The University Counselling Service is producing a series of articles and podcasts to support students during the coronavirus pandemic. This time we offer advice on being an adult at home.
You may have noticed that when you go home you have a tendency to regress - to become a younger, less mature version of yourself. If so, you aren’t alone. This kind of developmental ‘time travel’ is a very common - possibly even a universal phenomenon. It may happen because other family members, and parents in particular, treat you like the child you once were rather than as a developing adult. Or it can be something that happens more or less automatically as you walk through the door. You may revert very naturally to earlier habits of thinking, behaving and relating. Is this always a problem? Not necessarily, but it certainly bears some thinking about.
In the right circumstances, a little regression can be a wonderful thing. For example you may enjoy having someone cook nice meals for you, or do your laundry, rather than having to fend for yourself. This care and indulgence may be just what you need. You may enjoy taking a break from your usual ‘adult’ ways of doing things, and instead have long lie-ins, play nostalgia video games and wear your pyjamas into the afternoon. But regression can also be very negative. It can hard to hold onto your hard-won adult identity, you can find yourself pushed into, or even voluntarily re-assuming, an outgrown role in your family and reacting to situations as you did when you were younger, rather than as the adult you are now. You may temporarily cease to feel engaged with your adult life projects, and cease to practise the disciplines that would enable you to succeed in these.
Because periods of return home are generally temporary, many students just resign themselves to the less positive aspects and resolve to ride them out. But this may not be a great strategy for dealing with lockdown. For one thing, the period of lockdown could continue for some time. For another, you now need to be socially engaged and academically productive while based at home, and this probably means you need to be the adult you are at university.
If you take a hard look at yourself and realise that you are functioning in a sub-adult way, here are some things you could try:
Remind yourself of the ways you have grown up since leaving home for uni, and resolve to hold on to those developmental gains.
Write down the specific goals and intentions that relate to your adult life and put them someplace where you see them regularly.
Identify whether there are ways in which others in your family are, intentionally or unintentionally, undermining your sense of being an adult. Consider inviting them to see you differently and to interact with you more as an adult.
If old family dramas or conflicts are re-activated, remember that you now have the option to deal with this conflict from a new adult position. This might mean engaging differently or even choosing not to engage at all, but just to walk away.
Take responsibility for looking after yourself. Do your laundry. Tidy up after yourself.
If your room is full of things relating to your school days, consider some judicious redecorating. Pack away the childhood things and introduce visible reminders of your adult life, including your life in Oxford.
Wear clothes you would wear at uni.
Find new ways to contribute to family life. If you’ve learned to cook at university, offer to cook some family meals.
Making some changes could enable much more productivity, while also helping you to feel happier and more relaxed at home. As one student told us: “Learning to be my university self at home has made all the difference for me.”