When it comes to moving to college, often anticipated are the roommate arrangements and class schedules, the dorm decorations and social re-evaluations. Not so often thought of are the inevitable changes in family dynamics that come with you moving away from home, likely for the first time. After spending some time on your own—with more freedom and changed responsibilities—returning home can be difficult. So can even just talking on the phone.
Your new distance can reinforce a need for privacy and respect on behalf of both you and your family members, bringing to light boundaries that need to be set and conversations that need to be had. Preparing for this can be tough, but if you don’t want to tear down your support systems, it‘s important to do. Here’s how.
1. Set emotional boundaries
With time for discussion (meaning, don’t throw this at your family minutes before your plane takes off), ask to talk about the boundaries that will be set when you’re in school. While it can seem like the right thing to indulge someone’s desire and promise to call every day, establishing the expectation that there will be no distance created between you and your loved ones by keeping constant contact isn’t going to help anyone. Find a balance between what everyone wants and needs from each other, and be sure that all parties understand. Perhaps a biweekly or weekly phone call will suffice.
During those phone calls, your family may expect you to share every detail of your college life, or they might try to enforce rules they no longer need to. If you plan on going out every night (though I wouldn’t recommend it), you don’t need to tell your family. However, be careful about outright lying, as it will only make your relationships more difficult to navigate. Establishing with your loved ones that the time you spend away belongs entirely to you should help draw these difficult lines in the sand.
2. Set physical boundaries
It’s also important to set physical boundaries in whatever way your situation warrants. If you’ll be home on weekends, decide if your room is an open space or will continue to be private. If you’ll be visiting for holidays, try to dive into what that will look like—will the same rules you followed throughout high school still apply? Or will you be treated more like a house guest? Setting these boundaries will smooth everything out and establish an independence that distance alone can’t. The same goes for visits the other way; be sure to establish when and how often it’s appropriate for your family to visit you on campus.
3. Dissect your finances
Whatever the financial situation you’re emerging from or entering into, you need to talk it out. If your parents will be providing you monetary support for school or while at school, it’s likely there will be restrictions on the way it’s spent. Creating a clear, honest budget and sticking to it will not only build trust and help you navigate college life but also prepare you for the future when you’re financially independent.
If you’ll be providing money to your family while in college, be sure to explain your limits as a student. If possible, don’t trap yourself under the financial pressures of your family, and seek out assistance from financial and academic advisors if you aren’t sure how to best approach the issue. Whatever the situation, college is expensive, and coming to an understanding about where finances will be coming from and going to will do nothing but good.
The transition to college life can be rocky in many ways, so getting a head start on facing the issues between family is extremely important and must be taken just as seriously (if not more so) as the final verdict on whether or not you’re getting a mini-fridge.
Find more great advice to help you get through college in our Student Life section—much of it written by students like you!