by Dr. David Reynolds, Pastoral Counseling Services Center Director
In early Summer, an interesting phenomenon happens. All of a sudden, children and teens are at home more when the school year ends and college students return home for the summer. Instead of the “empty nest,” many families are experiencing the “full nest.”
For some families, this is a joyful time of reconnecting and conversation, and for others, it is a time of struggle and conflict. For all, it is a time of transition! How do you navigate the changes? What about the dirty dishes left in a formerly pristine sink? Where did the piles of laundry come from and is the expectation really that they will be magically transported to the washing machine? Did you really expect to hear, “I’m bored!” the first week out of school? Do the family rules take the summer off? Does respecting people and property end when the last day of school or college is over?
The short answer is this: it is critical for parents to be clear about their expectations. Of course, these expectations will vary from family to family, but here are some suggestions to make the summer be more pleasant for all:
- Clarify Timing: What are the designated times to be in the home (i.e. dinner, curfew, etc.)? How late is sleeping in allowed?
- Summer Job: Are college students expected to have a summer job?
- Household Tasks: How will household tasks be spread around so all can participate? State that each person picks up for her/himself.
- Vehicle Privileges: For teens and college age students, what are the guidelines regarding use of a family vehicle?
- Family Activities: Discuss common activities, such as meals, vacations, or family visits, that are considered required participation.
The key for a successful summer is for the parents to be clear about these expectations. Then communicate and discuss together with the family to insure everyone is on the same page. With older children, negotiation may be part of this discussion and is acceptable as a means to clarify obligations. However, these negotiations should not be a means of avoiding responsibilities as this will only foster opportunities for resentment. Finally, remember to include some fun together. Having a full nest is not just about rules, but enjoying each other!
The “full nest” provides a great opportunity for healthy family function. Conflict is normal, but the goal is to encourage healthy interaction when any conflict arises. If there is clarity from the start on expectations, the possibility for healthy communication is increased. In fact, setting expectations early may even enhance the overall family harmony levels so that summer the most peaceful and relaxing summer yet!