My husband, my girlfriends, and I, have all talked about the adjustment to the “kids being back in the house.” There are the common issues of them staying up late, the noise, the messy rooms, the food, laundry, schedules changing, erratic plans, as well as the excitement of seeing them and their friends. Talking about this with each other didn’t change the feelings around these issues. It was difficult for every mom, each with her own issues as well as the common ones. The kids had gotten used to not needing to answer to any parental figures, and the parents were used to communicating from afar, as well as having their new beginnings and territory to themselves.
Similar concerns came up, especially regarding communicating out of respect about topics like “what time will you be home?” or, “just leave a message if you aren’t coming home.” Mothers asked, “what about the responsibilities at home like pitching in and making their own money?” And most of all, “what about time together for fun and getting a chance to reconnect?”
The answer is that there isn’t one. A new dance must be choreographed between each parent and child. I hope that it is unfolding with each family discussing issues as they come up, without holding onto unrealistic expectations and old solutions like, “you’re grounded.” Those tactics need to be put away, they are in college now.
Holding the boundaries that really affect your heart and lifestyle do matter, but at the same time, the family dynamic needs to adjust, go with the flow, and be aware of the kids’ major transition.
All of us are beginners and are willing to learn and make mistakes. Remember, just keep communication open and available. Essentially, my advice is to simplify! They may have known before to turn off the lights, but now when they don’t, it’s not out of disrespect, it’s that the light situation of the house is impossible to focus on. If they remember, great, if not, their heads are somewhere else. It can feel like they’re selfish or don’t care about what their parents give to them, but look at who our kids are. If they really were dealing with any resentment, they wouldn’t be showing it by manipulating the lights in the house.
About cleaning their room…when did they ever do that anyway? Putting things back in the proper place, keeping the noise down, I don’t think they have access to that dial. So maybe they never volunteer to help out, which is a bummer, they know by now it would be nice, but they just don’t do it. It’s pretty much a no-go when it comes to extra helping, but when they ask for help, when they call to see what you’re doing, when they just sort of look at you and say “hi,” you know they care. It’s just in a different form right now. We see them maturing, we see them growing, they look older and have become smart, more independent, and we love that.
They are adjusting to not having their college routine: college friends, the structure that they have been leaning into, and their partying weekends (that believe me they know they can’t be open about at home.) They also feel how their parents’ lives have shifted. For me, this time is a huge reminder that what I really want is for my kid to be happy, to feel at home, to find her own way with her thoughts and decisions, and to still know that I am always here for her.
My child continues to remind me, in her new presence, that my role is to live my life, and to be real and loving with her, which includes all my feelings that may be triggered. I am present with her, remembering in each moment that what really matters is that we want to learn how to love each other and to be honest with each other, even though this can be difficult at times. We can do this by pausing, talking to our spouses and friends, and sorting things out before blowing up at them. We can think it through and be aware of the best time to communicate with them, as we know their moods are still changing.
Then there comes the talk. “Well, now that you’ve been home for awhile, this is what has come up for me, what I need.” Yes, parents have needs and boundaries too, and they really do get that. They understand that we are human, more now than last year because we haven’t been doing everything for them, and they have felt what it is like to have more to do with no parent to motivate, organize, or remind. The college transition is a major stage of development in our kids’ lives. We need to remember that they are on a journey, it’s not all done now after one year of college. They need our love, encouragement, teachings, and time-appropriate honesty…they really do. It is the best teacher, the honest kind of support.
They have so many new feelings and thoughts that they are sorting through, and they need to know we love them just as they are, even when we are flipping out about some of their behaviors. We really are their anchor.
This is their journey, and often, trouble happens when we as parents project our own history and how we think they ought to be onto them. Yes, we can give opinions, but in the end, we want them to find their own way.
By Natalie Caine