When Cori Miller returned home for the summer after her freshman year, she felt like a new, improved person.
She was dismayed to discover her parents had the same old rules.
“It was a big adjustment,” says Cori, 24, a graduate student studying counseling. “I still had a curfew. My family expected me to follow the same rules I had in high school.”
It made her kind of grouchy.
“I felt like I lost a lot of freedom,” Miller says. “When I came home for the summer, I felt a lot more independent. I had a different viewpoint from my family, on a lot of different things. Politics, just everything.
“I talked to my parents about it and they got more lenient as the summer went on,” she says. “When I explained things, they understood.”
That kind of communication is key to a smooth transition from college to home, says Ross Rapaport, director of the Counseling Center at CMU.
“Summer is a time of readjustment and reacquaintance,” says Rapaport, director of the Counseling Center at CMU for 13 years and a counselor there for 30. “Everyone’s excited, but they’re also anxious. Everyone’s changed a bit – the students, the parents, the siblings. The family dynamics have changed.”
Summer can be a chance to strengthen your adult relationship with your son or daughter, Ross says. His first tip? “Talk, talk, talk and listen, listen, listen.”
The conversation should begin even before your child and their huge pile of belongings hit the living room, he says.
“Have a conversation about what everybody’s expectations are for the summer,” says Ross, father of two adult children. “What concerns does your child have? What concerns do you and other household members have? How would everybody like this to go?”
Parents may expect to spend their darling’s first few days home engaged in happy catch-up conversation.
But your child might want to sleep for two days, then hang out with the high school friends he or she has missed.
“Remember, for the past few months, your child hasn’t really been accountable to anybody,” Rapaport says. “Have a conversation about any curfews, using the car, about being courteous if they stay up late when everybody else has to go to bed.
“Compromise is key.”
Cori Miller agrees.
For her part, Cori tried to be more tidy once she was back home.
“I picked up my dishes, instead of leaving them sitting around for days like I did in my dorm room,” she says.
Her tips for parents:
- “Be understanding of your son or daughter. Don’t expect them to be the same as they were in high school."
- “Be a bit more lenient on the rules."
- “Understand they might have a whole new viewpoint on life, from being around new people and being surrounded by academia. I’m from a small town, Menominee in the U.P., so the change was even bigger for me.”
Advice from Rapaport:
- “Pick your battles. What’s important and what’s not important?"
- “Focus on health and safety, rather than control. When you ask your son or daughter to let you know if they’re running late and won’t be home, tell them it’s because you need to know they’re safe, not because you need to know all their business. And do the same thing for them if you’re out and won’t be home on time."
- “Recognize that your son or daughter has a full life outside the family, too. They want to spend time with their friends. Plan time for family. Maybe it’s Sunday dinners or a week away as a family. Maybe you go out for coffee."
- “Talk about conflicts right away. Remember to listen."
- “Have realistic expectations. My mom used to say, ‘Having no expectations is the best plan.’"
- “During the college years it’s normal for young adults to be separating from the family and becoming independent. There’s lots of pushing and pulling. A big part of parenting is learning to let go."
- “Take time for hugs.”