There are few occasions in life that make a parent more proud than a child leaving for college. And even fewer that are more confusing than when that child returns after freshman year.
Many parents have experienced it. Senior year of high school is busy, expensive and full of hope for the future. Everyone’s watching the mailbox for acceptance letters and your senior is envisioning a life outside the house. Freedom, but on your dime.
But that’s fine with you. After all, college has been the plan since your child was young, and now it’s almost here. So close you can feel it. So you revel in that last year, with senior photos, prom, graduation parties, and an overall celebratory feeling because you know that day is coming. Then one day the offer comes, and it’s all real. You are now the parent of a college freshman.
That’s how it was in our house. Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Most definitely. And as we moved our daughter into her dorm I waited for those feelings of separation and sadness to overtake me—but they never did. I was proud of her and happy that she was going out into the world (well financed, of course). Plus, through the magic of technology I knew we’d talk and text often. She was happy and I was happy.
Her first year went well. New friends, good grades, and an obvious increase in her independence. She rode a city bus (for the first time), applied for a job (not for the first time), and really stepped into who she was becoming.
And then she came home.
How do you take an 18-year old person (child, really) who has been successfully independent (for almost 9 whole months!) and retrain that person to abide by rules of the house that surely must seem antiquated? The answer is, it ain’t easy. It’s like trying to put a genie back in the bottle.
If you’ve been through this, you know why I say it’s confusing. On the one hand, you’re amazed at the change and growth that has occurred in the person you dropped off at the beginning of the school year. On the other hand—is she crazy?? I mean we have to consider that, don’t we?
Only a crazy person would live away from home for less than a year, and return with the apparent assumption that the guidelines that worked in college also work at home. From curfew, to chores, to a host of other not-in-my-house-you-won’ts, that first summer back can be a challenge. For everybody.
When my daughter came home it was pretty clear that she considered herself an adult. She literally said it as part of her answer to almost every question. And because adults make their own decisions, we had a few struggles as we navigated which of us got to be the adult in each conversation.
So how did we (and she) survive it? We realized we needed to pick our battles and with a healthy does of apathy around those topics that really didn’t matter much, we regained equilibrium. We talked with her, not just to her, as an adult. We reminded her that she has responsibilities to our family, to our household, and to herself, and those priorities would sometimes shift. Other than that, we just rolled with it.
Some days were frustrating. But most days it was just good to have her back in the house, realizing that whatever these days were, they wouldn’t last forever. We disagreed, but never too seriously. We acquiesced, but never too much.
At the end of the day we realized that maybe we’re the crazy ones. Parents who spend a small fortune to send their child to live in a place that’s designed to change their thoughts, broaden their outlook, and reshape their opinions. And then come back home to be who they were before.
If you’re living on this rollercoaster right now, hang on tight. Try to make time to reconnect with your almost-sophomore. Binge watch a great show, dine at good restaurants. Make great memories together. But most importantly, if and when it’s possible, ignore their foolishness. No matter what they say, you’re still talking to a child.
And it’s okay. September will be here before you know it.