You’ve graduated from high school and are ready to take an independent step into college. But you’ve been tightly knit to your family for the past 18 years, and you’re worried. Will your mom call every day? Will you be ok living away from home? How can you set boundaries to stay connected to your family, while also growing your own self-reliance?
Here are some tips about how to set boundaries, requiring some careful communication with your family.
Share and be considerate of one another’s feelings.
Maybe your little brother is feeling sad about you moving away. Maybe you’re feeling annoyed that your dad keeps sending you articles about how to be safe on campus (helpful, but…becoming too much). Be the brave one to start with a simple statement and question:
“Hey little brother, I was just thinking about how we went sledding on that snow day last winter. I really enjoyed that time, and I’m going to miss doing that with you again this winter. How are you feeling about me going away to college?”
Choosing to be vulnerable first might be the thing that finally gets everyone saying what they’re really thinking, and talking about it can help everyone in the transition of you leaving.
Set expectations about how often you will connect.
Whether you’re living on campus or at home, it’s important for everyone to know you may not be as available.
If you will still live at home, come to an agreement about how your family will see you. Is a family dinner most nights realistic, or will you be going to a night class, a job, or other activities? Also, figure out how your role in family responsibilities at home will shift. This might need to be adjusted as your college-student responsibilities change.
If you live on campus, most residence-life staff would recommend you not go home every weekend. Find a club where you can devote your spare time. It may feel bad missing every extended family member’s birthday party, but it’s also important to make on-campus connections.
Family: Don’t pressure your on-campus student to come home. If you know it’s hard for them to say “no,” or they are coming home often, make a plan for one weekend a month for your student to visit.
Phone calls: You might find that your college schedule has you busier than high school. Having a daily call with mom might not be realistic. And she might be really frustrated that she isn’t hearing from you. Ask for some forgiveness during the first few weeks of college for you to figure out what your new schedule is like. Perhaps you can tentatively schedule a Sunday and Wednesday night call? Ask for flexibility if other things come up and it needs to be another time.
Family: If your student is calling you every day for extended time frames, this could be a red flag that they’re not connecting with anyone on campus. Encourage them to identify a club and go to a meeting. It’s important that they leave their room and socialize!
Texting: Try to limit texts, whether you live at home or on-campus. Constant communication will distract you from your heavier responsibilities as a college student. Talk to your family about that now, so no one’s feelings are hurt later.
Assert your independence!
It’s time to learn how to make your own appointments, sign up for tutoring, and pay bills on time. Sure, your family could fill out forms or make phone calls for you, but now is the time to show them you can handle life on your own. It’s certainly ok to call and ask them for help with things you don’t understand, but you should be the one tackling these projects.
It’s also time to start working on your financial independence. Not every college student’s schedule allows for a part-time job (so no pressure to add more if you can’t handle it!). But if you’re completely reliant on your family for cash, you’re going to feel pressure about meeting their demands to answer the phone or go home to visit. Can you start to earn enough money to pay your own monthly cell phone bill or car insurance? Show them that you are responsible and garner their support for a little more lee-way to handle your own business.
Finally, FERPA keeps student information confidential.
As a college student, only the student has access to grades. That’s right: parents don’t get a mailed copy of grades or their own account to access a school portal. Students and family members need to come to an agreement about how the student will share academic information. Yes, this applies even if a parent is paying the bill.
Setting expectations and boundaries now can save a lot of hurt in the future. Good luck as you tackle these conversations with your family!
By Kristin Ageton