When Mady Einhorn got accepted to American University last winter she had dreams of going to college with her new friend Raquel Marie Mendoza. Mady and Raquel attended the National Senate Leadership Conference in DC during their senior year in high school and hit it off. They were going to be college roommates. Raquel is a first-generation student from California. Mady lives in Middletown, New Jersey with her parents, Rob and Kim.
Two weeks before school was scheduled to start, American University notified incoming freshmen that the Fall semester would be remote due to COVID-19. That’s when Mady’s parents extended an invitation to Raquel to move in with them for the semester. Surprisingly, living and working together during the pandemic has been easy. “Raquel has become a functioning member of the family,” says Rob.
There are ways to work, study, and live together harmoniously with your college student. Here are 3 tips for success.
Create dedicated workspaces
The secret to working and living together harmoniously during a pandemic has been clear communication, respecting boundaries, and dedicated workspaces. Rob’s office is adjacent to the room that has been designated as a “Study Room.” Kim and Rob never go inside. They leave the girls alone. It’s as if they are at college, only they see each other at meals.
Establishing a routine and having a dedicated space to work has been essential for Emma Ginsburg, a Sophomore at Dartmouth College. She is living with her parents in North Carolina during the pandemic. Her mom is a cookie recipe tester and her dad works in software. Both work from home. Emma’s dedicated space is her desk. She doesn’t work in other rooms. It’s distracting. She sees her parents at dinnertime.
Having a dedicated workspace is essential for Paige Allen, a Princeton senior working from home this semester. She suggests, “If you don’t have a private space to isolate yourself, have a specific table where you sit to do your work. It can help you feel like you have ownership over your space.” Sometimes you have to get creative. Professor Josh Withers works remotely and shares a home with three virtual learners. “It helps that the locations are as private as possible. I end up teaching from my garage most of the time.”
Manage internet usage
Internet management is a balancing act in homes with multiple learners. Professor Withers has become an expert on managing the internet during heavy use times. His tip, turn off internet-based music services and TV services in the home. These can take valuable bandwidth. Yes, this includes Netflix and Sonos. Withers was kicked out of his Zoom classroom when one of his kids was video chatting with grandparents. Check with your local Internet provider and see how many devices you have connected to your server. Some plans only allow for a certain number of devices before your connection can be compromised.
Managing screen time is equally important as a strong Internet connection. Being on screens the entire day can be isolating and emotionally draining, especially while living and working together. Emma makes sure she takes a walk between classes. Paige agrees, “In this virtual world, there can be a lot of whiplash as you move from one meeting to another. You go from home to work at the click of a button. Take time to breathe, to go on walks, to do a little ‘nothing’.” This self-care makes it easier to interact and engage with the rest of the members of the family.
Set a tone for independence
Parents of virtual college students have an opportunity to set the tone. Rob and Kim have made a conscious effort to give the girls room to be as independent as possible. They are home, but they are in college. “We have to give them both physical and intellectual space,” says Rob. We see them at dinner if they are available. Their style of parenting is thoughtful and intentional. “Give them their freedom. Let them be who they need to be. I don’t need to tell them to do 12 things.” says Kim. Mady agrees that living with her parents as a college student is very different from what she felt a few months earlier in high school. “It feels like I’m an actual adult. It feels a lot better,” Mady says with a smile. The plan is for Mady and Raquel to return to DC in the spring, but if those plans don’t pan out, Rob says the door is always open for another semester at home with their new extended family.