This has escalated quickly
June 19, 2013 9:48 AM   Subscribe

Son of 1066 had early acceptance to a university six hours away. And we've been planning for him to go there since early December. Last week he decided he now wants to go to the local university and live with me. Acceptance is a given due to his grades. This is going to save me tons of money. The problem? I have had basically zero social life for the past sixteen years because I only had him on the weekends (no regrets). But I was really looking forward to meeting some friends and possibly even dating. So how do we go about transitioning from part-time mom and kid to full-time, loving, supportive, independent mom and adult son/roommate? Advice on any aspects of having a relative/roommate would be appreciated.
posted by 1066 to Human Relations (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
College kids are not like high school kids. He won't need as much supervision or help, and he'll be spending a lot more time at college with his own friends. In any case, he's now an adult, and ought to be able to deal with you having a life of your own, just as he'll want you to deal with his having a life of his own. If you find it's not working out, you should talk about it, but unless you guys are really enmeshed (in which case a trip to a counselor might not be out of order), it should work itself out naturally.
posted by ubiquity at 9:55 AM on June 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

Chances are he'll want his independence too, so I wouldn't put off your own social life.

Have you asked why he wants to go so close? Can you suggest he lives on campus the first year? I've known people who lived at home during College/University, and their social circle ended up being quite small. There's a lot to be gained from living on your own (or with roommates), so I'd push for him to live on campus the first year if he stays local.

If it's feat that's keeping him from going 6 hours away, try and encourage him to go anyhow. Everyone else will be in the same boat as him, after all, and living on campus for my first year really was one of the better experiences of my life.
posted by backwards guitar at 9:57 AM on June 19, 2013 [19 favorites]

A college kid is likely going to be pretty active on weekends too. So you might say these days are mine for in guests these days are yours. We do not need to critique or approve of each other's social life. We will give each other space and respect about this and then listen to his feedback and/or solutions?
posted by logonym at 9:57 AM on June 19, 2013

I would start off with a sit-down conversation, outlining how living with you during college will be different for both of you than his weekend visits were. That you're both adults now, and will be living in the same space, but it's not the same thing as "relying on parent for everything."
posted by xingcat at 10:08 AM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Seconding xingcat. Set boundaries on resources. Obviously you're a supportive and caring mom. But don't be his go-to whenever he needs cooking, laundry, spending cash, a car for the weekend, etc.

He's an adult now and should carry his load on his own, or at least know where your obligations stop and his start.
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:10 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you only had him on weekends, it will be different when he lives with you full time. It shouldn't be a big issue in terms of how much time you can spend on getting a life. I think it would only cause friction if you bring men home. And that absolutely is not necessary.

While going through a divorce, I met men online, called them on the phone and went out to meet them elsewhere. None of these men ever met my sons. At the time, my sons had no clue I had a love life. Now they know and do not care because it had zero impact on their lives. I had long spent time on the 'net, time on the phone and gone out alone to run errands. They didn't have less time with me. They didn't have to figure out how to relate to new people. Etc.

Unless you wind up involved with a married man (not a good idea for a lot of reasons), it shouldn't be a big deal to go out with men without bringing them home. Just go to a restaurant/activity or go to their place. And, frankly, the excuse that "I have kids at home" is convenient for meeting men under safer circumstances. It is generally easier to decide to leave their place and pull it off without drama than to try to force some jerk to leave yours without drama ensuing.
posted by Michele in California at 10:14 AM on June 19, 2013

Maybe set aside one 'ritual' a week that you still maintain as your together time? Maybe Sunday dinner or something like that. That way you still can maintain a routine and have your special together time, but both of you can also grow and spread your wings a little.
posted by JoannaC at 10:34 AM on June 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I try to get him into a dorm for his sake. It's really hard to make friends at college much more so if you live off campus. Then you can have your life back too.
posted by bananafish at 10:36 AM on June 19, 2013 [15 favorites]

I think he should still move out. Just cause he is going to a local university doesn't mean he should live at home. Moving out is part of turning 18 and going to college - and I think it's a VERY important part.
posted by amaire at 10:46 AM on June 19, 2013 [18 favorites]

I too must chime in and suggest a dorm for the kid, at least for the first year.

