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Proactive vs. Reactive College ParentingJennifer Sullivan
“You have to be back by….”
I’d spoken those words every night my daughter went out in high school, but this time they caught in my throat.
Home from college for her first visit fall semester freshman year, she was heading off to meet friends. Was it absurd to give her the same old curfew? On campus, she lived beyond my supervision. She was in charge of completing homework and dealing with professors, not to mention when and where she went out, with whom, when she came home and a host of other decisions I didn’t want to think about.
How does all this newfound independence translate when a student returns for the holidays or over break? As my friend Lisa, the parent of two college students, said, “It’s a process — and it takes four years.”
When your student comes home from college, there’s potential for real conflict. Debra Crisp, Ph.D., of the Western Kentucky University Counseling and Testing Center put it this way: “For parents, especially those with first-year students, their college students are often frozen in their minds as the young people that they left on campus in August.”
I realized if I ignored the freedom my daughter had at school she would feel disrespected and we would have nothing but conflict.
Still, there were rules she needed to follow.
The first thing we talked about was the impact her actions have on those around her. For example, if she came home late on a weeknight, it affected the whole house, making the dog bark and waking everyone. Then in the morning, I was tired while she could sleep as late as she wanted.
Having lived with roommates for a year, she got this immediately. She also understood that, even with freedom, she still had responsibilities. Again, she could see this because of her experience on campus when she could choose to stay out but still had work to do and classes to attend.
When thinking about rules and consequences it’s important to keep the goal in mind — helping our students become responsible adults. Lisa gave her son and daughter more chores when they were home. She was clear about expectations and their accountability for routines, like family dinners and activities. However, she reflected, “I’m still parenting, discerning what I want them to take over and what I can still do for them.”
My daughter helped come up with a solution to her wanting to stay out late (and my not wanting to wait up for her). She texts me when she gets in so if I wake up I can quickly see if she’s home or not and then either roll over or spring into worried-parent mode.
During these college years, we begin to form the adult relationships we will have with our students for the rest of their lives. It takes some doing. Slowly, my daughter and I are moving towards a new relationship…just as I start the process all over again with her younger sister. Second time around, I expect just as much stress — and just as much reward.