When children arrive home from college for the summer, they bring their laundry, the contents of their dorm rooms and some tricky parenting situations along with them.
The reentry to family life for a young adult who has been living independently for nine months can be complicated. For parents who want to establish new ground rules, this can mean a summer fraught with negotiations about jobs, socializing with friends, time on screens, cooking, cleaning and responsibilities.
Alan Freeman, a 51-year-old attorney living in Potomac, Maryland, and his wife, Remy, had to make some adjustments when their two boys — ages 22 and 20 now — came back to the nest after their freshman years away at college.
“It’s fair to say that we needed to accommodate them in a way that was different than it had been when our boys were in high school,” Freeman says. “The challenge was in recognizing that they’d been living without daily supervision and were used to people no longer making decisions for them.”
Freeman remembers the summer his oldest son, freshly home from school, went out with a friend in nearby Washington, D.C., and decided to stay overnight in the nation’s capital.
“When he was a senior in high school, there was absolutely no way he would be able to be out downtown in D.C. and then crash somewhere,” Freeman says. “We had to accept the fact that that had to be OK.”
Here are some suggestions for keeping the peace this summer:
1. Assess your parenting style
Parenting styles have a lot to do with how successfully the summer may go with your young adult, says William J. Ryan, a clinical psychologist and parent coach in Brooklyn, New York, and Denver.
A more authoritarian style might cause a college student to resist rules and test boundaries.
A more collaborative parenting style at this stage of your child’s life allows you both to “frame discussions around being considerate of other people in the home,” he says. “Your child is now an adult, moving onto even ground with you. You should make requests, not demands or commands.”
If your child still doesn’t comply, individual or family therapy might be the way to go.
2. Communicate expectations early
If you can, try discussing summer expectations — even casually — before your child comes home from school, or as the summer is just kicking off. Is your young adult expected to get a job? Will there be limits on gaming and online use? How much are they expected to pitch in around the house? Will they have use of a car and what are the rules for that use?