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How Do I Survive Another Semester at Home With My Parents?

Dear CMR,

My school just announced that we will be going online in the fall and I am really upset. It’s been hard to adjust to life at home with my parents and I feel like we are each reverting back to how our dynamic was in high school. How do I survive this semester at home?


Home Alone

Dear Home Alone,

We have been struggling through the pandemic for some time now.  And it appears that the current situation is only going to continue for a while.  In our home, we like to joke that the date is the 195th of March; it’s like the movie “Groundhog Day” where we just keep living the same day over and over!  

Schools had to go online at the end of the school year last year, and now numerous schools will be online for the fall as well, many colleges and universities included.  Students who had to move home early for the summer are looking at possibly having to continue living at home another semester.  Combined with the stresses of quarantine and limited space, living at home together can be rather difficult.  This is especially hard when college students are used to having their freedom and their own schedule, and parents are accustomed to not having their student at home. What can we do to make this unique, stressful season a bit easier? There are some things that we can do to ease the situation.

First off, it helps to approach the situation with some flexibility, curiosity and humor.  We have never been in this kind of situation before.  We don’t know exactly what to expect or how this is all going to play out.  But we are all in the same boat together.  It makes the situation much easier when we accept that we all are experiencing stress and some measure of anxiety.  We can come alongside each other and decide to get through this unknown process together.  

If we are the parents of a college student who has had to move home, we can be empathetic to what our student is experiencing.  We can remember what it was like to be their age. They were on their own, determining their own schedule and lifestyle.  They were responsible for themselves.  They grew, matured, and changed as they moved into adulthood and personal responsibility.  Now they are back home, and at times unfairly are expected to be the same individual and assume the same roles that they had before going to college, even though they are no longer the same person.  They got to fly, and now with moving back home they have had their wings clipped a bit.  We can extend respect to them as a young adult by being patient and understanding with them; they have a really difficult adjustment to make!  

If we are the student who had to move back home, we can be empathetic as well.  Time did not stand still after we left for college.  Our parents had to adjust to our absence and move on. Having us move back home is an adjustment for them also.  They got used to having more space and time for themselves.  They got accustomed to smaller laundry loads and grocery bills.  They could clean the house and have it stay clean and picked up for longer than one day. Their new normal and routine are being disrupted.  The son/daughter that they dropped off at college has changed; they may not be quite sure how to relate to us now.  We may have gotten used to living on our own, but the truth is that at least for right now we are not on our own. It is helpful to remember that just as we will have to follow some leasing rules when we move into our own apartment, there are some rules to which we will want to willingly subject ourselves when we move back home.  Doing so is a way to demonstrate respect to our parents.  

What we both can do is sit down together, talk through the expectations and wants that we both have, and actively listen to understand one another.  Let’s remember that our home is still home for both student and parent. Empathetically discussing these things will pave the way for us to come up with a mutually agreeable plan for living together.  For example, we can talk about cleaning expectations, such as who does what when, and how the communal areas will be maintained.  When we feel that we have been listened to and considered, it makes it much easier for us to stick to the plan.  So let’s extend that same kindness to the other family members; it will make it easier for them too.

We are going through an unprecedented time.  This is a difficult time of adjustment for all of us.  When we are empathetic to what others are going through, as well as ourselves, it makes it easier for us to go through this difficult experience together.  And being together in it makes all the difference!