Eight Tips for Surviving Summer With Your College Student at Home

A popular meme gushes that mothers sleep better when all the teens are back home under one roof. I bet that meme was created the day those children arrived, or even days before. Because the reality of having college kids invade the nest for a break, summer, or post-graduation can be rocky. The sappiness wears off about two weeks in, leaving parents floundering for harmonious living. Or just survival, honestly. 

Now on my third college boy, I decided to get introspective and share what worked for us and what my role as a parent was in that success. Hopefully, my experience helps others or at the very least brings solidarity.

How I’ve learned to survive with college kids at home for the summer. (Photo credit: Maureen Stiles)

8 ways to navigate the summer with college students

1. Questionable behavior

There is something about my questions that grate on my kids’ last nerve. Something as simple as an offer of food can awaken the beast. My children finally explained to me that, to them, my questions equaled pressure or expectations.

Apparently, asking about food is a covert attempt to uncover whether they are eating enough or making healthy choices. That one question morphs into an entire psychological deep dive into the topics I ponder when they are away. Newsflash Dr. Freud, I just had extra bacon and wanted to know if you would eat it. But since logic is not the driving force here, I have backed off asking questions and opt for texts conveying the same thing. “Bacon on stove. All yours.”  

2. The need to know

However, some questions are an important request for needed info. Teens don’t get a hall pass just because they read too much into my intentions. Unlike the mundane questions, I’ve found that texting a sea of words does not work for in-depth inquiries, it shuts my kids down.

Instead, I give the same respect I expect if they want to discuss something with me. Offer a heads up and ask for an alternate time to discuss if the present time isn’t good. I spent the better part of their childhoods dodging ill-timed random questions, I know how that feels. 

3. Screaming over screen time 

Don’t assume teens on their phones are doing nothing. Today, young people get news, sports updates, school info, emails and communicate with friends through devices. When I compare this to watching tv news or talking on the phone to friends and family, it brings perspective.

Face it, most of their world is literally in their palm. This doesn’t mean kids can’t be interrupted from phone use, they certainly can. I start off by saying, “when you’re done,” or “after you finish with that.” Again, they don’t get an indefinite grace period, but extending this initial courtesy means I can be intrusive if I have to circle back around.

4. Irritating inertia

The amount of time my teens can spend horizontally is astounding. Sometimes my youngest moves from the couch, which thrills me, until I see he’s just relocated to his bed or the floor. And if they’re not supposed to be doing anything else, I’ve learned to be ok with it.

My kids are employed, have friends and go to the gym. I have to concede that their world has fewer responsibilities than mine so why not enjoy the luxury of down time while they can? If I have expectations for them, it’s my job to convey those expectations clearly so my irritation is rooted in shared knowledge. 

5. Speaking of expectations

This one is tricky because I’m betting your expectations for your student and their own thoughts are worlds apart. Although everyone should expect that cohabitating will not be the same as it once was. For us, we keep the same basic rules for general upkeep and consideration we’ve always had.

We’ve found that making sweeping plans or general statements about household contributions and other commitments when they arrive home is futile. Other than being employed (or applying to be), we tackle things as they arise. If I’m going to have a particularly busy week, I will let everyone know on Sunday and outline where they need to step in. If there is an event or family commitment, I text about it as soon as I know and follow up with a conversation.  

Disclaimer: Every household is unique. Have a meeting with yourself(selves) before you meet with your child(ren) and determine a list of summer priorities. 

6. Step back

I spent two decades anticipating and reacting. I was a cross between a seasoned Eagle Scout and MacGyver with snack bags, playdates, extra clothes, scissors and entertainment options every time we left the house. It’s hard to turn that off, but once you do it’s freeing.

These days, it’s more important for me to stay behind to catch a fall, than to be three steps ahead. It is natural for parents and teens to fall into familiar roles but empower yourself and your children to embrace this new phase of your relationship. 

7. Empathy goes a long way

Adults living together, family or otherwise, is a delicate dance. Your teen has established habits in order to thrive away from home just as you’ve adjusted to not having them under your roof daily. It is unlikely your child will have the maturity to put themselves in your shoes. Luckily, you do.

Often, I wait a beat to discern where my child is coming from on a particular topic. This approach won’t stop issues from arising but will help diffuse them. 

8. Lastly…

Remember, you made it through the terrible two’s when your toddler couldn’t speak effectively—you’ve got this! The key is communication. Well, that and picking your battles which we’re all used to. No longer being the only adult in the room is the most unnatural naturally occurring shift I’ve come across. 

There is no denying that when I relax my stance as mom, my kids are more approachable. We work together to find that middle ground between falling back on established patterns and promoting a free-for-all. 

I can confidently say we’ve found that elusive compromise and I’m betting your family will too. 

More Great Reading:

What are the Rules for My College Son Who’s Home for Summer?

About Maureen Stiles

Maureen Stiles is a Washington DC based freelance journalist, columnist and editor. With over a decade of published work in the parenting and humor sector, Maureen has reached audiences around the globe. In addition to published works, she has been quoted in the Washington Post and The New York Times on topics surrounding parenting and family life. Maureen is the author of The Driving Book for Teens and a contributor to the book Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults as well as regularly featured on Today's Parenting Community and Grown and Flown.

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