When the Kids Go & Come Home from College

Chair Pair

image courtesy of Trey Ratcliff – http://www.stuckincustoms.com

Your tiny little baby, sweet and challenging toddler and now perhaps not so sweet, but still challenging teen has finally gone off to college. 

You feel a mixture of relief, sadness, melancholy for passing years, and sweet freedom…all at the same time!

As we entered into the later high school years with our older daughter, I was warned by those who went before me that a strange and fascinating array of things might happen as she approached graduation and college. So, I guess I wasn’t as surprised as some when my formerly independence-seeking daughter suddenly did an about-face on us.

One day, after acting strangely distant for a while, she finally told us what was bothering her. “You aren’t checking on me at all,” she said, “The other kids have to tell their parents where they are going all the time, and I don’t. Don’t you care?”

We were simultaneously a little shocked at being accused of parental neglect and very amused that our senior was doing the accusing. “Babe,” we answered, “This is your fault.”

“What? Why?” she wailed.

“You have made good choices, been a responsible young adult and have given us no reason not to trust you. This is your reward for those years you have followed the rules, kept us in the loop on what you were doing, and stayed out of trouble. In other words, we trust you enough not to require you to check in all of the time.”

“Yes,” my husband chimed in. “You are heading off to college in a matter of months. Frankly, if you haven’t gotten it by now, it is too late for us to change that.”

She was torn between her urge to ask us for guidance. and her pride in the fact that we didn’t think she needed as much any longer. Welcome to young adulthood!

When my children were young, someone told me that the reason that God makes them so cute, adorable and helpless is so that we will not kill them when they irritate us beyond endurance. I laughed at the time, but found myself muttering under my breath more than once during their toddler years, “Darned good thing you are so cute!”

That maxim changes when it is time for them to leave the nest and my experienced friends told me that no matter how close your relationship with your child is, they will subconsciously set out to make themselves unlovable and to make you into the villains so that they can bear to leave and you can bear to let them go.   

It was so true. Although we did not have huge conflicts, there were enough that everyone was ready for the change when it came. It helped so much that we were aware of what was happening and could then put it into perspective. The moves were made and our chicks settled in at their college campuses as we entered the empty nest years.

End of the tale? Not so much, my friends because they come home.

And when they come home, you are dealing with a different person than the one that went away just months before. Each time they come home they are older, often wiser, and definitely more independent.

They are also ready to test you and your rules yet again, so discuss your expectations ahead of time. Curfew, help with household chores, laundry, accessibility to the family for dinners and special occasions and anything else you can think of should be set out before they come home for that first holiday.

Here are some cautionary tales I have heard from friends and acquaintances who did not do that simple thing.

  • Their son stayed out until 4 and 5 in the morning the first weekend he was home. Since he was not yet 21, they were very anxious about underage drinking, etc. but since a curfew had not been discussed up front, they were in a poor position to impose one after the fact.
  • Their daughter used her room like a hotel room, with the obvious expectation of maid service by her mother. You can imagine the confrontational discussions that arose from that.
  • Both kids came and went at all hours, expected Mom to do their laundry and Dad to service their cars and provide a variety of cash needs…you get the picture.
  • Some kids retained an unspoken expectation that they could “Always come home and live; even after college,” despite their parents’ expectations to the contrary.

My husband and I heard these stories with great trepidation. We made a joint decision that although our children were welcome to come home during their undergraduate years of college, after their graduation they were expected to move out of the nest completely, whether for graduate school or career. It has been a wise decision, indeed.

So, what are the rules when adult children come home? Have you thought about them? You should, for this is your house and home, and while you are allowing them to live there while they are on breaks or holidays, you are still the parents and the rule setters. Take time and discuss with them what your expectations are, listen to what they would like to negotiate and come up with a set of house rules that you all can live with.

Trust me; you will be so glad you did!

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