It’s that time of year again, and I’ve been hearing about it in my office! Late spring brings warmer weather, green grass, hummingbirds, and the close of another year for college students. Seems you send a kid to college in the fall and a young adult moves home for the summer. A young adult who has grown accustomed to decision making and increased freedom regarding meals, curfew, and quiet hours. He or she may have adjusted well to dorm life, socialization on demand, and easy access to Thursday-night parties. And while the student welcomes the return to the security and sensibility of home life, she may be surprised by the sense of “not fitting in” to her childhood role and the expectations of her parents. The home-cooked meals he has longed for, may become a source of irritation. The actual food is a wonderful break, however, the responsibility of scheduled meal times and clean-up assistance may be a surprise adjustment. The food court at school was so much more convenient–eat and run.
The truth is that accepting responsibility for one’s own well-being and handling independence is an integral part of the college/growing-up experience and an area in which we encourage our kids to succeed. But then, it is difficult for parents and offspring alike, when the young adult returns home for the summer and expects to continue the college lifestyle. Are we just supposed to stop being parents? Relax our rules to accommodate a dormitory lifestyle? This is a quandary. And not an easy one.
It’s been awhile, but we experienced this at our house. Each summer, when my step-son’s packed, Honda CRV rolled into our driveway from Indiana State with another year’s worth of accumulation that would land in our basement, we negotiated a Good-Neighbor contract. It was the process through which we established expectations and expressed our mutual respect, avoiding the dreaded “This is my house and while you’re living here, you will obey my rules!” statement. It was important that he understood that having friends over to watch a movie at 1:00 A.M., kept us awake and made for a miserable work day the following day. We reminded him that some humans are asleep by 10:00 P.M., don’t live on fast food, and are highly annoyed when they trip over size 13 shoes at the back door. He, in turn, requested a two-day amnesty period to recover from final exams. He needed to rest before unpacking and starting summer chores and his job.
A Good Neighbor contract is an activity that can smooth the transition and make for a happier summer. A welcome home that thwarts assumptions resulting in misunderstandings and conflict. We created an actual paper document and engaged in an actual reading and signing of the contract–following the two-day amnesty period, which we found reasonable. We each welcomed the opportunity to express expectations, defend our reasoning, and negotiate. Everyone felt heard and respected. As always, it was a process.
For those of you who are in the process of welcoming a college student home for the summer, I encourage you to also welcome the opportunity to communicate with your child as adults, in the spirit of mutual respect. It can be a wonderful growing experience for all. The web addresses below provide helpful articles on this topic. Sending positive thoughts to you and yours for a fun, healthy summer.