When College Kids Visit Home
In November 2009, Harry (then 88) emailed a teenage cousin about a common situation: when college kids come home for a break. If there’s a lesson to share for the greater good of parent-child communication – and I believe there is – then he would have been fine with posting this. I hope his advice ended up helping the recipient of this email – and might help others, too.
It’s a funny thing, but it’s also a natural thing. When you’re at school, away from home, you get a little homesick and you can’t wait to get home for a visit. But when you’re home, after just a day or two, you just can’t wait to get back to school. There are several reasons for this, but, I’ll just give you a few. First, when you get home, you look upon it as a chance to see your family, yes, but that’s really a minor consideration. The major consideration for you is that it’s a chance to see your friends, to get together with them and go out and have fun without the pressure of school work to weigh you down.
Your parents, on the other hand, look upon your visit as a chance to get together with you, to talk to you, to find out how you’re doing in school, to make sure that you’re eating well and taking care of yourself. They miss you far more than you miss them, but they don’t know how to tell you that. So … when you go out and spend more time with your friends than you do with your family, they resent it. After all, they’re the ones who are working hard to send you to school, and, in their view, you don’t seem to fully appreciate all they are doing for you. So … you have to understand, there’s some tension there, and sometimes the self-control snaps and harsh words get said, especially by mothers and daughters. In some cases, mothers are under special pressure and strain because they are concerned with the health of their own parents.
What is happening, you see, is that the strings that tie a child to home and parents are beginning to fray, and the parents are sensing that their children are beginning to drift away, and it scares them, though they haven’t yet put this thought into words or actually confronted it squarely. So they fight it by demanding more control over the child. At the same time, the child, subconsciously, is savoring the taste of freedom from parental control while away at school and wants to extend that same freedom to the home environment and chafes at the lack of it, feeling that the parents just won’t let go.
Now, here’s the secret that children and parents just can’t see. If I point it out to you, I’m counting on you being mature enough to recognize this. Here’s what’s happening, too. There is a subtle shift in relationships slowly developing here in which the child is transitioning into an adult and the parents are only dimly aware of it and reluctant to accept it, though deep down they know it’s inevitable. Parents will always treat their children as children, even when they are married with children of their own. Children don’t remember, but parents do, how they held the kids in their arms and sang to them and diapered them and bathed them and comforted them when they got sick, and taught them to read and to ride a bike and to swim and to skate and to use the silverware and to eat and drink – in short, raise them from squealing infants to the person they are today.
So that kid will always be their baby. And this is the time when that baby – you – have to be understanding and, indeed, have to be more adult than your parents, in convincing them that you are in fact a grown up, responsible adult.
How do you do that? By sitting down with them and talking to them and convincing them that you are taking care of yourself and are aware of the pitfalls and dangers confronting young people, and you are not going to do anything foolish; you just want to spend a little time with your friends, but you love your parents and really do appreciate all they have done and are continuing to do for you.
You have four years of school ahead of you, and your visits home will get increasingly difficult each year unless you have that talk with your folks and convince them that you really are growing up into adulthood. If you follow the pattern, you see, after you graduate and get a job and go to work and start earning money, you will most likely move into your own apartment, maybe with one or two roommates at first, but eventually by yourself. The thing is, you are already in the beginning stages of no longer living at home with your parents, and believe me, parents don’t like that idea at all. So they fight it, unconsciously maybe, but they fight it by trying very hard to exert the same controls they’ve always imposed all your life.
My guess is that you have already figured all this out for yourself, though you just haven’t put it into words like I’m doing now.
Copyright 2016, Elaine Blackman