I lived in a dorm at ASU, even though my parents lived 5 miles away and it made a HUGE difference in my ability to adapt and make friends. (Let's not talk about my GPA.)

The fact that he's close means you can see him frequently, but if he lives in a dorm, he won't be all up in your grill.

I suspect that it's all hitting him that this is it, he's a grown up and while you and I know there's a safety net, he may not see that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:56 AM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Totally aside from you and your wanting to have a social life, I agree with above that he should be moving out regardless. I lived in residence/dorm the 4 years of my degree and while I hated it sometimes, it was absolutely invaluable. That is how I made friends in school. It was also how I did a LOT of growing up and maturing. You learn fast about other people and how to co-exist with people you maybe don't like so much, and let me tell you, that is a skill that has come in handy over the years. It also was just buckets of fun sometimes! (2am snowball fights? Wednesday parties? Floor crawls? pranks? Oh yes. very fun.) Frankly, living anywhere but with your parents is important, and I encourage you to push him to NOT live with you. He's a grown up now. He's embarking on a new phase of his life and it is going to be a lot harder for him to grow and mature and experience things if he is living with a parent. Maybe my university was different, but so so so much of the socializing happens in residence. I lived in a small residence, only ~70 people, but there were tons of house events, planned and unplanned, and a lot of interraction and socialization between us and other residences. I had built in friends and study mates. Seriously - residence, while sucky in some ways, is very valuable. I'd really push him in that direction if I were you.

If that doesn't happen, yeah. Major boundaries need to be established. I would be very careful to ensure he was in charge of his own affairs (laundry, food, cleaning, etc) and be contributing to the house as though he were any other roommate. I'd frankly charge him rent. Establish him as an adult by treating him as an adult. Make him have adult responsibilities.

but really... get him to stay in the dorms.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:00 AM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Nthing ^^ living in the dorm. I lived at home and went to the college up the street - I found it REALLY challenging to make friends, as I came home for dinner and spent the night at home. 2 pretty lonely years, as most of the people all made their friends in first year, and weren't necessarily open to getting to know others.

Stupidly, I did the same in my first year of university, living off campus with my boyfriend - didn't wind up with many friends there either. It's that shared experience of living together with a built in peer community that really seems to solidify friendship - no time to really get to know eachother in class or on hellish group projects.

From an economics point of view, half of going to university and college is to develop a network of friends in your field, that hopefully can spur you to employment/other opportunities.

For HIS benefit, I encourage him to live in the dorm.
Time for baby bird to leave the nest - get brave, go to a new scary place, and spread his wings.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 11:01 AM on June 19, 2013 [8 favorites]

I don't think this has much to do with your son's situation at all and is really more about you. If you've only had your son on weekends for the last 16 years, you've had weeknights (or days, or whenever you don't work) free that entire time to try and organize some sort of social activity, and you haven't done it.

Whether your son lives at home or not, you have to make an effort to find time for yourself and actually go out out of your way to do that. There's nothing stopping you regardless of whether or not your son lives in your house, which is equally as true now as it will be when he starts college in the fall.

I am a full-time single father of a toddler and I still manage to find time to do things with other adults.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:12 AM on June 19, 2013 [9 favorites]

Not all kids are able to handle living out of the house and being dumped into a dorm and expected to do college level work right away. I assume the abruptness of your child's decision to abandon admission to that college 6 hours away in favor of the local college where he lives with you was prompted by a personal crisis/realization that he wasn't ready.

What you need to do is create an environment where it is not a continuation of high school but a transition where he acclimates towards the prospect of moving out in a couple of years. Treat him like you're running a dorm. Sign him up for a 5 meal a week meal plan so he eats lunch on campus. Give him his own shelf in the refrigerator for the food he buys and cooks at home. Don't do his laundry for him. But give him space and opportunity to concentrate on his schoolwork and foster his ability to get his work done. Encourage him to get involved with activities on campus.

