Gutierrez: Parent-child tensions after the first year of college

A. Pallas Gutierrez, Opinion Editor

This past June, I finished final exams after my first year at Northwestern and went back to my hometown, New York. For the first time in six months, I was home, in the city I grew up in, living with my mother, brother and cats. So why did I feel so out of place?

Part of my out-of-place feelings can definitely be attributed to moving. My senior year, I moved for the first time in my life from my childhood house in Queens to a smaller apartment in Harlem. I only lived in that apartment for three months before moving to Evanston, so part of feeling out of place in my family’s apartment was the lack of memories tied to that space.

But a larger part of that feeling was knowing that I had grown a lot and that my family was not prepared for that growth. In the year I had been away from them, I had become slightly more independent, and my endless stream of talking had slowed down a bit. I was still fundamentally me, but for the first time in my life, my mom and brother had not been by my side as I evolved and grew as a person. Their image of me was different than the person who came home from college, if only slightly.

I am not the first, nor will I be the last, college student to experience this phenomenon. Teresa Grella-Hillebrand, an instructor in Hofstra University’s Marriage and Family Therapy Program, explains that parents are “frozen in a time warp” while their children are away, expecting the same person who left for school in August or September to return the following May or June. With 52 percent of college students attending school 51 to 500 miles away from school, parents will continue to receive “new” children the summer after their first year of college.

Especially after freshman year, when many students live alone for the first time and thus can make their own rules, there can be a huge adjustment as both parents and students adjust to each other’s behavioral expectations. Parents are ready to resume being parents, and young adults may begin to feel like they don’t need the same attention and regulations that they needed in high school. Feelings can be hurt on both sides: Parents feel that they are no longer useful, and students feel that they are being overly babied.

In order to diffuse these potentially tense situations, both parents and children have to empathize with each other: Students must consider how hard it is for parents to go from years of being around their child and being a large factor in their life to being a second thought, and parents must consider the new freedoms their children are used to having and the ways in which they have inevitably grown and changed. College is a huge turning point in the parent-child relationship, as the same relationship from high school is no longer necessary nor logical, and both parties have to be ready to accept the other’s adjustments. Growing up isn’t easy on parents, but it isn’t easy on kids and young adults either.

Pallas Gutierrez is a Communication sophomore. They can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.