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How to Live Peacefully Under Your Parents’ Roof

Talking through issues that could cause tension can help you and your parents live in peace over break, says psychology prof. Donna Pincus.  

Donna Pincus, associate professor of psychology and director of the Child and Adolescent Fear and Anxiety Treatment Program.

If you think finals are tough, try returning home to your parents after a semester of freedom. Going home for intersession can feel like a blast back to high school — when you had to obey your parents’ rules, clean your room, help out with chores, and let them know where you were going and who you’d be with.

“Students are used to having independence at college and may not want to revert back to telling their parents exactly where they are going and what time they will be home,” says Donna Pincus, a College of Arts and Sciences associate professor of psychology and director of the Child and Adolescent Fear and Anxiety Treatment Program at the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders. “Parents often say that once students are back at home, they are back on their radar, and the parents resume worrying about their child.”

Common areas of potential conflict between parents and their college-aged children are whether to establish a curfew, whether the student should get a part-time job while on break, and whether the student is spending enough time with the family.

“Many students look forward to seeing old friends from high school when they return for the holidays,” says Pincus. “Parents might have expectations that students will spend time at home with the family or resume family chores and duties.”

How parents and their returning students adjust to the normal changes in development that have occurred can determine whether the holidays are happy or tense. “Students are becoming adults and more independent and may expect to be treated that way. However, parents might not be ready for some of these changes,” she says. “Also, students may not be aware of the issues parents deal with when their child goes off to school and then returns. They go from missing their child and having difficulty separating to suddenly being put back into the role of parent again.”

Both parents and students can help make the winter break more enjoyable by talking ahead of time about issues that have the potential to cause tension, Pincus says. “If students know beforehand what to expect, and parents understand what their child wants to have happen, then many conflicts can be avoided,” she says. “However, both parents and students may need to compromise and see the other’s point of view.”

Beth Grampetro, health and wellness educator at the Office of Residence Life, agrees about the need for compromise, but cautions students to also remember that they need to act like adults if they want to be treated like adults.

“It’s a good idea for students to remember that while they’re not necessarily a ‘guest in their own home,’ they also shouldn’t go back and expect mom or dad to do everything for them, even if they used to,” she says. “If students want to be treated as adults while they’re at home, they should act like one and be polite, courteous, and take care of things like doing their own laundry instead of dumping it at their mom’s or dad’s feet.”

If problems do arise, students should keep in mind that this is a time of adjustment for their parents as well. “Patience and openness go a long way here,” says Grampetro.

But above all, Pincus says, remember that going home for a school break can be a wonderful time. “Rather than focusing on all the potential conflicts, it might be a great idea for family members to talk about fun ways to make the vacation break a memorable and positive experience,” she says. 

Meghan Noé can be reached at mdorney@bu.edu.