Transition Time: Your College Kid is Coming Home for the Summer

That college freshman you tearfully dropped off at school nine months ago is heading home for the summer. They’ve gained confidence and independence since you helped them move into their dorm, exactly what you were hoping for. That is, until your college kid moved back home for the summer.

Along with new-found confidence and independence came a stay-up-all-night body clock, messy kitchen habits, and free-style schedule. Yikes.

So how do you manage a summer with them at home again? It can be a tough transition, but boundaries and expectations are your friends. There will still be some bumpy days, so be clear and have a discussion up front so you’ll have some guardrails in place to keep your summer on the smooth road. Here are some things to consider, from some moms who have lived it.

Celebrate the growth your student has achieved.

The child you dropped off at school is transforming into an adult, so give them credit for making it through a year of challenge and growth. When I talked with my friend who is a Licensed Master’s Social Worker and experienced mom, she pointed out that this is a big launch point for kids and it’s unreasonable to expect them to return to their high school state when they come home for the summer.

Take a moment to let your student know that you see how they have grown and managed their first year. It’s a big deal!

Create a harmonious household with respect and consideration.

With your returning student’s increased maturity in mind, examine some of your long-standing house rules and reward them with increased freedom. That’s what growing up is all about. 

Look to create what my friend calls a “harmonious household” by talking to your college student about what it means to be an adult: being respectful, making decisions that take others into consideration, and thinking and planning ahead. 

What does that mean at home? It may translate to:

    • Letting everyone know what your plans are
    • Respecting household hours and the fact that mom and dad have to get up for work in the morning
    • Picking up after yourself
    • Taking care of chores in a timely fashion

Also, consider the effect these rule changes have on younger siblings, who may think it unfair that their older sibling now gets to stay out late or isn’t expected to come home for dinner, while they are still operating under the same old rules. My friend I spoke with suggests explaining that college student rules apply to college students, and high school rules still apply to high schoolers.

Help them practice adult behavior.

Your college student may have stayed out all night at school and you didn’t worry. Well, you would have worried, had you known. Now that they are back under your roof, you are aware. And worried!

Work out an arrangement that helps you both feel comfortable. As another friend I spoke with says, it’s both courteous and important to let people know your plans. If you’re not going to be home for dinner, or are staying out late with friends, a text or call is not an unreasonable thing to expect. Maybe you want them home by a certain time, no negotiations. That’s for you to work out.

It’s quite likely that your college student participated in some behaviors like underage drinking or other drug use while at school. What’s your stand on this now that the genie is out of the bottle? Underage drinking is illegal, and parents who allow it can be in legal trouble, but also, it happens and some parents accept it. Have the discussion so your student knows where you stand.

There’s also a good chance that your college student has picked up some new vocabulary at school and it might not be appropriate for all members of the household. Remind them to respect the harmony of the household.

Keep some structure, even over the summer!

Your student might be looking forward to a relaxing summer hanging with friends, while you are expecting them to work or find an internship, or pick up classes at community college. 

Some structure and responsibility can help your college student keep a schedule and the extra money is great, but it comes with another set of issues, like work schedules that interfere with family plans or sharing vehicles. This is another issue to discuss, preferably before they even pack up the car to come home.

Redefine your family vacation to make it more fun for everyone.

You always go Up North for a week or take an annual family trip to Cedar Point, but now your college student is balking at this very uncool family vacation. Find some middle ground you both feel comfortable with. Here are some options to negotiate with your fledgling adult:

    • Come for the whole time 
    • Pick a few days to come
    • Bring a friend to make it more bearable 
    • Skip it and stay with a friend or home by themselves
    • Consider a different type of vacation experience

As your kids get older, it gets more and more difficult to find time together as a family, so I think this one is important, even if you can only make it work for a few days. Maybe this year’s family time looks a little different, and that eases you into the future of family vacation.

Set family responsibility expectations.

Watching younger siblings while parents work, or taking a little sister to swim practice or a friend’s house might be your expectation, but is it theirs? If your college student comes home thinking they are going to be free to hang out with friends all summer, this may be an unwelcome surprise. When they are at school and only have to worry about themselves, it’s hard to remember that there are family obligations when they return back home.

Dishes and food messes were always a sore point at our house. I can’t say that I was successful in making this issue go away, but it helped if I sent a 20-minute warning text as I left work, giving them time to clean up before I got home.

Lastly, savor this transition and time together!

Welcoming your college student back home for the summer requires some adjustments for everyone. For parents, it can be bittersweet. Your baby is back home for the summer, but they are hardly a baby anymore. College kids might be happy to take a break from studies, but find they don’t fit in at home like they did before.

It’s a push/pull that takes time to figure out. Have those discussions, and give everyone involved some space to get used to a new dynamic. We want our kids to grow into independent, responsible adults, and this is a giant step toward that.

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