That way your child doesn't get too far out of his comfort zone but you both have your own space where you're not actively parenting him.
posted by deanc at 11:15 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Many people above are championing dorm life's advantages, and I won't argue with the merits of it. But it's worth noting that many local colleges/universities won't actually have dorms, or anyway may only have a token number of rooms that fill up quickly. This is especially true of many urban-center colleges--they are often "commuter schools." So the OP's son may not actually be able to partake of dorm life, whether or not he lives with the OP.
posted by like_a_friend at 11:20 AM on June 19, 2013

My daughter came back to live with me for two years while she got her master's degree. On the whole, it was great, but there were definite adjustments.

A college-aged child is an adult, so you don't really have the right to monitor what he's doing, just because he's living with you rent-free. What you can and should insist on, however, is some notification about his schedule. My daughter would sometimes come home at unexpected times, which led to a few awkward situations, until we agreed that if she wasn't keeping to her usual schedule, she needed to let me know.

I think it's a good idea if you can find a regular time for him to be out of the house, so you can plan your social life accordingly.
posted by anapestic at 12:27 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

If he is going to college, he is not a kid. You are both adults, don't baby him. Live your life and let him live his. Consider yourselves roomies with a very long history. Don't do his laundry.
posted by buzzieandzaza at 1:56 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the thoughtful answers so far.

I have just a few points to clarify.

1. There should be a dorm room if he wants it. I completely agree about the dorms, but he has no interest them. But I'm a problem solver and haven't asked him him his reasons yet. So I will definitely do that.

2. He's responsible when it comes to chores and money, but he hates to plan and I live for planning (I LOVE planning). He's been counting on me making sure he makes appointments, gets his vaccines, etc. this is one of the main reasons I want him to live independently.

3. I don't have any moral objections to him bringing people in for overnights. I have problems with PEOPLE in MY HOUSE.

4. I am very introverted. Being social involves preparing for it mentally, doing it, and then going home, alone, and recovering from doing it. If he lives with me, I will need some way to signal that mom need zero interaction for 10-12 hours.
posted by 1066 at 3:12 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree that you should talk to your son about his reasons for not wanting to live away from home/in the dorms. I was TERRIFIED about moving out of the house - similar to your son, I was not a planner, hated (actually still hate, but I can do it now) talking to people on the phone, making appointments, etc. But, these are things every person needs to learn to do in life, so I think there's a certain sense to which parents need to push the baby bird out of the nest if it won't go on its own...I am certainly grateful my parents did even though I was in tears the whole car ride on the way to college!

If you're willing to pay for a dorm room at the nearby school, I would make a deal with your kid - he toughs it out for one semester, and then you guys can reevaluate. If it really isn't working, you will make a new plan together that could involve moving home. But, I think that as with most kids who experience homesickness (boy, did I ever!) the benefits of college life will outweigh the costs once they give it a chance. Unless he comes up with a really, really good reason (on the order of "I have an un-diagnosed psychiatric disorder that is going to cause a mental breakdown if I live in a dorm, and I need to live at home while I get counseling), I would tell him that living at home is simply not an option, at least for the first semester. I think a fair compromise would be to leave open the option that he could come home for, say, Sunday dinner (or another night) once a week whenever he's feeling lonely, and that he's always welcome if he gets the flu and needs some mothering and chicken noodle soup.

In particular, in your update you say that you're very introverted and would potentially have a problem with people over at your house. Think about what this is going to do to your son's social life if he not only isn't getting the built-in social network that comes with campus living, but also doesn't have a home base where he can bring home friends (not even just girlfriends!) to watch a movie, play some video games, have weird conversations late into the night, study for exams, etc., etc. You can't expect your son to never bring friends around for 4 years - in that case he's really not a roommate, he's a second class roommate. That is just one more reason why you should nudge him out of the nest!
posted by rainbowbrite at 3:49 PM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Your son is now an adult. What does it matter whether you have a social life?

Likewise, if you don't want your son to live with you, simply tell him so. My parents made it known to all of us kids that we were not going to be living at home past the summer after senior year of high school, regardless of college plans. It wasn't any great loss to me. If your son wants to go to State U, let him take out loans for the dorms or get a job and an apartment. This arrangement is not a cruel thing to do.

