Today is finals day. I'm off to give my freshman students probably the first final of their college career. I am up against a lot. Last week's attendance in my classes was a sure sign of that. It wasn't pretty with many empty seats, and students sauntering in late not even sporting the usual embarrassed look of apology. They have thrown in the towel, anxious to alight to home towns everywhere where their moms and dads await them with fondness and food.
There is a nostalgia that both college students and parents bring to the table as they each anticipate the others return. For parents instead of the vision of sugarplum fairies dancing in their head, they see magically matured college students anxious to spend quality time with their parents, sitting around the dinner table discussing world events, joining them in the family room for popcorn filled movie nights, bedrooms where beds are made and laundry and clothes put away, and polite banter keeping parents in the loop of their plans and whereabouts. Ah, it almost sounds to good to be true. And it is!!!! Sorry to burst your bubble, but your kids are still your kids, and there has been no magical transformation.
For your kids their sugarplum replaced fantasies include a place where magically prepared delicious home-cooked foods appear instantaneously, and clean laundry is available on request. They imagine a place where the family car is at their disposal day or night, and questions about where, when and with whom they are going are completely absent from their parents lips now that they are college students. Well they are in for a rude awakening as well.
Its all about realistic expectations. The noise, and the chaos of returning college students is at first so comforting. Your kids are so excited to be home, back in the bosom of the family, all cozy and warm. But they are still kids, and they have had a life where freedom is not "just another word," it is a way of life. This can be a huge adjustment for parents of homebound college students. Your student will chafe at that first glimmer of "So where are you going, and what time will you be home?" Or the "just because you have been away in college, when you are home there are rules, and we expect you to follow them." Ooh, let the games begin.
Its time for a new game plan. I am not suggesting a free for all, letting the cards fall where they may approach, but a recognition that life has changed, your kids have changed, and you can never go back. This is time for a great big "I get it" moment. You might say to your returning prodigal: "We are so excited to have you home, and we get that being away from home and then coming back is going to be an adjustment for all of us. I get you have been on your own for the last 4 months, and its probably felt amazing to be in control over your own life. We get that you will be out late, and want to do what you want to do, but here is what's going on with us. We too have gotten used to having our car to ourselves, not worrying about your whereabouts and your safety, (out of sight out of mind) not being responsible for laundry and clean-up and dirty dishes left where ever. We want this visit to be good for all of us, so lets try to come up with a plan that works for all of us."If you can anticipate with your now older and sorta maturish teen rather than waiting for all the annoying stuff to happen, you will be a little ahead of the game. It is important though to really understand that this is not about enforcing "rules" but looking for a partnership with this new emerging adult. Recognizing that the old rules have been outgrown, and that new "agreements" based on mutual respect need to be forged. The revolving door is now in place, as your kids come back and forth from real life and the joys of freedom, to the welcoming and sometimes smothering arms of their family. There will be times when someone gets caught in the door, it could be you, and it will for sure be your kids, but the door will keep moving cause it has to. It is the law of nature.