It is a wonderful thing for both the child, and their parents, when they finally fly the coop. They head off to university and gain independence; eventually, so do you. Everybody is learning how to live on their own, adjusting to not always having the other at their side. This can be scary for a parent: who are they out with? Are they having sleepovers that involve sex? Are they drinking too much? What are they doing?
Conversely, our university students don't think all that much about us. They're simply enjoying their new-found freedom and learning how to, as my girls who are all in their twenties say, "adult." Everybody is learning how to live in their new lives, settling in, finally getting their legs truly under them, and then it happens.
After a few months of going at it alone, of marching to the beat of their own drum, making their own decisions about how late to stay out, the time comes when your new adult has to come home for the holidays.
Most post-secondary schools give them at least three weeks off, but they aren't really getting time to themselves. They're home again, under your roof, and both of you are most likely struggling to adjust to this new Mr/Miss Independent where they roll in at 4 a.m. For most parents who are dealing with these matters for the first time, it is a huge adjustment. They are your "baby," after all, and you're the boss around here, which means the old rules must be followed.
But can they? Is it possible to roll the clock back to beforethey moved out and still have the "same ole, same ole" rules apply? Well, yes, and no.
My husband and I are on our third daughter who is in university. The major difference for us was that our two eldest girls went to university locally, meaning they didn't live on campus, they lived at home, in their childhood bedrooms, sleeping in their young girl beds. Only our youngest moved away, and really away: she is at school in Malibu, while we reside primarily in Toronto.
Which meant we needed to respect the fact that, whether we liked thinking about it or not, our girls were most likely having sex and drinking.
So, how did we navigate the holidays with our youngest? Believe it or not, we did it the exact same way we did with our older girls. We treated them like the adults they had become while in university, whether living on campus or at home. We reminded ourselves that whether we liked it or not, they had finally crossed over, and were now the age we were when we got pregnant. Which meant we needed to respect the fact that, whether we liked thinking about it or not, our girls were most likely having sex and drinking. When they were under our roof for a few short weeks, we had to remind ourselves to give them the space that they had earned with their age and experiences.
We had our rules, but they became more flexible once our kids were university students. We no longer had that 12 a.m. curfew, and we trusted, since they had made it through the first few months of college, alive and safe, that they could handle the city they'd grown up in. All we asked was that they give us an approximate time they expected to be home, so that if I woke up with a start at four in the morning and they weren't in their beds, but had told me they planned to be home by three, I would know to call their cells and make sure they were still okay.
We also had a rule where we let our girls have their boyfriends sleep over. We allowed this to be a thing if they were in a long-standing monogamous relationship; no revolving doors of lovers in our home.
The trick to having lovely, joyful and peaceful holiday time with your new university-aged kids is to be mindful and respectful of the fact that they are different than when they left you. We need to honour their independence in a way that makes sense to us, and helps them feel welcomed back as their new self, not the person who ventured off on their first adult journey in September.
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If, as parents, we can let go of the past, and loosen the reigns on the "house rules," I guarantee you there will be tears of sadness when they have to pack up and head back in January, rather than fist pumps in the air.
I know for me, there is some quiet satisfaction and a swelling of my heart whenever I get that first text message from our girls after spending weeks of uninterrupted family time together that reads: "I MISS YOU SOOOOO MUCH MOMMA, CAN'T WAIT TO SEE YOU AGAIN!" And this, my friends, is the ultimate reward for parenting your adult child with respect.
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