Welcoming college kids home for the summer

Jared and me in his first dorm roomIn a funny coincidence today, I ended up talking to 3 different people about the difficulties of easing a college kid back into the family during the summertime when they come home from the dorms.  I remember being at that stage myself.  After living on my own, first in a dorm and then in an apartment, it felt downright odd and a mite restrictive to be back home where my folks wanted to know what I was doing and when I’d be home.

We’ve now done that dance with three different college kids, and here’s how we’ve handled it.  First of all, though chores are a normal part of life for kids at our house, I expect basically nothing chore-wise from our college kids.  So far they’ve all been motivated enough to have summer jobs– hopefully that will continue!– and for that reason I’ve found it fairly easy mentally to consider that their only work during the summertime. We do expect kids to clean up after themselves–stick their own dishes in the sink, put away their books, etc.  I’ve been known to ask a college kid to come collect their shoes or a guitar if it is left out.

I don’t expect them to get up and eat breakfast with us– if their summer work doesn’t require early rising, I don’t wake them.  We do ask that they eat lunch and dinner with us if they happen to be home.  I’ve noticed that dorm life tends to make young adults more appreciative of home cooking, which is nice.

College kids tend to stay up late.   We don’t sweat it, as long as the noise level isn’t keeping other kids up.  As far being out with friends late at night, we mostly just ask that they tell us their plans, including a guess regarding homecoming time so John and I have a general idea of what to expect.  If plans change and they’re not going to be home when they first anticipated, we request a phone call or a text message.

Our young adults so far have been very respectful.  And when the occasional difference of opinion has come up, we’ve generally been able to talk through it.  For example, a time or two a young adult has gotten a bit argumentative– not terribly out of hand, but nothing that we want younger siblings to see and emulate.  So we’ve had to pull them aside and gently ask that they be extra-careful to show us respect when younger siblings are in earshot.  Sometimes after living out in the world for awhile, they can forget that responsibility to be a good example.

In general, though, our big kids have been stellar role models– we really feel grateful.  Our oldest son when home last summer continued to ask us about activities before he committed to them.  At that point we really were leaving decisions up to him and a time or two I felt surprised that he even asked.  But it felt precious to have him continue to honor us by asking, and we really appreciated it.

The first week or two of summer break can sometimes feel awkward, for everyone.  But most of the time some good communication and a willingness to allow young adults some freedom goes a long way towards working things out in a way that helps summertime go smoothly for us all.

Do you any advice to add?  What do you remember from your young adult years?  What have you done with your kids?


  1. I only “returned” one summer as I went to college in my home town and then got an apartment, but if I remember right, my mom did make me do some chores, but she was really good at telling me way before hand (Like ‘Can you mow the yard some time before Friday?’), so my schedule was so different than the others.

    Our biggest issue was family vacations, once we got into college. It got sticky since my job wasn’t just a part-time-sacking-groceries type of job anymore, so I couldn’t get all the time off that I wanted to, but I also wasn’t making major money yet either. And the issue of who pays for a 20-year-old to go with the family to DisneyWorld? The 20-year-old? The parents? What if I wanted to go, but couldn’t afford to go? That was our sticky situation.

  2. Well, how timely! I’m lying in bed with my laptop (hubby is away on business) waiting for my daughter to arrive home from Capernwray! LOL! Thanks for the suggestions! Susan

  3. Thank you… we are about to welcome our oldest back home from college this weekend. Both she and I are realizing that it’s going to feel a bit odd at first. This gives me something to think about and discuss with her.

  4. Melissa says:

    I came back all three summers while I was in college (which was only a few years ago). The biggest thing I remember is feeling awkward that my mom wanted to do much for me. We DIDN’T really have chores growing up (which I regret) but I definitely got good at doing my own laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc while I was gone. Then when I came home, I was surprised that my mom still did my laundry, cleaned my room (!!!!), and cleaned up after me. I tried to do them before she could sneak in and do it, but if I left anything unattended she was doing it! I was totally willing to do these things, and I know it was my mom’s way of showing me she loved and missed me, but it made me feel like a little kid. So I’d say talk about expectations, who does what, so your kids know the boundaries and what to expect.

