Surviving Summer with Your College Student

As a mom to one daughter who lived in the dorms during college and another who lived at home, I think I have a reasonably balanced perspective on the joys and pitfalls of both.

I missed the daily, routine interaction with my oldest, but had to navigate the at times very turbulent waters of being a mom to a “sometimes” adult. I sometimes say, because my daughter was all about being an independent woman until dinner rolled around and she wanted to know what I was making, or, going out for a dinner but suddenly being a kid again when the check came.

If your college student is coming or already home for summer, June to September can be fraught with peril, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Use these strategies to keep summer as light and carefree as you dream it can be.

Take a Breath Stop for a minute and think of some of the attitudes and styles you embraced when you were in college. Once you stop shaking your head and or giggling at your temporary insanity, remember your college student is in the midst of their search for their identity. Your child may come home and announce they’re vegan, switching religions, walking away from their faith, changing majors, or dropping out of school. The key is to remember that not all of these changes will stick. Some will – tattoos, like diamonds, last forever – but for the most part, they’ll move through many ideologies, philosophies, and relationships, so it’s pointless to get hung up on any of them. Show interest, but keep careful of asking too many questions, sharing your opinions, or passing judgment. It’s important to think of the relationship regarding where you want to be in five years. Is a lousy tattoo worth damaging your relationship with your child?

Time is Relative

Remember, your child has been away and enjoying their independence, perhaps for the first time. Often one of the biggest challenges between college students and parents is the issue of day-to-day scheduling. Because they’ve been on their own, sometimes college students need to remember how their behavior impacts others. The best way to curtail this conflict is by sitting down and having a face to face conversation about your expectations on everything from chores, meals, work schedules, sleeping in, and sharing vehicles. There’s a distinct shift in the family dynamic, and the sooner everyone acknowledges it, the easier it will be for everyone.

Jobs vs. Internships

Many students will find summer jobs to help with their expenses over the summer, and tuition or costs in the Fall. However, some students will instead have an internship, often unpaid, that will help them secure employment after graduation. There are paid internships out there, but even those generally pay very little. As parents, it’s important to remember that the lack of pay should never be confused with a lack of value. Internships offer students the opportunity to talk to adults currently working in their field of interest and allow them hands-on experience. There are miles between classroom training and fieldwork, and that experience can be life-changing.

It’s a Balancing Act

It’s important to remember that your student is probably just as anxious or annoyed about what’s happening as you are. Open and honest conversations, respect for one another’s feelings and privacy, and the freedom to both express yourself and forgive are key.

Summer break is temporary – family is forever.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.


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