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Sense & Sensitivity

Sense & Sensitivity

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DEAR HARRIETTE: My son has been eager to get back outside with his friends for the remainder of the summer. We haven't figured out whether school will be physically in session or not. He's expressed missing his friends and feeling locked up and not having anything to look forward to. So with all the right precautions, I let him go down to our local park to play basketball and exercise.

I've been speaking to some of his friends' moms, and they haven't let their kids go to the park. When I asked who he has been hanging out with, it turned out to be older men in their twenties and thirties working out at the park. My son is only 13. If he isn't hanging out with his own friends who I know or kids his age, I am not comfortable with him being outside associating with these grown men I do not know. I don't want to tell him he can't go to the park anymore, but I don't think he'll understand that I do not want him hanging out with these older new friends either. How can I give him freedom while still protecting him? -- Quarantine Mom

DEAR QUARANTINE MOM: This is simple. Your son should not go and play with grown men who are unknown to him. Period. You can go with him one day to see who is there and to observe the interaction. But unless you can identify someone you know, you should not let him hang out with them. That is for safety reasons on more than one front. You want to limit your son's interaction with everyone, especially people he doesn't know. And you want to make sure that he isn't exposed to behavior or enticements unbefitting a teenage boy.

Talk again to his friends' moms to see if any of them would be willing to organize socially distanced gatherings with your son. That's the best alternative, in my book.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a stay-at-home mother, and my husband works from home now. We have three kids and two dogs, a full house. We start our day early and end in the late evening. My husband is in his office most of this time. We have tried to create work and personal life balance with boundaries. He does not work outside of his office, and he keeps work between certain hours.

Even though we have found our rhythm, I feel so alone and programmed without a break. My kids need attention every second, and my husband is close but not here most hours of the days. When I do get a break, I feel exhausted and don't know how to relax. My home is supposed to be my sanctuary, but being home and never needing to go anywhere, I'm not enjoying my breaks. What can help in this situation to put my mind at ease? -- Stir Crazy

DEAR STIR CRAZY: Step back, take a breath and reassess the situation. Yes, it is stressful. But much of it is likely similar to life before COVID-19. Think about what you managed then and what is different now. Assign your children specific responsibilities that give you a bit of flexibility.

Let your husband know that you desperately need his help. Even if it's one hour each day after work, you need him to engage the children so that you can have an hour off. Don't complain when you talk to him about this. Explain that this is what you need in order to keep the family in check.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I just learned that my job is not going to go back to being in the office until at least mid-2021. I have been living at home with my parents for months now. While I don't want to keep living with them, I think I should give up my expensive apartment and find something much more affordable. One of my friends just moved back to her hometown and got a nice, affordable apartment. I'm thinking of doing that. I know that it might be hard getting a new place sometime next year, but I think I would be smart to save some money. Do you think this is a good idea? -- Moving and Saving

DEAR MOVING AND SAVING: You are part of a growing trend right now of people reassessing their living circumstances and finances in the face of the coronavirus. You should assess a few things: 1. Do you think you will be able to keep your job? 2. Will you have to work in the same town as your job whenever the physical office reopens? 3. What is the going rate for apartments in the vicinity of your job? 4. Can you live in a more affordable community and manage the job commute when you have to go back? 5. How long can you and your parents feel comfortable with you staying at home and saving money?

After analyzing those points, strategize on your next steps. A move that isn't too far from your place of work -- meaning within 1 1/2 hours -- could be a great way to save money and still be viable to continue on the job for the long haul.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am worried about whether to send my son back to school. The date has been pushed back for when school is supposed to start, and I think that's a good thing. My son is disappointed because he can't wait to interact with other teenagers his age. I know how much he wants to be with his peers, but I'm worried about his safety. In other cities when students have gone back to school, the COVID-19 numbers have spiked. What should I do? -- Back to School

DEAR BACK TO SCHOOL: Pay close attention to the plans for your school, especially how they intend to enforce health and safety precautions, and whether they will have access to COVID-19 testing when needed. Be in touch with school leadership directly or through the PTA to find out everything you can about the modes of learning they intend to put in place.

Consider starting off remotely and watching to see how your school's health weathers over the first semester. To ensure that your child gets to interact with other teens, consider allowing a small group of close friends to gather to do homework -- while wearing masks and distancing.