  5. Wow! Your posts always seem to coincide with my life. We are in our third week of transition. One daughter is home for the summer and will begin summer classes on May 24. The other was home for one week before she left for a summer internship in North Carolina. It took a while for me to realize that some of the issues we were facing were just readjustments. Once I voiced it, my daughters actually looked so relieved to realize that I acknowledged it! I do expect some chores from my youngest daughter as she will be home during the day until the end of May. Feeling a bit sorry for her because she can’t get a job for a couple of weeks, I decided to pay her a little bit for her help. She has spring cleaned my house so I’m think I will double her pay!!! Since both girls received nice scholarships, we continued to pay for their vehicles and insurance so that they could concentrate on their studies so I don’t feel bad if I ask them to help out around the house a bit. They have a 1:00 curfew when they are home just because I can’t sleep until I know they are home safe. They do call if for some reason they are going to be late. We pay for vacations, however we do not try to work around their schedules. Our oldest has spent the past two summers out of state and we would not be able to go at all if we worked it around her schedule. It’s nice to read other’s experience with parenting or stepping back some during college years. These years are still so precious and exciting!!!

  6. Our college son will be home 3 days before we go on vacation. I know it will be an adjustment and I’m completely in agreement with the way you handle it. Looking forward to being with him but a little anxious as he fits back into family life!

  7. Bless you for even THINKING about this issue and giving your kids space to be independent individuals. You are such a great Mom!!

  8. What a lovely post. I had very restrictive/controlling parents and that was the deciding point that I would never go back home to live. I left for college and that was it. Decades later they have recognized that they alienated and controlled unreasonably. I really would have rather to have had reciprocated honor and be home with my family during summers. I am so blessed to see how good it can be in different circumstances. I want my kids to desire to stay and be with us and these are wonderful approaches to make home and family desirable not suffocating and condemning.

  9. I hope people are still checking here as I have two comments/questions. First, to Mary, my only concern about doing the same thing as you regarding this is…the no chores policy. Presumably the college students home for the summer to work, are working for themselves or their own education; in what real life would they not have to do anything in the home? And in my family it seems it would breed resentment in the younger children, who still have to do chores. As you grow up you do less in the home? Not realistic.

    Then my second question is to Janey, who commented above. This is the fear, the worry about balance. I wish it were possible to know how much structure is helpful and healthy, and when it becomes controlling. Of course the extremes are obvious, but it seems nowadays lazy children think any rules are controlling. I am definitely not saying that’s Janey’s situation, just that it feels that way somewhat in mine. Perhaps the difference is in how much unconditional love and acceptance is in the relationship.

    I would love it if a panel of parents were to address this! So hard!

    • Hi Natalia,
      I think depending on the young adult you may have a valid point. In our kids’ cases, they had MANY years of helping in a major way around the house. They’d proved themselves as willing and able workers. It was clearly explained that they were being let out of chores to focus on school and jobs, and they knew how blessed they were to be let off. A couple other factors came into play with this too. First, logistically speaking, summer job hours are often irregular enough that counting on ppl to do a certain chore regularly would be challenging. And letting them off the hook also gives younger, less experienced kids the chance to step up and learn new responsibilities. Other folks may make other choices, but it has worked exceedingly well for us.

  10. Mary, I’m here….and I so appreciate you addressing this topic. My kids (nine of them) are ages 19 months to 20 years. It can be tough to accomodate the various ages – it has been a real learning curve for us. I just appreciate knowing that other families face this and deal with it, and find ways to handle it.

    My younger ones struggle with jealousy – I think that is the toughest part for me. They get sad because they don’t get to “go” as many places as the older ones, they (of course) can’t see all of the years they were taken care of and cleaned up after by the oldest kids – so to them it feels like they have to do all of the work and don’t have as much fun. (But we DO have fun. It’s just all relative and always greener, you know.) 🙂

    Big sigh. I can DO this multi-age thing. Right? 🙂

  11. Our eldest is in the Air Force, so it’s not a whole summer, just a visit, but we had him for 6 weeks last year.

    Fortunately, he’s a helpful and respectful kid, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well it went. I can easily see it going differently with some of the younger teens when their turn comes.

    The only thing I would add is the advice to get family pictures taken while they are home.