This article first appeared in Tulsa Kids Magazine.
Q: My 18-year-old daughter has been exposed to the freedom that college living allows. She didn’t come home for fall break, and we all took a vacation away from home over winter break. She is coming home for spring break. It feels like now it’s time to set “house rules” for spring break and summer. How do we, as her parents, come across to her as firm, but open-armed at the same time?
A: It is clear that you have a history of setting expectations for appropriate behavior for your daughter in the household. It also sounds as though those rules were understood and followed. Now your question is about establishing realistic expectations for an 18-year-old who has lived away from home and is used to operating as an adult rather than your child in her daily decision-making.
How do you want your daughter to think about coming home now that she has been gone? If you want home to always be a place she enjoys, then keep that in mind when she talks about coming home. If your past is one of struggle, you might not want her to feel so comfortable or welcome at home. Many parents feel the need to maintain a position of holding their kids accountable for themselves.
This is your opportunity to shift gears and focus on the adult relationship you want to have with her. The way you, her father and her immediate family deal with her now may influence how much you see her in the future. It may include tight limits, open arms, or a blend of both.
If you have been close, and want to keep that closeness, then you may want to let go of your firm expectations and formal house rules, especially if you haven’t seen problematic behavior from her in the past. In fact, you may only have to deal with your immediate family rather than your daughter. Before she comes home, let them know that they may see a difference in your expectations of her, but it will not mean any changes in the “house rules” they have. Your job may be how to handle her coming home later at night than she did nine months ago. You might have to break any old habits you had of reminding her to do certain things or doing things for her. Treat her as you would an adult.
Hopefully, both of you can talk about what she wants from spring break and being home. She may want a break, time to rest and some home cooking. She might want to catch up with friends, go out with them, have friends over, or work on some homework. If she is a homebody, she might want to be with family, play games and watch videos or TV in her pajamas. Getting her vision can make everything go easier.
She may revert to her old habits. Does that include bringing all her friends over, staying up late, eating everything in the house and leaving her stuff everywhere? As long as you are ready for that and good with it, you are prepared. If she is just home a short time, you may not want to ask for big changes. Stock the refrigerator and freezer.
This works well for short visits, but while she is home for spring break, it is the perfect time to talk about her summer plans. Both you and her father may need more of a normal family routine during the summer months to allow everyone else to work and handle their summer jobs. In fact, you may have an entirely different set of expectations for having her home over the summer than you have for shorter school breaks. These issues are always best handled in a face-to-face conversation.