If he's living with you for (your own) financial reasons, revert to the first sentence of my answer.
posted by Sara C. at 4:50 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Lead with confidence and by example. If you are OK with having people over, and OK with your adult kid having people over, then it will work out.

Be considerate both of each other and of your own needs.
posted by zippy at 5:26 PM on June 19, 2013

But I'm a problem solver and haven't asked him him his reasons yet. So I will definitely do that.

This is the big one to me. What's driving his decision? Plain old terror? Maybe he's got introvert anxiety, like Mom? Is Nearby College smaller? Is he feeling guilty about money you were spending for Faraway College?

You guys really need to work that all out. You can't set up a specific living situation until you know what the issues are.

My concern would be, ok, he lives at home...what happens after graduation? Is moving out going to be any easier then? If it's an anxiety issue, maybe meds are needed? Or counseling? Maybe he doesn't comprehend that you have a need for solitude also?

Is this related to the fact that he didn't have you full time as a kid, and he's trying to make up for it?

Lots to unpack, there.
posted by emjaybee at 5:40 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest strongly urging him to live on campus first year. He can always come hang out on the weekends (or any other night, for that matter, if you feel like it) but if most students at this school live on campus he's not going to develop friendships the same way if he's only there for class.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:19 PM on June 19, 2013

Hey, lots of good advice, but this college choice is a MAJOR, MAJOR decision that has just happened really suddenly and with no conversation. Before you get into the nitty-gritty of his change in choice of college, that's a serious talk that needs to happen.

College choices change the path of lives radically. First things first: what's going on with him? What happened?

And after that...

He's been counting on me making sure he makes appointments, gets his vaccines, etc. this is one of the main reasons I want him to live independently.

You are correct. It is time for your child to move out of the house and go to college. For both of you! You sound like a really awesome parent, by the way. Part of that, a lot of us believe, is nest-tossing.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:44 PM on June 19, 2013

My sons are in their twenties and still live with me. My 26 year old figured out at age 2 that mom went off duty at 10pm unless he was ill. Go to bed or be not a nuisance, mmmkay? So, if a 2 year old can learn that, I think a college kid can learn to give mom space when she needs it.

We began homeschooling when he was 11. Initially, it was a problem because hubby and kids were used to assuming I should be at their beck and call if they were in the house. I had to set some ground rules and say "Look, mom is not your personal slave and I need time for myself sometimes. If it is not urgent, make an appointment!" They learned to say "Hey, mom, I would like to talk to you about something. Can we arrange a time for that today?" instead of assuming I should drop everything, any time, at their convenience.

It's okay to set boundaries instead of insisting on booting him from the nest. It's a valid option and can be made to work.

posted by Michele in California at 8:56 PM on June 19, 2013

i ended up going to college 20 minutes from home, so not my choice, so i told my parents to pretend i was living on the opposite coast. fortunately, i did live on campus. just tell your son that you thought he was going to be further away and you'd have your weekends to yourself so now he has to accept that it is mom's time to party. tell him he gets to be responsible and you will be partying it up. woot!
posted by wildflower at 12:26 AM on June 20, 2013

Okay. So you agree that dorms/living away from home are excellent things to mature as a person. You mention that him living with you will save you money, though we don't quite have a sense whether this is money you could afford to spend or loans you'd be signing for? Here is what I would do.

a) Absolutely figure out why this changed. He probably won't want to talk about this. You definitely won't want to push through that. Do it anyway. He may not know why this changed. If so, go see a counsellor together. They may make recommendations from there, and will definitely help you unpack some things. Right now, counselling is a better investment than dorms.

