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Look Away or Jump Right In? Parenting Your At-Home College Student

Adina Glickman


Living with an emerging adult can be like watching sausage get made. It’s fascinating and a little cringeworthy, and if you want to maintain a positive relationship with sausage, you better train yourself to look away at strategic moments.

There are parts of your young adult’s process that it’s best not to know about, but now that COVID has them college-ing at home and adulting in your face, you’ll want to figure out what those strategic look-away moments are, and also what the jump-right-in-and-help moments are. There will be lots of each.

Looking away means, first of all, taking one (or many) deep breaths and then either literally walking away or simply listening and nodding and saying “I hear you.”

Jumping right in means listening first, asking questions and offering clarity. It may mean offering solutions or suggestions, but only if invited.

With your at-home student, it’s all about knowing how far away to stay, knowing how close in to get, and discovering when doing more or doing less is useful. It especially means holding lightly the impossible push/pull of your student’s simultaneous need for and complete rejection of you.

Let’s be real here: even though it’s bittersweet to say goodbye, having a student go off to college brings some relief. In their absence, you imagine them balancing the thrill of the experience with the occasional loneliness. You can imagine how they are connecting with new people and being supported in the midst of the challenges of adjusting to college.

But now, their angst, their distractibility and their loneliness is right there in the next room, or across from you at dinnertime. So here are some tips on when to look away, and when to jump right in.

Look away...

When you’re burned out on them and need your own adult space. You’re not helpful when you’ve got no gas in the tank. In other words, put your own oxygen mask on before helping those around you.

Jump right in...

When you are invited in any way and feel you have something good to offer. Good things are: perspective, empathy, confidence in them.

Look away...

When you feel a monologue coming on that begins with, “When I was your age...”

Jump right in...

When you sense your young adult wants your help but is having trouble asking for it. You might see them lurking unusually close by, even being clingy. Or they may pick a meaningless fight with you as a way to vent frustration or anxiety about something related to school or friends.

Look away...

When they’re spinning in circles and using an argument with you as a hearty distraction from something else. The choice between writing their research paper and squabbling with you about how you need to respect their veganism more passionately should be crystal clear.

Jump right in...

When everyone has a good sense of humor about how ridiculously strange this experience is.

Look away...

When you are being blamed, confronted, manipulated or otherwise having a heap of poo dumped on your head for everything that is wrong with the world.

Jump right in...

When the problem your young adult is working out has to do with the specifics of sharing space with you.

Look away...

When you find out your young adult is doing anything you have done in your life (such as making any number of bad choices) that you didn’t want your parents to know about. Trust that they will find their way just as you did.

Jump right in...

When your young adult is having a moment of wanting your old school parenting in the form of popsicles and hugs.

Remember also that looking away doesn’t mean walking off in a huff because you’ve been rejected. And jumping in doesn’t mean taking over or making the decision for your young adult. It especially doesn’t mean rushing in when they collapse and beg you to take over. Their collapse is a good time for you to stand strong with (and next to) them, and remind them they have strength also.

When do you jump in or look away? Join College Parent Insiders on Facebook to share your stories.

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    Adina Glickman is the founder of Affinity Coaching, which offers academic, life and career coaching to young adults. She is the former director of learning strategies at Stanford University and is the co-founder and director of the Academic Resilience Consortium, an association of faculty, staff and students dedicated to understanding and promoting student resilience. Learn more at adinaglickman.com.

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