Living With My Mother During College

By Caroline Suozzi

Back in high school, I counted down the days until I could move out and go to college. I love my parents and come from a mostly happy household, but I was more than ready to move on and start my own life. After graduating high school in 2018, I headed off to college with my parent’s support as well as their excitement to have a little more peace and quiet at home.

Portrait of young woman and her mother-in-law on white background. Family quarrel

After a year and a half of experiencing college life like I always imagined, my plans of spending four years in a new city, away from my hometown, came to a halt when universities began sending students home due to COVID-19. According to CNBC, it was estimated that college closures impacted at least 14 million students, who either had to scramble to find somewhere else to live or move back with their parents. Suddenly, I found myself living back at home again. My kitchen became my classroom, my parents replaced my professors, and I was back to sleeping in my childhood bedroom after just entering my 20s surrounded by boy band posters I hung when I was 13.

I remember my mother telling me, “it’s just a few weeks, you’ll be back to school by Easter.” Well, a few weeks turned into 10 months and as much as my mom loves me and I love her, we know exactly how to drive each other crazy.

Living at home for much longer than ever expected presented some challenges. While dealing with these challenges, my mother and I learned to live under the same roof peacefully and set a foundation for the next time I come home for holiday breaks. While it wasn’t easy, here are some of the things I’ve learned about being a college student living at home.

My House, My Rules

“My house, my rules” is a phrase I often hear while living back at home. Going from the freedom of living on my own, back to living under my parent’s roof, means I have to remember the rules my parents set in place. While I know I need to respect my parents, I want my mother to remember that moving home is an adjustment. It takes time to get used to not living on only my own schedule. With the “my house, my rules” phrase, I have found that communication is key to surviving while living with my mom.

One area that I heard this phrase often was when it came to keeping my room neat. When I leave clothes on the floor or forget to put away my laundry my mom always tells me I need to clean my room. My response to this is often, “If you don’t like it then don’t come in here,” and she usually responds with something along the lines of “my house, my rules”. This can be an ongoing battle of me not understanding why she cares if my room is clean and her constantly telling me to clean it.

As a daughter, “my house, my rules” can feel a little hurtful. When coming home from school, I want to be welcomed back into the family as if I live there, not as if I’m just a guest in a hotel. When it comes to keeping my room organized, is it really my room if my mother is telling me I have to keep it up to her standards? This is a tricky situation to navigate and even though it can be difficult, I have learned that figuring out how to keep the peace is the best option.

Sometimes it is easier to deal with these types of arguments by taking a step back and considering the bigger picture. Alex Kenkauoha, a Stanford University student, gives tips on how to deal with disputes among family members while living at home in an article written for Stanford News. The article reminds us to “take a bird’s eye view.” Sometimes taking an aerial viewpoint and looking at this conflict as if you were watching a movie might lend to a fresh perspective on the situation. When it comes to my mother telling me to keep my room in order or other household rules, if I step back and look at the situation, little arguments do not seem like such a big deal and it is easier to just be accommodating in order to avoid a bigger dispute. When I look back on my time spent at home when I get older, I want to remember spending time with my mother, not fighting with her over chores. I think this can apply to mothers too. If my mom took a step back and used a bird’s eye view, my unfolded clothes might not seem like as big of a deal in the bigger picture of our relationship.

Eventually, I have to remind myself that my mom is letting me stay home, so I will respect her wishes to keep my room mostly clean. I have learned that choosing to keep the peace is easier than fighting, so even though I sometimes don’t totally understand why it bothers her if my own room isn’t very tidy, I know I won’t be living at home forever so I continue to clean it when she asks.

Coming and Going

Like most children, when I was younger, I always had to ask my mom for permission to go anywhere. Now, that I am an adult who has been living out of the house for most of the year, the transition from asking permission to telling my mother where I am going can be a little awkward. My mom knows she can’t mandate a curfew, but she appreciates a phone call or text if I am going to be out late or miss dinner. I have learned that my mom worries and similar to any college roommate, letting them know where you are going is just a nice courtesy.

This was something I had to get used to because my mom was always the one with the power to give me permission to go somewhere or not. She would tell me if I was allowed to go to a friend’s house or stay out past a certain time. Now that I am older, simply telling her I am leaving is a different feeling.

I have learned that it is important for me to talk to my mother about boundaries when it comes to coming and going. One argument we had was whether or not it was necessary for my mom to have my “Find my Friends” location for iPhone so she could see where I was at any time without having to call or text me. While I am not the type of daughter to be sneaking around behind her back, being able to track my location at all times seemed to cross a boundary as an adult.

As a daughter, my mother’s want to see my location seemed like a lack of trust, whereas she seemed to see it as just a safety precaution. After discussing, I asked my mom how she would have felt if her mother was able to see her exact location at any time when she was my age, and she agreed that it was pushing the boundaries a bit. Instead, we agreed upon the intentions of using my location so that she only checks it for convenience and safety reasons, and when I tell her where I am going, she will trust that I am being honest. For example, if I am driving a long distance, she will check my location to make sure I am getting there safely, but on a regular day, she doesn’t check it. Setting these boundaries allows for balance in the relationship so that everyone understands what is expected. I have found that when it comes to getting along with my mother, honesty is always the best policy. If I respect her when she worries, then she will respect my need for a little bit of freedom.

Family Meetings

When coming home from college, I have learned that it is a family effort to keep the house running smoothly. When arguments occur, it is important for us to sit down and talk through the problems. Dealing with a busy family’s schedule can be difficult, so my mom will often call “Family Meetings” when she needs something to be fixed. These meetings can be about making sure the bathrooms get cleaned, discussing who is cooking dinner that night, or any issue she thinks needs to be discussed between me, my two younger siblings, and my father.

I find these are a helpful way to understand what is expected of me and the rest of my family. My mom will often print out talking points and then my siblings and I can each take turns if we have something to say. As I get older, I can imagine myself using this tactic when I have my own family one day. In a house full of constantly moving schedules, family meetings allow for everyone to gather and give their thoughts on how to move forward.

I appreciate being able to have conversations with my family in these ways because it gives everyone an opportunity to share their thoughts. Dr. Benjamin Shian said in an article from the New York Times that he agrees with the importance of communication among parents and college students coming home from school. “Parents have the tendency to give advice, but it’s critical to listen,” he says. “Ask pertinent questions, but mostly stay quiet and let your kid vent. And after, you can do some collaborative problem-solving.” Family meetings allow important topics to be considered while encouraging everyone to fix the problem as a group.

Whatever the issue is that needs to be discussed, it is important for me to remember that I won’t be living with my parents and siblings forever, so putting in the effort to peacefully coexist can make the experience much more enjoyable.

Getting Through it Together

Living at home as a college student can be difficult for both the student and the mother. Once I went off to college, my relationship with my mother definitely changed from her always telling me what I can and cannot do, to both of us discussing how to live as equals. Every once in a while, the motherly habits from when I was younger come out when I come home from school, so I learn to accept it and do what is best for our family as a whole.

            Before I know it, I am going to have graduated and moved out for good, so appreciating my time at home and choosing to keep peace makes living at home much easier for everyone in the family.

Caroline and her mother, Colleen.