When you’re used to the autonomy of college — 3 a.m. McDonald’s runs and borrowing your roommate’s sweaters because all your clothes are dirty — coming back to your parent’s home during breaks can be a shock to the system.
I, and many of my friends, often find that summers at home bring about a sort of regression. It’s shockingly easy to slip back into old habits when you’re spending all your time in spaces that defined your childhood and teenage years. How can you balance your newfound independence with the unique dynamics that come with living at home with family?
With summer fast approaching, Hallie Reed, another contributor to The Edit, and I compiled a survival guide for those of you who, like us, are going to be spending this summer in the bed you’ve had since primary school.
Establish clear expectations
“It’s helpful when both the college student and the parent realize they’re sort of in an in-between space between childhood and adulthood, especially if the college student is living at home,” said Lisa Damour, an author and psychologist. “There’s probably a whole new set of rules and expectations that are not the same ones as high school but are also not the same as someone, say, renting an apartment.”
Try to come to the table with an open mind. “When parents are asking very reasonable logistical questions such as when will you be home, when will the car be back, it is easy to hear something behind that question, like an advisory or limiting message, when it might not be there,” Ms. Damour said.
Having a direct conversation with your parents can help avoid these kinds of misunderstandings. “If you’re going to be out late,” Ms. Damour suggests asking questions like: “Do you want me to text you?” “Do you want me to leave a note?” “How much communication do you need from me about my whereabouts?”
If you want more freedom than you had when you were in high school, you may need to earn it over time. “It is a lot easier for parents to grant more privileges if they see growing ownership of responsibility,” Ms. Damour said. “If a college student wants to make it go well and communicate to their parents that they are in a new place developmentally, they can say things like, ‘Are there things I can do while I’m home? Are there errands I can run for you?’ And take the lead in shouldering more of the weight of running the household.” This makes it clear that you’re moving into adult territory, and can handle both the challenges and privileges that come with it.
When negotiating curfews, Philip Galanes, who serves up advice in The Times’s Social Q’s column, suggests a similar strategy. It’s often “better to live with the restrictive rule and show them that ‘Oh yeah, she can be trusted, she is as responsible as she says she is.’ This might yield a kind of overall loosening of the leash,” Mr. Galanes said. Coming home when you say you will can build trust with your parents and possibly open up opportunities for further negotiations of down the line.
Accept that dating is probably going to be awkward
Dating when you’re living at home in your 20s is at best slightly awkward, and at worst a tricky negotiation of boundaries, privacy and very strategic timing. There’s no smooth way to bring a Tinder date home to your childhood bedroom.
“I get a ton of these questions from students who are going home and they think of it like, ‘How am I going to bear it, how am I going to survive it, my prudish parents,’” Mr. Galanes said. He suggests, you guessed it: communication. If you’re worried about having overnight guests, just ask.
“For some kids it would be a giant problem even admitting to their parents that they are sleeping with someone. So obviously this isn’t for those people,” he said. But if you do think your parents would be open to it, “some night quietly after dinner you’d say, ‘Can we talk about something? I’m seeing this guy or seeing this woman. How would you feel if he slept over?’,” Mr. Galanes said. “And you’ll get their answer.” They might shut down the conversation the first time, but you can revisit the topic later. “It’s just about having a conversation but having it gently, and with the kind of respect that lets them know that you know that it’s their house and you’re asking for it, not entitled to something,” he said.
Get out of the house
I’ve found that one of the easiest ways to slip into that sweet, sweet summer depression is by staying inside all the time. Try to find a job that gets you out of the house. If you’re working remotely, find a place to do your work that’s outside the house, if only for a few hours a day. I’m a big fan of working from my local public library, and camping out in a coffee shop always puts me in a better mood if I haven’t left the house yet that day.
If working isn’t an option, finding a way to volunteer in your community can be a good alternative. “It sounds really cheesy, but places are always needing volunteers and it gets you out of the house so you are staying active,” Abi Rodgers, a senior at Samford University, said. “I know after a few days with my siblings at home I start going stir crazy, and it is surprisingly hard to find a summer job as a college student since it’s such a short amount of time.”
You might want to find even more distance. “I like to plan a few weeks away from home to give me some time feeling independent and productive,” Ms. Reed said. “I’m spending a week as a volunteer counselor at a summer camp for foster kids, and another working at a camp at my university.”
It can be easy to feel like going home is a step back from the progress you’ve made over the past year, or to feel that you’re not doing enough, compared to friends who are traveling or who have internships in distant cities. But just because you’re living at home again does not mean that you’ve plateaued.
“I have to remember that summer breaks are meant to be breaks, and that the things I do during the summer still contribute to my growth as a person,” said Adrian Jade Matias Bell, a recent University of Southern California graduate, in an email.
“Think of it as a small hiccup on the road to independence,” Mr. Galanes said. “Take a breath, take a break, it’s going to be over before you know it.”
What We’re Reading
How Some Countries Make Higher Education Affordable When we asked people around the world what sort of financial burden they bore for their higher education, we heard how much it varies from country to country.
What to Read This Summer Here are 75 of the latest and greatest books to keep you company as temperatures climb and days grow long.
Navy Pilots Report Unexplained Flying Objects No one at the Pentagon is saying that the objects are extraterrestrial, but the Navy has issued new classified guidance for reporting unexplained aerial phenomena.
How to Deal With Job-Search Depression So much of who you are is wrapped up in work, but you are more than your job.
Google’s Shadow Work Force: Temps Who Outnumber Full-Time Employees The tech company has long used contractors, but some employees worry that a growing reliance on them represents a shifting, less admirable work culture.
Recruited by Juul, Many Researchers Say No The vape company needs good science to prove to the F.D.A. that its e-cigarettes offer more benefits than risks. Some researchers say they are loath to take the company’s money.
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Claire Haug is a contributor to The Edit and a student at Smith College.
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