If you do allow your son to go to school, be vigilant in your discussions with him about following all safety protocols. Remind him that this is for his health as well as the entire family.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My daughter wore braces for nearly two years, and it cost me a pretty penny. She was supposed to wear her retainer every night afterward, which she assured me she would do. We are now at two years later, and she says her retainer doesn't fit anymore -- presumably because some molars have come in. When we went to the orthodontist, I was assured that the reason the retainer doesn't fit is because my daughter stopped wearing it and her teeth shifted. I am so mad. To have another retainer made will cost $1,000. I think my daughter should be penalized for this irresponsible behavior. Am I overreacting? -- Ill Fit

DEAR ILL FIT: We all need to discover that there are consequences to our actions. Your daughter made an expensive mistake. To penalize her might help to reinforce the importance of following up on agreements that you make. As much as I would like to say that you should forgo the retainer, I do know that if your daughter doesn't get a new one, the chances are great that her teeth will begin to shift back to their original state, and all of your investment will be for naught.

What kind of punishment might work? Figure out something your daughter can do around the house or for others that would be worth $1,000 over time. It could be a community service project. It could be additional weekly chores at a particular rate that she works off over time. Whatever you choose should be measurable so that it's clear when she has completed her tasks. Of course, one part of this should be actually wearing the retainer every night, or she loses some of the money she's accrued.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a weakened immune system due to asthma. I have never bowed out of activities because of my health, but now I wonder if I should.

I went on a hike with friends this summer and had an asthma attack. I hadn't told them about my condition, as I keep my health to myself, so they were freaked out. I had my inhaler and ended up being OK, but not without slowing down the whole trip. I do not want people throwing me the side eye because of my health. I have always been able to manage without drawing extra attention to myself. I'm thinking about this because friends are organizing a trip to the mountains for a much bigger hike, and I wonder whether I should go, and, if so, what precautions I should take. -- Question of Health

DEAR QUESTION OF HEALTH: Your first stop should be to your doctor. Contact your physician and your pulmonologist (if you have one) to discuss the status of your health and the upcoming trip. Talk about how you can protect yourself, what safeguards should be in place and who should know about your condition.

Many people with asthma, as well as other health conditions, participate in athletic activities without cause for alarm. To prepare, you should reveal all details of your previous trip and what happened. Talk about what to do in case of emergency. With your physician's blessing, go on the trip. But do inform at least one participant of your health profile. Also find out about how medical emergencies are handled on the hike route that you have selected.

DEAR HARRIETTE: A young woman interned with me many years ago, and we get together from time to time. I am happy to stay in touch with her, but sometimes it gets expensive. We typically go out for drinks or to eat. Since she is much younger than me, I feel like I should pay for our outings. But my income has changed, and I don't really have much disposable cash anymore. I am embarrassed to point this out, but I think I must if I intend to continue meeting up with her. How do I tell her that I need her to split the bill? -- Managing Expectations

DEAR MANAGING EXPECTATIONS: You are not beholden to this young woman financially. Though you feel responsible for her, this is not a requirement. You have a few choices to consider. For starters, why not spend time in places that do not cost money? Go for a walk to chat during temperate weather. Visit a free museum or art show in your town. Meet for coffee, a far more affordable alternative than drinks or dinner.

You can also tell this young woman that you are happy to meet with her, but you need to split the bill. It is important for the next generation to learn about the realities of aging. This includes financial changes. This can become a teaching moment -- even if it does feel a bit like eating humble pie.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a friend who is very difficult to get close to, but he's very sweet sometimes, too. He is always posting touching images of animals or babies and children doing nice things to and for each other on social media. In person, he is hard to reach. He does not return calls often. He is a flake. That is, until he chooses to spend time with you; then you feel like the most important person in the world. I think I crave the attention that he sometimes shows me, but it hurts my feelings that everything is on his terms. How can I manage my expectations differently? I don't like the downside of how our friendship makes me feel. -- Distant Friend

DEAR DISTANT FRIEND: It sounds like you need to accept the reality of this man's friendship. He has shown you how he behaves and how he engages people. You seem to crave more than he is willing to give. That doesn't necessarily make him a bad person. It does say that you have not accepted the terms of this relationship.

