When Mary Gallardo's son returned home for Christmas vacation from his first semester at the University of San Diego, she had a glimpse into what summer might look like with a newly independent 19-year-old, and she didn't necessarily like what she was seeing.

"Spencer definitely had an attitude at first. He was all about the fact that he'd been on his own, hadn't had to answer to anyone and didn't plan on starting now," said Gallardo, who lives in Chanhassen.

During the first half of break, her son spent lots of time with his high school friends, balked at once again having to share a family car with his younger sister and seemed to resist the "reintegration process" into family life before ultimately adapting to the house rules (including curfew when using the car).

With less than a month to go before first-year college students return home for the summer, parents who shed many tears when they dropped their student at the dorm last fall may find themselves feeling the same way about their return, anticipating challenging new behaviors, independent attitudes and maybe a bit of rebellion.

Marjorie Savage, parent program director at the University of Minnesota, said parents can expect all of this and more. In other words, the first summer after college can be difficult all the way around.

"From a student's standpoint, it's an impossible situation. They consider themselves college students, but they aren't in college," she said. "The question for them becomes how to maintain the identity they have spent the past year working hard to develop when they are right back at home."

Aside from the fact that students may be reluctant to fully unpack their boxes ("in their minds, they are going to be leaving soon anyway," said Savage), your teen will probably return exhausted after final exams and emotional farewells and not be too interested in much conversation during those first days home.

"For the student, the year has been such a whirlwind and being home again, away from college life, really gives them an opportunity to reflect on what they have experienced," said Savage.

A new situation

They will also return to a different family dynamic. Siblings -- and parents -- have adapted to life without them around the house. Friendships have also likely undergone changes, as Spencer Gallardo discovered.

"We definitely noticed that he was home a lot more during the second half of break. He and his high school friends spent a lot of time together when they all got home, but after a while, they found there wasn't much to talk about," said Mary Gallardo. "All of a sudden, he was Skyping a lot more with his friends from college."

Savage advises parents, if possible, to talk to their students about summer expectations before they return home. Topics such as summer jobs, chores and curfew should all be discussed. After spending a year on a different time schedule (heading out at 11 p.m., coming home at 3 a.m., sleeping until noon), students will need a reminder to respect the living patterns of family members. Parents don't want to be awake until 3 a.m. waiting for the front door to open when they have to go to work in a few hours.

A time for discussion

As the student settles in, parents may begin to notice changes in their maturity level, interests and ideas, said Savage.

"Many are working to incorporate their values into the family's belief system," she said. "They may be more likely to challenge family practices, such as religion or consumerism, but that's an opportunity to talk with your child about their views and share your own."

Gallardo believes their family worked the kinks out of their son's re-entry process and is hopeful things will go smoothly when Spencer comes home in May.

"We did have some nice conversations at Christmas. He has some interesting views on a lot of things. He talked about what he was learning in school and what he'd learned from the different people he has met," she said.

And if Gallardo became too "mom-like" during their discussions, her son was quick to point that out.

"He'd tell me, 'You know, Mom, I'm a big boy now.'"

Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer.

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