Thursday, February 23, 2012

Compromise with college kids key to blended family success

This time of year, college kids are returning home for spring break.  It’s a time of transition for the parents and the college-age child and this can be challenging, particularly in blended families.

Transition to home and a stepfamily after the freedom of college may be difficult
College-age kids have been on their own for several months. Although parents are still paying the bills, and college life is somewhat supervised and controlled, your kids have had a taste of independence.  The college experience gives them a safe setting to make decisions, and control their daily schedule:  what they eat, when they sleep, when they go out,  and basically, feel in charge of their daily lives. When they return home, it’s quite a shock when mom and dad want to discuss their every movement.

Compromise required by parents, step parents and college-age kids
It’s time for both parent and college-age student to compromise a bit.  Parents should understand that, although this 18-22 year old is still their child, this same young man or young woman is entering adulthood, and needs to continue to be able to make basic decisions on his or her own, in the safe and supervised environment called home. College students should realize that, although they have had quite a lot of independence throughout the school year, this time of independence has been given to them- compliments of mom and dad’s hard earned money, and supervised by the school.  As long as they are under the financial support of mom and dad, these students need to remember that they are not truly independent or living as functional adults.

Once your college-age kids are able to respect the authority of the parents, and the parents are willing to give the student an expanded level of independence, life is easier for both.

For college-age kids, change to blended family is complicated
These steps are somewhat difficult in a nuclear family, but become even more complicated in the blended or step family. The college-aged child returns home to a blended family and sometimes wonders where his home really is.  Mom has remarried, and moved to a new house. Things look new and different. 

Dad has remarried too, and moved to a new house with his new wife and her kids so his house feels even more unfamiliar. College kids yearn for the dream of mom and dad getting back together, and everyone being united again. Some kids will keep these hopes and dreams years after their parents remarry.

If mom and dad have remarried and there is no chance of reconciliation, the student needs a gentle reminder that life has changed.  Guiding your children through changes and challenges in life will help them mature and learn how to handle struggles and changes as they become adults.

Remember that your student has not been with you, everyday, as you have moved forward into another relatonship or marriage. Give students some extra space.  Allow them to float between mom and dad’s home, as long as both parents know where the student is. 

Some students may choose to travel over the summer, since the home base is not as comforting as it used to be. Travel should not be seen as a negative.  Travel can open your student’s eyes to the world, help expand their independence and survival skills, and present a more cosmopolitan person when interviewing for a job.  Travel could be part of an intern program, mission trip, study abroad summer program, or even a school supervised travel experience.

Sometimes, there is no room for compromise, and that is okay
Although I have discussed several areas of compromise, there are a few expectations that should not change: If the parents are still paying the bills,  children, of all ages (yes- even over 18,) should respect the adults in the home and also obey their requests. Some of these requests may be:  letting parents know if you won’t be home for dinner, keeping your area clean, and participating as a family member (not a guest) and help to keep the home clean.

Family is important, blended, step or nuclear
Whether blended, step or nuclear family, the adults in these homes love their children and step children. It doesn’t hurt to continue to remind your college-aged student of this fact as they return home to a now unfamiliar world.  Remember when you were their age; it’s difficult, not a child and yet not quite an adult.  Love them, provide opportunities for independence, and stand close by to catch them if needed.

For more information and advice on how to better organize and manage your blended family, The Blended and Step Family Resource Center has resources, including informative articles and counseling and coaching services, all aimed at promoting strong and successful blended and stepfamilies.

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