You already know that the way that people interact on social media is not necessarily reflective of who they are and how they engage in "real life." Social media is a way for people to posture. It sounds like your friend chooses positive images to share with the world, but they are not of him or about him. Stop trying to read between the lines to find a way to get closer to this man. Instead, either be OK with the time and attention that he affords you, or decide that it is not enough and walk away.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I had an affair during a time in my marriage when everything was going to hell. When my husband found out, we decided to get a divorce. Now he has come back to me saying that he forgives me and wants to try again. He says he knows things were bad, and that it wasn't all my fault. He admitted to the things he was doing that were unkind to me. I was surprised at how forthcoming he was.

So now he wants to reconcile. I'm not sure that I do. He is a nice guy, but I think it was a mistake to marry him. Now that we are being more honest, do I tell him the truth, or should I try to make it work in spite of some of my lingering feelings about walking away? -- Reconciliation

DEAR RECONCILIATION: Now is the time for you to be honest with yourself first. What do you want? There was a reason you chose to find companionship outside of your marriage. What was it? Tell yourself the truth about your decisions, and ask if you think you can be fulfilled and faithful if you recommit to your husband. What will it take for you to be able to start over and be 100% in?

If you can find those answers, discuss them with your husband. Be honest without being cruel. Tell him what you want and need in chapter two of your life together.

If you cannot find a way back to your marriage that you believe will work for you, do not pretend that you can. Apologize to your husband for not being able to reconcile. End on a high note by pointing out what was good about your marriage. Let him know that it is time for you to walk away.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I got into a huge argument with a woman who said she wanted to help me work on my business plan. She agreed to a particular fee; it was low, but promised higher returns when I met with success. After beginning to do the work, she flaked time and again, insulted me along the way and never completed what she agreed to do. On top of all of that, she had the nerve to say that I didn't know what I was doing and that I would never amount to anything. It was awful.

I hear people say how wonderful it is for women to work together. That has not been my experience. Women are usually the ones who stab me in the back. How can I get over this feeling that I can't trust women to be in my corner? -- Duped By a Woman

DEAR DUPED BY A WOMAN: This one experience does not need to represent the whole of your engagement with women. Do your best to look at this in isolation. Evaluate it carefully. What merit, if any, do this woman's comments have? Is there something you could have done differently that might have helped the project to be more successful? Can you recall ever speaking to her in disparaging tones? Reflect on your behavior, and acknowledge anything that you could have handled differently.

Next, end this relationship. You do not need to work with someone who is rude and unproductive. Sever your ties. Let her know that you are disappointed with the way that she handled herself. Pay her only what you are legally bound to pay.

Do your best to keep your disdain for women limited to her. Resist the urge to look upon all women with the same lens. See each person for who she is. Your life will be richer if you can.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My son was not a very good student in high school, and now he is reaping what he sowed. He has applied to quite a few colleges, but he does not have a good chance of getting in to any of his favorites. I convinced him to apply to a few state schools and even community colleges as safety schools. He got mad at me when I made these recommendations, but I know that it is tough to get in to good schools, even when you have good grades. How can I encourage my son to keep trying when it is likely that he will have slim pickings? -- Next Stop College

DEAR NEXT STOP COLLEGE: Talk to your son about his future. What does he want to do with his life? It is absolutely time for him to take steps to make that happen. You cannot do it for him.

Point out that if his career of choice requires higher education, he needs to raise his grades in order to get it. Community college is one way to take classes and up his GPA, which may give him a chance to complete his education at a four-year college or university. Encourage him to take these next steps seriously. Make it clear that you do not intend to support him financially when he is an adult, so he must figure it out now.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My girlfriend loves to wear makeup, and she usually wears bright red lipstick. It looks great on her, and I appreciate the fact that she likes to dress up. What I don't like is when her lipstick gets on my clothes. It makes me crazy. How can I get her to lay off the red lipstick? She has destroyed several of my favorite shirts just by reaching up to give me a kiss. I don't want to hurt her feelings, but something's got to give. -- No More Lipstick Stains

DEAR NO MORE LIPSTICK STAINS: Surprise your girlfriend and go to the makeup store and buy her some 24-hour matte red lipstick. Believe it or not, she will still be able to wear red literally all day long, but it won't wipe off. You should tell her why you bought it so that she herself will make the switch to the 18- or 24-hour variety.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I was recently hospitalized due to a health scare. I am now working with my doctor to figure out what's going on. I'm on top of it, but I really want to keep my health status private.

