I know I’m not the only one. Amid all the dorm drop-off and video-chat-with-the-dog stories, I’m here with two college students living at home. There are many good reasons for this — a terrific program at a local college for one kid, two years of free community college from the state for both, and a chance to major in “I Changed My Mind” without going broke. But it means they’re here, not away, and I have a front-row seat to their young adult lives.
It’s a weird time. Everyone is legally an adult in my somewhat messy house. But my husband and I are still paying the bills and trying to have some semblance of order. I’m in my third year of an at-home college student, and here’s what I’ve learned.
When college kids live at home
1. Let It Go
When my oldest started college, my youngest was still in high school, and I was still in full-on Mom mode. I am trying to take care of everything — getting involved in class selection for my son, trying to help with registration, informational meetings on campus, and exploring majors.
Mom, stop it. Just stop.
I wish I’d done instead to point out some stuff and back off. Back off. Ask — do you want help here? Let him set his schedule (he can do it). Let him sign up for his classes (he can do it). My youngest is getting more of my hands-off treatment than her brother got. Let it go.
2. Give Up on the Dinners
When I was still trying to have regular family dinners, it caused more strife than it was worth. I had to face it; our house is like an anthill most days with two parents working full-time, two young adults going to school full time (and working in summers), and the kids’ friends in and out.
The stars don’t align for family dinners very often. Instead, we make double batches of everything and make sure there’s a fridge full of (relatively recent and edible) leftovers. I also have a freezer full of heat-and-eat food from Costco.
We still talk. We still have conversations. About once a week, a miracle occurs, and we all sit at the table simultaneously. I appreciate it when it happens, but I assume it won’t. The kids are learning to cook too to contribute to the weekly leftover brigade. My husband and I have dinners together, and the kids come and go as their schedules dictate. See rule #1. Let it go.
3. Give Up on Knowing Where They Are
I’m trying to think of my kids as housemates, not kids. They have their own lives. I know their schedules, roughly. But they also have their own social lives and random friends (they’re good kids — I know their moms!) flow in and out of my house. I don’t know when they’ll be home. I don’t know who’s coming for dinner. If we don’t have enough of whatever I cooked, there’s pizza in the freezer.
If they were away at school, they wouldn’t be checking in with me. If they were my housemates, I wouldn’t be checking in on them. I think back to my college years in the 80s when I talked to my parents once a week on the phone and sent occasional letters (remember those?). I ask for a phone call or text if they’re going to be out all night. I turned off the phone tracking after high school. See rule #1. Let it go.
4. Give Up on their Rooms
Seriously. Could you give it up? Occasionally a kid will get tired of the mess and ask me for help, and I’m happy to help out. We try to keep the house’s public areas picked up, and sometimes we’re successful. But if they haven’t learned how to pick up their rooms by age eighteen, that’s on them. Sorry, I’m a defective mom, but so be it. See rule #1. Let it go.
5. Yes, Drinking Happens
The oldest is twenty-one. He’s legal. He and his friends (who are also all legal) drink at each other’s houses and sometimes at our house. They’re responsible. They spend their own money on terrible beverages that I wouldn’t touch. They know to keep their hands off my husband’s scotch and my wine.
They’re being safe, and I trust them — no driving, ever. Their friend’s sleep over on couches or floors when they need to. The “duffle pub” (their combined collection of horrible hooch packed in a duffle bag) travels from place to place. They clean up after themselves. See rule #1. Let it go.
6. Chores are Still a Thing
At this point, my main job is to teach my kids to be good roommates or housemates. That means pitching in with the stuff that needs to be done around the house. Dishes, shopping, some cooking, keeping their property picked up or confined to their rooms.
Doing their laundry means doing it, not leaving it in the washer to mildew for days. Taking the trash out means doing it, not having to chase the garbage truck down the street at 6:00 a.m. Rule #1 does not apply here. I’m not letting this one go.
7. Follow the Money
While I’m trying to be hands-off in many ways, I’m also trying to help my kids work on the life skills they need. Keeping track of money, saving money, figuring out where the money goes — it’s an ongoing task for me and now for them. It’s not always straightforward, and it’s never fun, but it’s part of adult life.
We try to check in once a week to talk about money. Where it’s going, who spent what, who owes what to whom, and so on. Nope, no rule #1 here either. Not letting this one go.
8. Insist They Work or Volunteer in the Summer
Summers are for work. If they can’t get a job, volunteer. There are lots of volunteer opportunities close by. My oldest has had several different positions. My younger one didn’t get summer jobs in the past due to various commitments and family vacations, but she now has a full resume of volunteer work for the last three years that is helping her to get a paid job this year.
We also clearly understand where the summer earnings go (saved for pocket money during the school year and other expenses). Summers are distinctly not for playing all day, every day, or for watching endless YouTube videos in one’s pajamas, or spending all of one’s summer earnings on junk. Rule #1 doesn’t apply here either. I’m not letting this one go.
9. Get Out of the Transportation Business
One is a driver. One doesn’t drive and is a master of her bike and public transit. Our high school “kids car” died, and we’re not replacing it (we’ll worry about the non-driver when she gets her license). The driver bought his car and will maintain it, and that’s his thing — part of adulthood.
We do an occasional ride (with a warning) for times and places the bus doesn’t serve. But Mom and Dad are, for the most part, no one’s Uber anymore. See rule #1. Let it go.
10. Do Your Own Thing
It’s still too easy for me to step into my very familiar role of the ringleader, organizer, and keeper of the family calendar and bullhorn. But that’s not what I need to do. They both have pencils and know how to write their appointments on the family calendar — or not. I’ve signed up for a music class and joined a friend’s pub trivia team.
My husband and I get together with friends for games. We go out to dinner with friends. We have friends over. We have our lives, too, and we work hard to protect them. See rule #1. Let it go.
11. Go Away
My husband and I are starting to go on short trips without the kids. It’s too complicated to coordinate everyone’s schedule, and it’s fantastic to go away on our own and remember that we like to hang out together.
It doesn’t have to be expensive — for us; sometimes it’s camping trips. The kids survive at home, the dog gets fed, and it’s all OK. We still go away as a family, but less often.
This rule also applies on a small scale. When everyone’s running around, finding their stuff, and jetting out the door in the mornings? I’m out walking the dog. Not at home finding lost items. See rule #1. Let it go.
12. Figure Out Where You’re Needed
I still hang out and watch episodes of Queer Eye with my youngest. My husband still plays video games and goes skiing with our oldest. I’m helping the youngest navigate her decision process of where to go after community college and plan visits to four-year schools.
I’m helping her learn how to make doctor and dental appointments for herself (we do it together for now, on speakerphone). We helped our oldest do his taxes. Sometimes I need to step in, but almost always, it’s with a kid and not for a kid — so they learn to do it for themselves.
It’s crazy here. Who am I kidding? It’s a lot crazy. It’s hard for me to step away from the roles I’ve played since they were born — keeper of everything, organizer of everything, and knower of everything—and realize that my part now is not to do all that, even though they’re both still here. See rule #1. Let it go.
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