Student-parent relationships evolve with college

Mary Rugolo

Thanksgiving break is fast approaching, and for some that means a welcome break from school and friends. But for many, however, the break and time home can be a cause of stress. This stress comes from returning home and being reminded of the ever-changing relationship many of us have with our parents. 

When we were younger our parents’ words were law. They knew everything and were always right. To many of us, they were the equals of superheroes and princesses. They were perfect, with their lives together and never making mistakes. As we grew, we began to realize that, to our surprise, our parents are actually far from perfect. Instead, they were human beings, subject to mistakes and errors in judgement. Yet, even during our teenage years under their roofs, it was easy to slip into that easy belief that while they were human, they were still superior to us. They knew more, made less mistakes and overall had a good handle on their emotions and lives. 

Then we left, and suddenly we were no longer under their watchful eyes. No longer did we talk to them every day. No longer were they privy to many of the details of our lives, like our grades and habits. We were thrown into adulthood, and it was incredible. We were able to taste freedom for the first time, and it was oh-so-sweet. 

The first breaks we have during freshman year are brief and full of excitement. We return home excited to share all we learned and how much we changed. We are eager to brag to our home friends and show how much of an adult we are to the adults who raised us. And during those first few breaks, our parents are so excited to see us that these times are fun. It’s like a vacation from real life. Because in their eyes we are still the same mistake-riddled children from our senior years of high school. However, in our minds we have grown so far from those days. It is a difference in perspective and it, in many cases, is a recipe for disaster. 

When we return home for summer break, the longest break of our freshman year, this difference in perspective first becomes clear. During this break, once the excitement of being home wears off, home becomes suffocating. We are stuck in this limbo between child and adult, and many of our parents don’t know how to handle this limbo. All parties involved are floundering and the fights and unhappiness that results can create a stress-filled environment. 

During this time, our ever-changing relationship with our parents evolves once more. Our parents’ humanity and flaws, which, before was easy to overlook since we were so used to living with them, becomes increasingly clear. And instead of realizing that like us, most of our parents feel as though they have no clue what they are doing most of the time, we get angry at them. It’s like learning Santa Claus doesn’t exist all over again. These once perfect individuals are no more in control of their lives than us, and that terrifies us. Because if they don’t have all the answers, who does? Will we ever have complete control of our lives? Will we always be as lost as we feel now?

These questions result in our lashing out at our parents, who at the moment feel as lost as we do. How do they handle having an adult child? They have spent the past eighteen years of their lives telling us what to do and believing with complete certainty that they know best. But now, they have an adult child, who technically should be allowed to make his or her own decisions and mistakes. But to let go of controlling their children is something much easier said than done, so many of our parents hold on even tighter. 

For us, returning home from complete freedom seems like our rights are slowly being stripped away. While our parents are holding on even tighter, we are pulling away as hard as we can. This disconnect results in fights, and the once good relationship many of us had with our parents can feel as though it is beyond repair. 

The only thing we can do, as young adults, is to adjust. Our parents are going to have to do the same. They will have to adjust to the idea that they can no longer control every aspect of our lives. And we, as their children, are going to have to adjust to the idea that our parents are human, similar to our friends and ourselves. They feel fear and out of control. They have bad days and they make mistakes. They can be hurt by our actions just as we can get hurt by theirs. But they love us unconditionally. So, maybe once we start to accept that they make mistakes and it is up to us to forgive them, we can move our relationship to the next stage: friendship.