Get stories and expert advice on all things related to college and parenting.
My Son, the HomemakerCheryl Gottlieb Boxer
Spring term is wrapping up, which means your college students will be returning home. Although of course you will be overjoyed to see them, you may be also be feeling a bit apprehensive. I get it. I’ve been where you are. In fact, a few years ago I had two returning home.
And as much as I love my sons, I admit that, after the relative tranquility of having only my quiet youngest son around, I was kind of dreading the return to a full house. I actually felt a sense of impending doom in May before the two big ones returned. I knew my oldest son, who had recently graduated law school, would arrive with the entire contents of his DC apartment, not just a dorm room’s worth like my middle son who'd just finished his sophomore year of college. I steeled myself for the onslaught and anticipated the amusing things I could write about regarding their reentry to our household and suburban life.
Then a funny thing happened, something I could not have predicted. I started enjoying their company.
Don’t get me wrong — I still had plenty of things to say about the difficulties of having older children living at home. For months, my dining room resembled a storage facility because there really was nowhere to stow my oldest son’s possessions. The family food bills were astronomical — apparently the boys were spending enough time at the gym to warrant eating four dozen eggs a week, protein shakes by the gallon, oceans of fish, etc., necessitating daily trips to the grocery store. I literally could not keep up with the quantity of food they consumed or the amount of laundry they generated. I remember middle of the night feedings for my oldest son, beds that were rarely made (unless I made them myself), dirty dishes in the sink and me constantly tripping over their large shoes (which they left in every room of the house). For an OCD person (and light sleeper) like me, it was a lot to handle, all while trying to keep my youngest son, who was in ninth grade at the time, focused on his finals.
But here’s the part that surprised me. After four years of college and three of graduate school, my oldest son was really a grown-up. Perhaps because he had fewer local friends around or maybe because he had so much studying to do with the impending bar exam, or (and this is my favorite theory) possibly because he was happy to be with me, we spent a lot of quality time together.
Almost every day (after he had eaten his five eggs for breakfast) he said, “Mom, do you want to get some lunch?” And almost every day I answered “yes.” We sat in town together and chatted and caught up on things, sort of like friends. We hadn't spent that much time together since he was in nursery school. In the past when he was home, he'd dash in and out to meet friends or go to work and we'd argue about the things mothers and teens tend to argue about. But with his schooling done and a job lined up, there was really nothing left to fight about. We conversed as two adults, although paradoxically I felt that I had gotten one more chance to have my boy back before he flew the nest for good. I knew it was likely he would never be home for that length of time again and it's proven true — a night or two is all we get.
My middle son also surprised me that summer. He had grown up a lot during the school year and was less contentious than he'd been the previous summer. He was a good big brother to my youngest as well as considerate and supportive of my oldest, especially the weekend before the bar exam. He seemed to understand that the house could only handle so much stress at one time and allowed his older brother to be the one with all the angst for those several days.
All summers come to an end. When August arrived and my oldest moved into his new apartment in Manhattan, I was happy to have his stuff out of the house; however, I truly missed him. The time we had together that summer, which admittedly I hadn't looked forward to, turned out to be a special gift — one I'll always cherish. My middle son had a few years more with long stretches at home but it was the end of an era with all of us living under one roof. That wonderful feeling you have when you are all together isn't something I get to experience much these days.
So, if you have mixed feelings about your student(s) returning for summer, know that although there are certain to be difficult moments, there will also be wonderful ones. And those wonderful moments will be the ones you always remember.