'It's different now': Advice for when your college- age child comes home
"So how was your semester break," I asked? He stared at me with a smirk and said, "Well, it started off OK, but by the end of break, I was ready to get back to school. I've got my own thing going here and I needed to get back to it."
"Your own thing," I questioned? "Yeah, you know, college and stuff. I'm not in high school anymore. I don't live at home anymore. It's different now."
Different indeed! I work in higher education with college students, and this conversation has been replicated about a thousand times in my professional career, after every break in the academic calendar. This conversation is especially prevalent with college freshmen. Leaving home to go to college in August was a big adjustment for them personally, mentally, intellectually, spiritually, and they have begun to undergo changes in their lives. The point that I believe they begin to really feel those changes, and that those changes become most evident to others (meaning their parents) is when they return home, for the first real extended period of time since starting college, at the end of the first semester or trimester. The exodus from college campuses around the country begins shortly this year. College students everywhere are repacking their suitcases or cars and traveling back to their home. As parents of college students you should understand one important thing: Your son or daughter is different now, and the break period can be a time of positive resistance during which you see those changes becoming evident.
I am not the father of a college-age son or daughter, but throughout the school year I serve as a mentor, servant, confidant, counselor, role model, teacher and student of and at times pseudo parent for the 1,000+ I work with and serve every day of my professional career. I hear the tales of woe from both student and parent. "I can't believe I had a curfew still." "Why don't they want to be with the family? It's a tradition." "I had to shuttle my little sister to the mall and back all the time." "Has texting taken over their life when they went away to school?" "Why do they eat so much? Aren't you feeding them there?" "Why can't I sleep in until 10 a.m.? I do it here all the time?" These statements, these questions, the challenges and successes of growth, are all part of the college experience that neither one of you, neither your child nor you as a father, were told about during the orientation days back in August, but they are a reality.
I offer to you, fathers of college-age students (especially if this is your first child in college) some humble suggestions to help make the break at home a bit easier:
Communicate expectations with your son or daughter when they return home and be willing to compromise and collaborate with them on expectations. Keep this in mind: While away from home, they have begun to develop autonomy and independence in ways different from when they were living at home with you. That is in fact a positive thing. At the same time, at college, especially if they live on campus, we teach your son or daughter about the responsibility of adhering to the rule of the community they live in as a part of positive citizenship. Your home is such a community for the next few weeks, so it can be a good lesson for them to understand that sometimes when you change your community, you need to recognize and adapt to changing expectations and rules. This lesson is micro-level compared to say, moving to another country, but your home now seems like "another country" to your son or daughter in some ways.
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