By: Rhiannon Winner, Uloop
The first time your student comes home from college is exciting, fun, and just a little bit scary. Your student is going to be thrilled to come home for the first time since starting the school year, and you’re probably equally thrilled to have them back. But as overwhelmed as you’ll both be, it’s important to handle the first visit home the right way.
Although you know their life has changed in every way imaginable, it’s important to remember that the dynamic between you and your student has as well.
A thousand things have happened while your student was away at college. They have plenty of new friends and great stories to tell, but there’s just so much to say that they may not want to share it all. It’s exhausting to keep telling the same stories, especially when they’ve already retold them to other college friends. Your student will inevitably share anecdotes about their friends or experiences, so don’t push them to tell you everything as soon as they walk in the door. Let it happen naturally. You’ll probably have a pretty good idea of how things are going anyway if you happen to be Facebook friends with them.
Asking too many questions could also end up pushing your student away when they’re on the verge of independence. They left you a high schooler and returned a college student, and that change hasn’t been lost on them. They positively love their newfound freedom, and nagging them with random questions is just going to make them feel as if you’re still treating them like a high schooler.
Parents and students inevitably have different expectations for the student’s first visit back home. The student probably wants to relax, forget about their schoolwork, and visit some of their old high school friends. You probably want them to fit right back in and start socializing with you and the rest of the family. Maybe you even want them to pick up some of their old chores while they’re home. Not talking out your wildly different expectations can be a recipe for disaster. Neither you nor your student is going to be happy if they were out late with friends and return just to be scolded for staying out past curfew.
If you want your student to follow certain rules while they’re home, let them know ahead of time. Ask (even though it’s really a demand, phrasing it as more of a question will make your student feel as if you’re valuing them as an adult rather than just dictating what they do like in high school) your student to be home by a certain time, participate in certain family activities, pick up certain chores, et cetera. Be patient, because the adjustment from college to home can be more difficult than you might expect.
Imagine if you were randomly forced to start going to bed at a certain time, eating when told, and being ordered around like when you were a child. It’d be irritating, wouldn’t it? Discussion and compromise is necessary on both sides to ensure a peaceful visit.
It seems like a good idea, on the surface, to start scheduling things for your returning student — doctor’s appointments, meetings with old friends and family, and whatever else you can think of. After all, you scheduled a lot of this stuff for them in the past. But rather than just doing everything and expecting your student to adjust, ask your student what days and times they’d like to schedule things.
If certain events are at a fixed date and time, ask your student if they want to attend, but don’t force them. Your student has probably been making plans with old friends already, and pressuring them to cancel on their friends will only frustrate both of you.
Your student just experienced real independence (well, maybe not financially) for the first time. They’ve probably encountered the most diverse group of people they’ve ever met and learned an immense amount about themselves. Of course things about them may have changed, whether it’s their political ideology or a new tattoo. Unless your student has done something that really crosses a line, there’s no point in scolding them for changing.
You are still the parent, but to avoid conflict and let your student really become independent, you can’t continue treating them as children. You have to let them make their own decisions. Give them advice and hugs when they need you, but don’t try to shame them for making relatively harmless decisions without your input.
The shifting role between parents and students during college can be tricky to navigate, but as long as both sides stay patient and work towards compromise, any visit home can be a great one.
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