This is going to sound very unlike me since it was only four months ago that I wept for weeks (ok, more like a month) after saying goodbye to my college freshman. However, I need to be honest here. Yes, I am crazy about my daughter, but now after a five-week winter break (during which we did get to escape from the tundra for a week), I understand with great clarity that when a child reaches 18 or 19 years old, it is time for them to fly the coop. And when they come home for an extended period of time, it can be tricky.
“January can be the longest month with college kids at home,” Lisa Endlich Hefferman and Mary Dell Harrington of Grown and Flown explained to me as I reached out to them in an attempt to normalize my feelings about this drawn out and somewhat confusing transitional period. “You'll gradually establish a new mother-daughter relationship but it can be challenging, as you must already know,” they revealed.
As much as I loved having my daughter home, there was an inevitable shift that occurred—that has been occurring since she left—a shift for her, for me and for the rest of our family. The five of us have adjusted to the lowered barometric pressure in our house.
Thankfully, my daughter also has adjusted easily and happily to the non-stop hustle and bustle of dorm and college life, where she is in charge of what she does, whom she is with and the choices she makes. There is no “all-knowing parent” watching over her shoulder, monitoring and commenting on her movements, and again, thankfully, she is managing her academic and social life really well.
However, when she comes home, she (like most of the college-age kids whose mothers I speak with) expects to be able to exercise these same freedoms.
There is a slight problem with this.
It doesn’t work.
There have to be limits and rules and curfews even though “you don’t know what time I get back to my dorm room when I am at school…you don’t know where I am and who I am with every minute of the day or night...I manage myself just fine! Why can’t you just TRUST ME?!”
The issue is not about trust. I do trust my daughter. But in order for us parents to maintain our sanity and a feeling of order in our homes, we need our children (including our adult children who now spend the majority of their time away at college) to respect our house rules, even if they don’t like them.
This is about our children respecting their parents, and not allowing our college kids to hold us hostage and worry us sick as they assert their incessant desire for autonomy.
I am grateful that my daughter is enjoying the freedom she has as a college student and that she is figuring out how to be a responsible, self-sufficient adult. That’s what we all hope for. But when your adult child comes home with this newly developed sense of independence, there is an interesting dynamic that comes into play between your adult child and you—one that I wasn’t completely prepared for (although many of my friends with older kids tried to warn me).
As stressful and uncomfortable as this transition can be, Mary Dell and Lisa are right, there is joy in the “new normal.”
"I am so happy to be back here, mom,” my daughter told me today, her first day back at school. And her statement wasn’t a “I am better off without you” message to me. It was an honest declaration of where she is at in her life. She is happy as a college student—living away from home, forging her own path. And I am truly happy for her, and happy for our newly developing relationship.