Five Tips for a Seamless Summer
School is almost out and for many parents that means rearranging schedules and daycare options or babysitters, shifting work schedules, signing up for summer camps and whether or not to keep all the routines and systems for continuity and sanity sake or toss them out for a few months. Much has been written on the subject in an attempt to help parents make the most of summer vacations – for themselves and for their kids. Read more
But what about parents who have college students headed their way? Students that are home for the summer before they return to campus life and those who are recently graduated and find themselves in that “tweener” spot of not really having that big job with the great advancement opportunities in one of the most dynamic cities in the world with their closest and most trusted friends as roommates. What about them and more importantly what about their parents?
As a mother who saw my own five college kids come and go, I knew that in order for all of us to survive a short summer stay (or as some of my friends were experiencing, a longer transition of sorts) it was in order to establish and then follow some basic guidelines. The guidelines ensure that everyone is treated with respect and that everyone takes responsibility for what is theirs. That includes words, attitude and actions, not just “stuff”. Clear boundaries limit opportunities for misunderstanding or power struggles.
The truth is I spent years cultivating a strong, healthy relationship with my kids and I didn’t want that demolished because an 18 or 22-year-old landed on my doorstep with very different ideas about life at home than the ones they grew up with, while living under my roof. So here are my five, tried and true tips on how to maintain a healthy, respectful and fun summer with your newly young adult kids.
- Set the Tone with Appreciations: As soon as your beloved children arrive home, call the family together and dole out rich, deep and meaningful appreciations*. If you start by saying something like “I appreciate, that coming home for the summer or during this transition, isn’t the perfect situation for you and yet, you are willing to be flexible and mature enough to know that for now, it’s the wisest choice.” Or, “I appreciate how difficult it was to turn down that summer job in the city and come home so you could 1) concentrate on earning enough money to live off campus next year; 2) take a summer class so you can graduate on time; 3) help out the family …..By the time you finish delivering these appreciations, your kids will be ready to share an appreciation for you. Imagine how this is going to set the tone for the rest of your time together. Continue sharing appreciations formally at least once a week and I recommend putting up a large sheet of paper with the word APPRECIATIONS at the top and using it every day so that you all remember what is most important. Your relationship.
- Get their ideas first: It’s easy to jump into parent mode with the kids, but I have found that life is much smoother when I took the time to ask them what their vision of our summer together would look like before I shared my vision. Each time I learned something new about my kids, how they had changed, what their expectations were and more importantly, what they were worried about. Because the truth is, our kids are as worried as we are when they step back into mom and dad’s domain. Keep asking gentle questions and get as much detail as you can. Then, show appreciation for how much thought they have put into their current situation.
- Find something to agree on: After you have heard their ideas, identify one that coincides with one of your ideas and begin to build your shared vision from there. Work with your kids as if they are colleagues and not snarky 13-year-olds. They will appreciate the respect you are showing them and will return it in kind. We started with “clean up”. My kids initially agreed that if they made a mess, they would clean it up. I knew they meant well, but I also knew that they would get busy and forget and that there would be times when they just didn’t want to clean up. In order to be clear we talked about what “clean up” meant to all of us, how we would handle a messy kitchen without yelling or scolding, and so on. Just flushing these things out before they become issues saves everyone time, energy and misunderstandings. And a word of caution here, if you don’t want to do their laundry every week, don’t do it even once. Set a healthy precedent from the get-go and you will save yourself oodles of frustration later.
- Keep it simple: The more “rules” you have, the more trouble you are likely to get into. Decide what your two or three non-negotiables are and make an agreement with the kids about those. Explain your position and ask them to explain theirs so that you both understand the other person. The kids have had a taste of independence and they have had to work with a roommate so they know how to compromise and cooperate. It will be up to you to allow that side of them to emerge. That is possible only when you control your parenting default setting and remember that this is not the same moody 13-year-old you once had to strong arm to help out, but a budding adult who needs support and patience.
- Remain firm and flexible. Stay firm on the non-negotiables and be prepared to follow through with whatever you agreed to. That might mean that they find someplace else to live if they insist on staying out all night without calling by the agreed upon time to let you know. Only then will you be treating them like adults and if you do, they will most certainly rise to the occasion. If you don’t, you will likely return to nagging, reminding and then lecturing them on how selfish, rude and disrespectful they are which will only cause things to deteriorate quickly. Stay flexible with things like picking up the kitchen (unless that is your non-negotiable) and continue to talk with the kids about how to make life work for everyone concerned.
It is important that you remember, as hard as that may be at times, to treat the kids like colleagues or trusted friends. They might not be as mature as we hoped they would by 18, 19 or 22-years-old, but they deserve our respect and a chance to rise to their highest selves. That can only happen when we provide the space for them to do it.
Each time I dropped the kids off at college or off into the adventure we call adult life, I was gifted with a huge hug, a heartfelt thank you and tears which indicated to me that the time we spent together was as meaningful and special to them as it was to me. Don’t waste an entire summer bickering with a child who will soon enough be out on their own and will have the choice whether to call you or not, whether to come and visit or not and whether to share the most intimate and important parts of their life with you or not. These are crucial moments in our kid’s lives. Let’s be on our best behavior for each one of them.
Vicki Hoefle has been teaching parent education classes for over 25 years. Hoefle is the mother of five adult children and the author of Duct Tape Parenting, A Less is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, & Resilient Kids and The Straight Talk on Parenting, A No-nonsense Guide on How to Grow a Grownup. She is an in demand national speaker and parent coach and is available to speak at your school or organization on numerous parenting topics or work individually with your family. Please contact us for additional information.
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