‘But You Just Got Home!’: Living With Your Returning College Student

It’s mid-December. All over the country, masses of returning college students are pouring back home, with full laundry bags, and dark eye bags. You’re so excited to see them! They’re home! They’re home!

But maybe you’ve found it’s not exactly that old Folgers Coffee ad. Remember “Peter Comes Home?”

No one is getting up that early, even for coffee, Peter. And did you drive home overnight in that weather? What are you THINKING?! You had us worried sick!

But instead of a Peter, you have an exhausted returning college student, who has barely said hello and is sleeping all day and not making a lot of eye contact. They’re getting picked up by friends or asking to use a car. “But you just got home!” rages in your head. Sound familiar?

Don’t Burn The Returning College Student Upon Re-Entry

Your student has survived exams and a long semester. They’re tired and need to recharge. And because their sense of time is different (they’re home for a WHOLE month vs they’re ONLY here for a MONTH!), they might be feeling some anxiety about doing everything you have planned right this second. You just want to BE with them, and they just want some space.

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Are they sleeping all day and spending nights out with friends instead of hanging with you? Are they groaning that you’ve made plans for them? That’s because they’ve gotten used to planning their own lives, and here’s an important piece of info: That’s what you raised them to do.

Going away to college and leaving your nest creates independent people. Don’t ask them to shut that off as soon as they’re under your roof. But there are constructive ways to communicate and set expectations for your young adult’s time at home (emphasis on adult).

Respect Their Independence

Talking with your returning student shouldn’t be a stand-off on different sides, but it can be difficult. Approaching it with the mindset of “we’re glad you’re here, we’re a part of your life, and we’re here to help” can offset struggles.

Take for example: Curfews. You probably had a set curfew when they were in high school. College students don’t have curfews. Having one re-imposed will automatically test their independence, while not having one will keep you up all night, wake up the dog at all hours, and generally be disruptive.

So what can you do? Meet in the middle.

Start the conversation off with “while there’s no curfew on you or your time, please be aware that Fido will freak out when you get home. Please text us with your ETA, come in the back door, and give Fido a chewy to get him to settle down.”

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Another battleground for a lot of families? Meal times. Don’t assume they’ll be home for dinner every night, but plan out in advance when they will be home. Let them fit family plans into their schedule and be part of the planning! Head off any disappointments with “we know you’re busy planning your time, so please add in Great Aunt Tillie who will be here Tuesday and the 34th Annual Ugly Christmas Sweater Party in a week. What do you want to bring to eat for that?” Like any adult, the Three I’s – informing, inviting and including them – in events will result in 100% fewer struggles.

Enjoy The Adult They’re Becoming

We understand: it’s the holiday season, and the memories of your little kids gathering around you are stronger this time of year. We miss the wonders of their babyhood!

But give yourself a gift: Reframe your thoughts of “I miss them being little” into “Look at how they’ve grown into such good adults.”  The wonder of their adulthood is just as mesmerizing.


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