Counseling Center
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Homeward Bound


Suzanne Hollist, CSW

"You can't go home again!" the famous quotation from Thomas Wolf may leave you wondering as the college year comes to a close. The reality is that most students will be returning home either for the summer or for a more extended time as they graduate and get established in a job or career. There is always a lot said about adjusting to college life, but there is another adjustment as students return home. One of the most rewarding relationships in life can be that between an adult child and his/her parents, but like any other transition, there can be some rough spots.

You may think you will be returning home to your old room, only it is now occupied by a younger sibling, so you are expected to camp out in the combination office and guest room or you are expected to share your room with its new function as a greenhouse. Since last September you have been coming and going pretty much as you like, you return home to your old high school curfew. Conversely, you dutifully wake your parents when you come in early in the morning only to have them angry because you have interrupted their sleep. You are expected to be present for all family meals and functions, but you have other plans. You expect the old time family meals, but your parents have fallen into another routine and are enjoying the empty nest. You are expected to help with household chores, but you really don't know what chores they are. You find that your clothes when placed in the hamper don't automatically appear clean and folded in your room the next day. You are exhausted from final exams, the end of the year socializing, and moving and just want to sleep for about a week. Your family is delighted to have you home and wants your time, attention, and energy in several activities.

While a great many of these conflicts are inevitable, some of them can be avoided by discussing them beforehand. Ask for a family meeting to talk about expectations about curfews, rules about laundry and use of the washing machine, expectations around meal times, use of the telephone and long distance charges, how household chores are divided. If you are graduating and living at home while you get established, you need to know if you are expected to pay rent and how much. You will need to establish if you can entertain friends, if you can invite friends to stay over - of the same sex, of the opposite sex. If you don't have your own car, you will need to discuss transportation needs. You may need to establish privacy limits and know when boundaries are being invaded even by noise.

There are some guidelines to follow in having a good family meeting. Everyone involved should know those guidelines and be in agreement. Have a clear agenda. Invite other family members to add to the agenda. Have a set time to begin and end. If you haven't completed the agenda in that time frame, summarize what has been accomplished and plan another time to finish. For each agenda item, each family member should be able to say how he or she feels without interruption or criticism. After that you may begin to negotiate and work until you can form a consensus. A summary of the consensus should be stated. Sometimes it is helpful to be more formal and put the summary statements in writing. Just make sure that the agreements are still the same. A follow up meeting should be planned for about two weeks to see how things are going. Some things may need to be renegotiated. It helps if everyone can be patient. Remember that moving back home can be a happy experience, but it may take some energy.

Some families have more complicated challenges. They may be going through some kind of restructuring due to retirement, illness, death, divorce, remarriage, lose of income. There may be a home where one or more members of the family is alcoholic. There may be a younger sibling who is testing limits. There may be abuse in the home. Some students may be discovering that there are problems they didn't realize were there and somehow feel responsible for fixing it. In fact some families may be expecting their college student to come home and act as the chief negotiator and peace maker. Every family is different. Every family has its own challenges.

If you would like further help in understanding your family and where you fit, or if you would like more information on a family meeting, call the Counseling Center at x3368.