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Home from College: Setting the Guidelines

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: The upcoming holidays will be the first time my son has returned home since he left for his freshman year at college in September. We are looking forward to seeing him, and understand that he will also want to spend time with his friends. My bigger concern is this: I've heard from other parents who've been through this already that the kids come home expecting that life will be different -- no rules, no chores, no time to get up or go to bed, not a lot of questions about whereabouts. How shall we play this? We don't want to spend the whole vacation arguing, but this is still home and there are some things that really matter to me. Any advice?

A: "Jason's house." That's how we answer the phone when our son is home during his college vacations. Fact is, eight out of ten calls are from his friends, also home from college. Most of his time is spent getting together with friends, making plans to get together with friends, refueling (eating), and sleeping until noon. Whatever daily rhythm we had established in his absence exists no longer.

College freshmen like your son return home with a new found sense of autonomy and a vampire-like sleep and social schedule. Participation in household chores is not on their "top ten list." They are in fact, just visiting. I remember being saddened upon hearing both my college kids say they were looking forward to "getting back home", referring to college. I guess I had naively thought home would always mean our home.

His rhythm-breaking return notwithstanding, you are, as we have been, delighted to have your boy home. Let him hear and feel that joy upon his arrival. Barring an attitude and behavior that shows a blatant disregard for family members, I see no reason not to let him lead the vacation life he chooses.

I'd ask him what he planned to do, whom he planned to see, and what he thought his schedule would be like during vacation. I believe it's fair to ask him if he'll be joining you for meals (forget breakfast!) and social events. You also deserve to know his whereabouts in the evening and when/if he expects to return home. He needs to guarantee you a phone call if his plans and return time change significantly. "I know you're a college boy now but humor me, I need to know you're OK."

Respecting his independence does not mean allowing him to upset you. Our kids are not being willful or purposefully giving us migraines when they leave their dirty clothes and wet towels in a heap on the bathroom floor. They just need to be good-naturedly reminded that your (their) household's long-standing common courtesies are still in place. Your humor and giving them a little slack helps a lot in their making that college-home transition.

That first vacation home from college is a marker. Things really have changed and you both know it. Focusing on your happiness in having him home sets the tone for the best reunion possible. When he arrives, ask him if he might have a slot available for you on his schedule. You know, take in a movie, go out for pancakes. He may even pencil you in!

Enjoy this maiden return. Remember to be thankful that he wants to come home. Happy Holidays.

More on: Expert Advice

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


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