It can be hard for parents and students to live together again for the summer, but it doesn’t have to be a bad experience.
Like birds flying south for the winter, or wildebeest moving to new grazing lands, the life of the university student is one of migration. When it gets to the summer holidays, thousands take to the trains, megabuses and motorways to return home for the next three or four months.
If you’re the parent of one of these roving students, it can take a while to adjust to having them back home – no matter how well you get on, or how much you’ve missed them while they’ve been away.
So, how can you make sure the summer holidays are as argument-free as possible?
When students first return, don’t feel hurt if they seem exhausted or sullen. Most students have end-of-year exams, so it’s understandable if they’re knackered from weeks of late nights in the library, with the added bonus of sleepless nights partying when it’s all over.
Combined with the stress of moving out of halls or their house, they probably need to sleep quite a bit when they first arrive back home.
“The first thing to recognise is that life has changed,” says Jeremy Todd, chief executive of Family Lives. “For the young person who has left home for the first time, but also for the parents and other siblings who were probably enjoying the space and quieter life.”
Your son or daughter may feel out-of-place returning to a different family dynamic, he says. “The young person will need to know that they are still a part of the family, even though family life has continued without them.”
While it is natural for you to continue to treat them as you did before they went to university, for them – having lived away from home for a year or more – it can feel stifling, at odds with the independence they have discovered. Coming back home and finding that they still have a curfew and must make their bed by 10am can be grating.
If they want to retain the independence they have gained at university, then you have to respect that; but equally, that means they can’t also expect you to do all their washing for them. Like most things, some form of compromise is usually the answer.
As an adult – even a young one – they are entitled to be treated as such; but while they are living with you (and most likely eating all your food and accidentally forgetting to get petrol when they take the car out) you have the right to say how you want your home to be treated, and the rules that you want respected.
Often, it just takes little courtesies on each side to make the situation better; such as your son or daughter texting you if they are going to be out late so that you don’t worry.
Sophie Brennan, an English student at Loughborough University, recommends that students should remain occupied over the summer: “Not seeing your parents for months on end, and then suddenly being with them every day can naturally cause conflict.”
This goes for parents too – if you started new activities as a way of filling the time after your child left home, then make sure you keep them up and continue having time for yourself.
It’s definitely worth encouraging your son or daughter to get a job over the holiday. This helps them get out of the house and fill up some of their ample free time, and means that they are earning money, paying off their inevitable overdraft and are not dependent on you.