The Ambivalence of Coming Home After Living Away at College

Will you have your mom’s home cooking again? Sure. But, are you still planning on coming home past 1:00am? Good luck with that.

By Katie Hovan, University of Miami


College, for most students, is the opportunity to try your hand at what older people call “real life.”

And aside from a few loopholes (the fact that it’s socially acceptable be drunk at any given moment,) college is pretty similar to the adult world.

You’ll attempt to manage your money, cook your own food and get yourself to class in a timely manner. And there will be nights where you’re faced with the critical decision of studying for your bio exam or going to a frat party, and—spoiler alert—your parents will never have to know which you choose.

College will even help you learn to be self-aware. You’ll start to think: “What are the chances that people realize I’ve worn the same sweatpants for last three days?” and “Will my roommate notice if I haven’t washed my sheets this month?” Rest assured that these are the hard-hitting questions that show you’re becoming cognizant of who you are as an adult.

Living with Your Parents Over Break: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

But as great as it is to discover yourself and live on your own for a while, there’s nothing quite like coming home. Your dog, your comfy queen bed and your mom’s home cooking just can’t be brought to a dorm room.

Jane Austen (the lady who wrote Pride and Prejudice and made you dread high school English) once said, “There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.”

Sorry, Jane, but as nice as that idea may sound, I don’t think you were ever forced to go home in between college semesters. “Comfort” doesn’t exactly cover all of the bases.

A Fool’s Paradise

 The feelings you get from returning home usually start with something similar to the “honeymoon phase” in a new relationship. There’s so much enthusiasm, and you might be in complete awe about how you survived so long without it.

You’re very likely to go on an insatiable rampage with the amount of delicious food that’s suddenly at your fingertips. After suffering through subpar dining hall dinners and ramen-induced food comas, you’ll be begging your parents to cook all of your favorite meals, and you’ll spend an unnatural amount of time catching up with old friends at your favorite restaurants. Who ever said the freshman 15 had to be gained at school?

And aside from a possible summer job or internship, being at home means you can unwind a little bit. Perhaps you’ll finally have time to start all the great books you’ve been meaning to read. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll crawl into your favorite spot on the couch for three weeks and binge-watch the new Netflix series you didn’t have time for during the semester.

Regardless of what you choose to do with your free time, home is like a little vacation from school assignments and extracurricular activities. You get to just sit back, relax, and recover from all of your bad grades, bad food, and regrettable decisions throughout the semester.

Proceed with Caution

While the rekindled love affair with your cozy bed and home cooked meals may seem to be like perpetual bliss, we all know that “honeymoon phases” don’t last forever. Eventually you’ll start to realize that living under your parents’ roof again isn’t all smooth sailing.

Less than a week into my first summer home from college, I packed a small bag and was headed to spend the night at an old friend’s house when my dad stopped me.

“Where are you going? And who are you going with?”

My mind flashed back to my elementary school days when my parents used to be in charge of coordinating my social calendar. They knew my location at any given moment, like most parents with young kids do.

But recently, the only questions about my whereabouts now came from friends looking to eat together between classes. My dad’s prurience caught me off guard.

His prying continued. “Do you have any idea that it’s almost 9 p.m. already? How late do you plan on coming home?”

I almost laughed out loud at this point. Aside from the fact that it was literally only 9 p.m., I couldn’t help but find it ludicrous that I owed my father an explanation about where I was going and when I’d return.

Does the fact that I successfully kept myself alive for two semesters mean nothing to you, Dad? I’m practically an established adult now.

But alas, you’ll eventually realize that, for the time being, living with your parents again means forfeiting any real form of privacy you may have gained in college. Thankfully, no one at school really cares to know your every move, and you can go MIA whenever you want. But if you think you can keep up that routine once you’re back home, I can promise you’re in for a rude awakening.

With that being said, the first and only rule to surviving life at home for the summer is cooperation. You have to remember this isn’t college anymore, and your parents may not be used to your new “mature” ways of life. Your safest bet is to remain calm and collected when shit starts to hit the fan.

And if cooperation just isn’t your thing, I suggest you stop reading and start house hunting. Spending breaks at home may not be a good idea for you.

There Really is No Place Like Home

 Assuming you survive the summer without a psychotic break, you’ll come to realize that, regardless of the headache caused by living under your parents’ rules again, the end of summer break will always make you feel a bit melancholy.

It may come while you’re saying goodbye to old friends, while you’re walking your dog down your street or maybe while you’re settling in at school again, but it always happens. You’ll feel a small twinge of sadness at seemingly insignificant things that make home different from any place you’ve ever been.

Yes, college is your time to grow, but you can never forget where you came from. Your home and your parents are responsible for shaping who you are, and without them, the opportunity to experience a new, exciting life wouldn’t even be possible for many of us.

So if your dad wants to know where you’re going or when you’ll be home, tell him. You don’t necessarily have to have a smile on your face while doing so, but it’s important to take into account how our parents see us, no matter how old and mature we become.

We may be “independent” college students, but we’re still children to them. After all, don’t you yourself feel like you were an elementary school student just a year ago?

Sometimes it’s best to suck it up and revert back to your childhood days, because it’s only socially acceptable to live at home for so long. So my advice to you is to enjoy your home while your parents are still here to help you through the pitfalls of life (and even better, while food and rent is still free.)