Just when you’re getting used to the independence of college and have spread your wings, summer is back and it’s time to return home.
For those who couldn’t find that cool job that provides housing and a food stipend, returning to the parents may not only be cheaper, it’s often the wiser decision. But after living on your own for so long, this transition can be exasperating. So how’s a college kid supposed to cope?
It is not uncommon to experience a mixture of feelings in this situation. Living independently makes people experience new liberties and experiment with a newly emerging autonomous self.
To suddenly be sent back to the parents, where decisions are questioned, actions are challenged and, for an unlucky few, curfews are enforced, can be difficult to say the least. And this new situation, where a college student’s new expectations contrast with parents’ old expectations, can lead to conflicts.
“The key is to expect it to be a difficult transition,” said Dr. Deborah Drabick, assistant professor of psychology at Temple. “You are likely to feel stifled and controlled, but this a normal part of life.”
Going back to the same routine – high school friends, siblings, sharing a car, curfew – can be tricky to deal with. But it’s easier if these changes are anticipated.
“One of the weirdest things about going back home was how easy it was to slip back into old patterns of interaction with my family members,” said Dr. Benjamin Backus, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.
It is easy to fall back into old habits and behaviors when placed in that old environment. But it is important for students moving back home to realize that if they want parents to treat them like adults instead of teen-agers, they need to make the distinction obvious.
“One way to move your relationship with family members to a new level is to shoulder more of a burden and volunteer to take care of responsibilities you take at college,” Backus said. This might mean cleaning, cooking and, especially, doing your own laundry.
But don’t forget that this is also a time of change for parents. They need time to realize and adjust to how you’ve changed. Show off your newfound sense of responsibility and let your parents know that you do think and act like an adult.
Communication is very important. Don’t just get into arguments and “But in college I used to….” Instead, sit down with your parents and negotiate. Explain to them that you are used to a new way of life and are having as difficult a time coping within a controlled environment as they are with your independence. Negotiate your curfew and be reasonable about it.
Let your parents know that your privacy needs to be respected just as you respect theirs. Be an adult and find ways to make this transition smooth for both parties. And remember that it is still home and not your dorm room.
Jinal Shah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org