Plan for a smooth summertime homecoming with your studentTalk about expectations to avoid old conflicts and fights about 'stupid stuff'
WWU sophomore Alice Ledbetter, left, lived in
parents, Lisa and Ken Ledbetter, before coming to Western.
Ken Ledbetter says talking about expectations and everyone
sharing “what is going to make me smile the most”
helps reduce conflict during extended visits home.
As Washingtonians living in Japan for more than 12 years, Ken and Lisa Ledbetter became extraordinarily close with their daughter Alice.
So the Ledbetters were surprised when Alice’s first visit home after her first quarter away at Western included an unexpected dose of conflict.
“I got used to my schedule and my control over my life,” Alice explains. “I wanted to still have the freedom that I have here. We argued over stupid stuff that mattered to me because that was the only way I could express my individuality at home.”
With their geographic distance away from their daughter at college, the Ledbetters discovered what many parents of college-age students already know: College homecomings can be difficult as students revel in their new independence and families hunger for more time with the kid they love. And everyone is adjusting as the parent-child relationship seems to shift under their feet.
These conflicts may be even sharper during the long weeks of summer break, says Anne Marie Theiler, a counselor in WWU’s Counseling Center.
“The relationship is transitioning from a parent-child relationship to a parent-adult relationship,” Theiler says. “In American culture, we want them to become independent, but that means independent of us, too.”
But what does that look like around the dinner table? Expect everything from announcements about big life changes, to minor skirmishes about how much light should be on in the room.
Ken Ledbetter, an elementary school art teacher, remembers peeking in on his daughter during one recent break. The sight of her reading under one lamp in the corner of a dark room made him wonder if she had turned into a bat. She’d adopted the low-light habit while living in the residence hall, he says.
What’s the big deal, Alice asked. “What harm am I doing?”
“I had to admit, it was a question I couldn’t answer,” he says.
The Ledbetters at Alice's high school graduation in Japan.
Alice loves to read under a light in the corner of a dark room,
which mystifies her dad. But he keeps it to himself.
Now the wiser parent of a sophomore, Ken has some advice for newer college parents.
“After the hugs are done and the bags are brought upstairs, we sit down and talk about ‘This is what I want from this trip. This is what is going to make me smile the most.’ And have everyone share.”
Talking about expectations and best-case scenarios, instead of rules and mandates, sets a positive tone and opens the floor for negotiation between adults, Ken says.
“It’s not about saying, ‘This is what you must do,’” Ken Ledbetter says. “It’s about talking to her as an adult who needs the same kind of explanation we might need.”
So instead of laying down a strict curfew, the Ledbetters talk about the need for family time, and the importance of calling them if she’s going to miss dinner.
“If we are asking her a certain courtesy, we owe her the same courtesy,” Ken says. “Everyone is treated like an adult.”
And the Ledbetters pick their battles. While Alice was required to keep her room clean while growing up, that topic – and her aversion to overhead lighting that still mystifies her father -- is off the table these days, Ken says.
Ken says he and Lisa are navigating the changes in parenting as they happen.
“We’ve come to learn the hard way that our role as teacher is over,” he says. “I can no longer teach her anything. She’s going to have to make her mistakes on her own and we can’t do anything about it.”
Alice says she knows it must be frustrating for her parents to be so far away as she’s growing and changing so much – and there are times she longs to go home for the weekend like any other college student.
It’s partly because she was so close to her parents growing up, she says, that she’s working hard now to establish her independence.
She recently made the decision to abandon her childhood plans of becoming a music teacher and instead is planning to study psychology to become a therapist and grief counselor. Her parents heard about this sea change over their weekly Web chats.
But they have more influence than they might know.
“My dad always taught me to look at situations from the other person’s point of view,” Alice says. “That’s why, I think, I’m becoming a therapist.”