There was perhaps just one thing that’s harder than dropping off your kid at their dorm for college.
It’s when they come back home for the summer.
Back to the bedroom you’ve been using as an extra office. Back to their habit of making a 14-course appetizer extravaganza in the middle of the night and leaving the remnants for you to find in the morning. Back to bringing seven loads of laundry into the laundry room and jamming up the washing machine and dryer for three days because they keep forgetting to switch out their laundry and you’re not about to step into that gap, no siree.
It’s tricky, bringing someone back into your home who’s been out there quasi-adulting for the last nine or ten months. They’ve developed some new habits and rhythms, not the least of which is a fresh independence. And you’ve developed some new habits and rhythms as well, which might find this summer time interruption equally great and frustrating. Great, in that you’ve missed your college kids and it’s good to have them home. Frustrating, in that the adjustments you’ve made don’t neatly fold back into the confines of more people in the house.
So how do you make the practicalities of college kids home for the summer as seamless and enjoyable as it can be?
There’s an initial onboarding that is celebratory and can feel more like a holiday season. It’s fun, it’s late nights, it’s catching up. It’s good. But just like the holidays can’t go on and on, neither can the re-entry. There are still jobs to get to. There are still obligations that need to be met. There are still certain standards of hygiene to be maintained in the house. We let the party play out for a couple of days. But then it’s time to get back to business, and the following precepts come back online.
You can’t expect what you don’t communicate. And you can’t assume that your college student should simply dovetail back into whatever routines and schedules you have. Right when they return home, have a sit-down, intentional meeting about what the summer would ideally look like. Communicate the family routines you’re currently using. And listen to your college student’s feedback on their goals for the summer and the lifestyle habits they have adopted.
My kids are loud. They come by it honest. Boisterous doesn’t even begin to cover the volume our family humans emit. We all laugh loud, debate loud, live loud. And siblings coming home from college also means renewed games of hide-and-seek in the house, with music blaring. And it means epic sessions of playing the board game Risk, with associated verbal battles and good-hearted hollering sessions. Great. Fine. The band is back together and everyone’s having a great time.
There’s this thing called sleep that I now seem to need. To function. To think. To work. As it turns out, so does my husband. And some of our kids. So just because a college-aged nightowl has returned to the nest doesn’t mean that we’re going to all go nocturnal. This house goes quiet at 10 pm every night. The door slamming and club music level stops. What you choose to do somewhat silently is up to you. Stay up as late as you like. Giggle hysterically with your siblings in a room far, far away from mine. But we go to radio silence at 10 pm. If you want to use my air conditioning and roof for the summer, it comes with this agreement.
Not a vacation
To my darling college student:
You’ve worked hard all semester. There were all-night study sessions. There was stress over getting that huge paper turned in. There was the failed dating relationship that was a punch to the heart. There was the chemistry lab that turned into a much bigger ordeal than you anticipated.
I get it. You’ve come home tired and in need of a break.
Um, me too. I could use a break. Perhaps even a summer-long one. But neither of us is going to do that. Particularly you, my darling.
Yes, take a week. Breathe some fresh air, binge on some Netflix, see your friends who are back in town. Enjoy a little down time. It’s good for you.
But this is not a vacation. This is not an all-inclusive resort. Get the summer job, take the internship, or sign up for a load of online courses. It’s a foray into #adulting, this experience of working hard, taking a quick breather, and then heading into the next season. You’ll be the better for it, dear student. And so will I, not having to watch you lay around all day, eating all the snacks and banking up the resentment of the productive family members around you.
Respect for us as the homeowners, respect for their independence
Your student ideally has had a good taste of independence during their semesters away. And that should be respected. If they’re not under a curfew at their college, don’t expect them to adhere to one when they come home. If they haven’t been answering to someone for everywhere they are going and who they are with, it’s not realistic to try to put that on them again.
There is such a thing as courtesy. And just like I let my husband or kids know when I have plans away from the house and what I think my evening will look like, it’s not unreasonable to request certain information as part of the courtesy of living in someone’s home. It’s not an invasion of privacy for your student to let you know, “Hey, I’m heading out to a late movie and dinner with friends. I’ll probably be back around 1 am.”
Let’s Be Adult About Household Chores
It can be all too easy to slip back into picking up after your college student, calling and making their appointments for the dentist, folding that load of laundry they’ve left on the couch. If you did these things before they left for college, the habit is ingrained deeply and it can be hard to break.
But don’t fall into the trap.
It can be tricky, because they are both your child and a family member for whom you want this to feel like home. But the reality is, summers at home for your college student are the gentle process of separating them from their home of origin into their adult life. It’s a blend of them feeling the joy of being home while also taking on the appropriate considerations of being a guest.
So communicate this tension, of being home but also being an adult guest. Let them know that part of being a great guest in any situation is to pitch in, to help, to help load the dishwasher after dinner, to contain personal items to their room, to offer pitch in. It will make the summer all the better and will equip them well for being an appreciated guest in other homes in the future.
While I can’t brag to run a tight ship, I have had to learn through the years to run a marginally efficient one. What makes that possible are systems. For example, everyone has a laundry day. And when we’ve had kids return home for the summer, we have a meeting with everyone to determine the best laundry day for each of us, based on work and school commitments. And we stick by those laundry days. If you don’t manage to get yours done on your day, then you’ll have to hit it next week.
We have dinner every night at 6:30. If you’d like to join, great. If not, fine. But that’s the dinner schedule and this is not a Luby’s Cafeteria. You’re on your own if you don’t take advantage of the nightly dinner bell.
We clean our own bathrooms.
We put away our own belongings.
If you cook something, you wash and dry and put away whatever you used. There is no “Well, the dishwasher was full” excuse.
These simple system precepts remain the same, all year long. And they can go a long way in making your college student’s re-entry into family life all the easier.
Having your college student home for those blessed weeks of summer can be a sweet reunion, a time to reconnect and learn afresh who your child is becoming, how their experiences are shaping them, what they’re looking forward to. With a few simple measures of communicating, mutual respect, and a handful of systems, you’ll be on your way to a happy respite in the college experience.