Preparing for your college student’s visit home

by David Tuttle –

There is an arc to this process.

Phase One
In many cases, once students make their college decisions official, parents celebrate, beam with pride, and immediately become anxious about sending their babies away. Especially if the child leaving the nest is the first one to do so. The summer after that decision is the worst, actually, for parents. I call it pre-grieving.

From the students’ vantage point, they have their own approach and may start "soiling the nest," as a colleague of mine used to call it. They are subconsciously making it easier for you to say goodbye by being rebellious.

Once the student is dropped off, gets in the swing of things, and the parents realize things will be okay, phase two kicks in.

Phase Two
That phase is about welcoming back home an emerging and independent adult during spring, summer, and winter breaks. And it isn't always easy.

Checking activity schedules at the Student Involvement Fair

In my experience with students, they are like awkward baby giraffes. They want to walk on their own, but still need some support. Indeed, I often coach students that they can't have their cake (your financial backing) and eat it too (ignoring family rules and expectations). Just know that they DO appreciate you, but they are striking out on their own. It takes some adjusting especially during trips home during their first year or two.

Here are some things you can expect and how to handle it:

1. They are immersed in new and exciting experiences and meeting dynamic and diverse people.

What they need: They want you to listen and ask them non-prying questions. For years they listened to your stories about Uncle Fred and where you might seat your guests for Easter dinner. The people they find fascinating may not matter to you, but show interest or fake it.

2. When they are not napping, on YouTube, going on late-night taco runs, streaming "Fuller House," and going to parties, they are REALLY busy.

What they need: Sure, they probably don't work as hard as you. But there is emotional energy being expended as they navigate really difficult classes, plenty of homework, and the stress of independence. It can be emotionally exhausting for their developing brains and bodies. Trust them. College is hard, for the most part.

3. They don't care about grades, man. They are learning about life and relationships and themselves.

What they need: They are partially correct, they are learning a lot. But you can remind them that grades are a reflection of that learning. And they are the ticket moving forward, to the next semester, to the job and career, and graduate programs. It's okay to have expectations; you are the parents. Say your peace, make them repeat it, and stop. Know they are still adjusting and DON'T want a lecture.

Trinity University students hear a fitness presentation at the Bell Center.

4. They want to share their new lives with their friends, compare experiences, and re-connect with people they can relate to.

What you can do: Let them. They love you and will love you more as they become juniors and seniors and beyond. It isn't personal. They just aren't that into you. Plan a meal or family time and then let them set their schedule.

5. They don't want rules. Trust me, they don't want them on campus, either.

What you can do: First, know that they are probably out really late here, so don't be surprised by how late they go out. The difference is at home they might be driving late and with crazies on the road. Work out something that is fair to them and you. Second, when they get home they are often long-term tired. Expect them to sleep and be worthless in terms of chores. Finally, given all that, it is still okay to set expectations. Find a better way to say "my house, my rules." Let them know you are counting on them for a few (specific) things.

Phase Three
After they graduate from college, the next challenge will be keeping them from moving back in. It is part of the arc. Be prepared.

About David

David M. Tuttle is an associate vice president and Dean of Students at Trinity University. You can read his blog, The Dean's List, here.


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