Imagine you’re at the end of your freshman year of college, packing up your dorm and reflecting back on all that’s happened your first year away from home. All of your peers are boasting about the unforgettable nights out and people they’ve met –– and then there’s you. All you can think about are the weekends you watched your college disappear into the rearview mirror of your mom’s car. Your friends tell you to just ignore your parents, but in reality, it’s not that easy.
So how do you pick between your family and wanting to be independent? As impossible as it may seem, you can live out your newfound freedom to the fullest and still please your family. To make things easier, try to establish these four boundaries before you leave for college.
1. Limit phone calls
It’s important to speak up before you leave to school. That way, you’re not receiving six missed phone calls and angry voicemails because you didn’t call your mom at 4:00 p.m. on the dot like you said you would. Your schedule in college will be hectic, and things can pop up at any moment, so setting a calling schedule may not be ideal.
For Jacqueline Torres, a junior at Georgia State University, speaking to her parents was necessary. “I am the child of immigrants,” Jackie says. “For my family, it’s part of the culture to put family before everything. So, when my mom or dad would call what feels like a million times a day, I would pick up. However, that gets old really quickly. It wasn’t easy at all, but you have to speak up for yourself! Don’t let your parents and their views run all over you.”
Instead of being bombarded with phone calls, lovingly let your parents know that you will call them on your own time. Acknowledge that this may be hard transition for them, but that you’re excited to enjoy this new chapter in your life. “Let your parents know that you need the chance to explore all that college and the surrounding city can offer you, even if that means you make mistakes along the way,” says Sara Micallef, a former college counselor at Reinhardt University. “That way you are prepared to face any other challenges that inevitably come in life.”
Update them over the phone for example, once every week. You can also shoot them a text every day or two to let them know how you’re doing. After all, they are your parents and don’t deserve to be completely cut off. If the phone calls don’t stop, it’s best not to ignore them. Your parents may think the worst. Instead, send them a text saying that you’re grateful that they care about you so much, but you’re busy making the best of the opportunity they so generously afforded you.
2. Don’t constantly go home
Going home can be a breath of fresh air when you’ve been away at school. If you constantly go home, the roles will reverse and your dorm will feel like an escape, which shouldn’t be the case. Remember that you can tell your parents, “No, thank you.” So no, you don’t have to go back home just to go to your neighbor’s son swim meet even if your mom asks nicely.
Aside from setting a schedule for when you’re coming home, one of the easiest things to do is get involved on campus by joining a club or sorority, and dedicate yourself to it. There are so many organizations on campus that you can find something you’re truly passionate about, not just something you busy yourself with to avoid your parents. Let your parents know that you found something that you really feel apart of, and you can even use it to expand your resume.
If the situation is seemingly impossible to get out of and you feel you have to go home, invite a friend along. If all goes well and your family feels comfortable around your friend, you can always let them know you may not be able to make it home one weekend because you and your friend have plans.
Kristen Pierce, a sophomore at the University of Alabama, went home pretty much every weekend or every other weekend her first year of college, but doesn’t want the same situation for her sister, who’s graduating this year. “It’s hard for me to say no,” Kristen says. “But I wouldn’t recommend anyone, including my sister do the same. Say ‘no’ every once in a while, and tell your parents that a ‘no’ doesn’t mean you don’t love or appreciate them.” Saying no to be people who raised you for 18 years can feel awkward, but sometimes it’s necessary.
3. Aim for financial independence
The less you have to rely on your parents, the more likely it is that they’ll treat you like an adult. Chances are they may be funding a big part of your education, However, aiming to have your own spending money, is a step in the right direction.
As tempting as it may be, don’t blow all your graduation money or any money saved up from working. Save at least a portion of this money for when you go off to school, that way you don’t have to ask your parents for spending money. As time passes, you’ll eventually take more financial responsibilities under your belt like your phone bill, car insurance, rent and other assorted bills — yay! No, it’s not ideal, but it’s part of being an adult. The more financially independent you are, the more power you have to create boundaries with your parents. They will no longer have the “but I pay for this, this, and this, so you can’t do this, this and this!” threat looming over your head.
Nicole Selman, a sophomore at Kennesaw State University, felt like her parents cut their overbearing ties once they realized that she was making enough money to function independently of them. “All of the working and side gigs for money paid off,” Nicole says. “I felt like I earned a new level of respect once I started paying for the majority of my things. For example, my mom would also threaten to take my phone away because I didn’t pick up her call, but now that I’m paying for my own bill, she’s accepted that I won’t necessarily pick up every single last one of her calls.” Your parents may not come around and understand your point of view overnight, but your effort will eventually pay off.
4. Step up to the plate
It’s time to show your parents that you’re ready to take control of your life. Instead of turning to your parents to ask all of your questions at orientation, show them that you’re capable of doing things on your own. If your parents offer to fill out a form for you, let them know that you’re capable of doing it your own. “All too often parents will introduce themselves and say that they are interested in learning more about this or this program,” Sara says. “Meanwhile, the child is standing there saying nothing. This kind of behavior really feeds into the whole ‘helicopter parent’ phenomenon.”
Instead of turning to your parents for every one of your problems in college, prepare to turn to the staff at your college for help. Advisors are readily available to first year students to successfully make the transition from high school to college. Don’t let your parents take away your opportunities to form real life connections and become comfortable around professionals.
Creating boundaries with your parents is necessary to your own personal growth. College is about discovering who you are and what you want to do with your life, and you can’t do that if you’re still under your parent’s control. So to all parents, we love you and are so grateful for all you’ve done for us. You’ve done a fantastic job raising us and now it’s time to use all the skills you instilled in us in college.