b) Let's assume counselling happened or the why was explained and it's all sorted, and things are still proceeding as per this post. Assuming there's no health reasons preventing it somehow, I would still push for him to live in dorms. Even if it's local dorms. You're paying for his education by the sounds of it; you get to apply pressure, but you should still do so intelligently. At this point he expects it to be paid for, and that's not fair but it's real. I'd tell him he can live in dorms and the deal is on as he expects; if he lives with you, the deal is different: He has to give up either your financial aid or your being his assistant. (Okay, even if he's in the dorms you absolutely shouldn't helicopter-parent and plan his appointments. But it'll be way easier to stop that semi-gradually if he's in dorms.) He's probably sane so he'll choose to give up the assistant; this means you stop planning his appointments, helping him remember things, waking him up in the mornings, packing his lunch, ANYTHING. If it isn't his birthday or a major holiday, you shouldn't be more considerate of him than you would be of a housemate you know moderately well.

c) If (b) goes as I'd personally expect, he's probably in dorms. Failing that, you now have a housemate, but not one you need to babysit or tiptoe around. Accord him the same freedoms you would to this housemate you have no parental control over; by all means set ground rules about what can happen in your house (no drugs, parties, etc are all your ballgame) but he will need a social life of his own. At the same time, forcing him to house that social life outside your walls may push him to have more of one if he isn't an introvert on the same level as you. This is an area where a counsellor might have some better suggestions than the internet. The key is that you at this point should have effectively no day-to-day obligations towards him; if you go out in the afternoon and don't come home until noon the next day, it no longer means he suddenly had no dinner, wake-up call, breakfast and packed lunch. He should be his own person.

Boundary-setting will be hard, but it's the crux of your question. The social life will happen naturally if you do it right. Good luck!
posted by pahalial at 12:56 AM on June 20, 2013

I hated, just really hated, living in the dorms. And almost dropped out of college because of them. My parent's attitude was "tough it up" and "you'll learn from this." But it's hard for me to imagine what I learned from continuous sleep deprivation and unhealthy food. And easy to imagine what I didn't learn because I was sleeping in class or sick all the time.

You might want to explore other housing options. At my university my sister, after seeing all my problems, lived in a smaller "private certified housing" dorm which was more of a house-like environment. Also living in a house or apartment with college roommates, was a better environment I lived in later.
posted by melissam at 1:00 PM on June 23, 2013

Since this has been kind of bumped in the queue, I will add the following:

If by early acceptance, you mean this is a gifted child under the age of 18, then presumably they are more than merely "bright." Above a certain IQ, issues like OCD, ADHD, ASD, etc are so common that they get referred to in some circles as "co-morbidities." Kids with very high IQ's and other issues are often extremely good at compensating for their problem areas. Thus it can be quite hard to ID the fact that they also have a disability.

So while I think it is a good idea to try to determine why kid is balking, if you do not have an explanation, that is not by itself sufficient reason to insist he go off to a dorm or whatever. I got my oldest son approved for enrollment at age 13 at a local community college. The first two classes he signed up for fell through, one because class was cancelled. He then informed me he was not comfortable going to college, which was frustrating for me since he was beyond my ability to teach in some subjects and we were homeschooling. However, we only began unraveling the long list of disabilities he has at age 11. He is 26 and we are still learning new things. I accommodated him as best I could. That was the right thing to do.

Please take your child seriously if he simply balks, even if he cannot explain why.
posted by Michele in California at 1:33 PM on June 23, 2013

Early admission usually means 'early decision' or some kind of rolling admissions -- but as a smart kid with pronounced organizational issues etc. there would have been nothing bad about me acquiring better self-support skills at the same time as I applied (17 y.o) and went off to college (18 y.o.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:25 AM on June 24, 2013

Late update.

We finally had time to sit down and talk, and I am very pleased with the results.

He picked the new school because there is a program where he can earn his BS and MS in five years instead of six. I bought into a guaranteed 4 year tuition plan, so this means only 1 year of grad school tuition instead of two. He wants to live with me and use the housing money for grad school and setting-up-household expenses if he has to move for work.

We've bought him a planning notebook, he's in charge of planning life and caring for himself, but we'll be having check up on each other lunches twice a week.

Oh, and he's going to a freshman sleepaway camp to meet people and has agreed that he will join two on-campus organizatios and be active in them.

Thank you all for your wonderful advice.
posted by 1066 at 2:02 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

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