I am a freelancer of a certain age, and I don't need anybody questioning my abilities due to what I hope will be a momentary health challenge. I have chosen not to tell anybody outside my closest confidants, so I was shocked when I got a text from a distant friend offering me prayers for my health because she had heard I was unwell. While I appreciate her sentiments, I was surprised that she even knew. I talk to her a couple of times a year.

I later found out that my husband told a colleague who immediately told this woman. While it was nice to hear from her, I am not happy. My husband knows how private I am. Yet he said something anyway. I know I can't put the genie back in the bottle, but how can I manage what is sure to be a buzz about my health? -- Not Your Business

DEAR NOT YOUR BUSINESS: Chances are, your husband didn't mean to spill the beans. He is concerned about you, and since you were at the top of mind, his thoughts spilled out. Don't beat him up too badly. Instead, remind him of the importance of keeping your health issues private for personal and professional reasons.

As for the person who reached out, it sounds like she hit the right note, in that she offered you blessings and did not ask you about health details. If others reach out to you, you can respond with gratitude for their good wishes and with assurances that you are OK.

DEAR HARRIETTE: It has been a few weeks since I have started the new semester. Many of the classes I have chosen have been challenging but satisfying due to the amazing professors I have.

However, I have one professor who does not seem to put an effort into the class. He is a nice gentleman in his 60s who has been teaching at the university for many years. I looked at his reviews, and they were all positive. Once classes started, it was a bit off. I thought it was understandable since it was the first day of class, and many professors work differently. It's been several weeks, and we have barely learned anything. So far, the class has been doing discussions on topics we barely learned while the professor just sits back. This class has not taught me anything valuable, but it is required for my degree credits. What do I do in this situation? -- Confused Student

DEAR CONFUSED STUDENT: Ask your professor for more engagement on a personal level so that you can understand the material better. Also, speak to your adviser to find out if you can switch to another section of the class taught by someone else. It would be best if you can change. If you cannot, either work with this professor or drop the class and take it with someone else next semester.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I love to sleep. The feeling of comfort after a long day, in my bed, really helps ease my tension. Lately, I have been having difficulty going to sleep and staying asleep. I have tried many natural remedies to try to calm down, but none has worked. My sleep complications don't happen frequently, but there are days when they do occur. I have been trying to find the root cause of my situation, and I am not sure if I should see a specialist or handle it on my own. Any ideas? -- Sleepless

DEAR SLEEPLESS: Review your daily activities over the next week. Write down what you do, what you eat and drink and how you spend your time. Notice which days you sleep better than others and what happened on those days and evenings. Do you see a pattern that might indicate if your thoughts, mood or actions affect your sleep? If you notice something, adjust that behavior and determine if you are able to change your sleeping through certain modifications.

Turning off the television well before you go to bed, avoiding caffeine and alcohol near bedtime and thinking positive thoughts all help with sound sleep.

If you are not able to identify ways to improve your sleep on your own, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Bring your analysis with you. This will help your doctor to determine what's happening for you and how to address it.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have four nieces and one nephew. In my eyes, they are my babies, and I can't bear the idea of them growing up. Recently, my older sister was stationed in Seoul, South Korea, since she works in the Air Force. Now that my family is over a thousand miles across the world, I am worried that the kids will forget me. I love them so much, and I am worried that I am losing touch with them. It has been a few months since they moved to Seoul, and I miss them dearly. I do not want to lose our connection as a family. What can I do to strengthen our bonds even though we are miles apart? -- Forgotten Family

DEAR FORGOTTEN FAMILY: Do not despair. The great news is that you can use modern technology to stay in close touch with your family. You will need to set this up with your sister -- unless the children are old enough to do it themselves. You can use WhatsApp to talk to one another for free. You can see each other using the video feature or just talk through the phone feature. You can leave each other voice messages if it's tough to talk directly due to the time differences.

You may want to establish a set time each week when you talk to the family. Since you have to coordinate your schedules to deal with the time difference, set it up with your sister, and be vigilant about touching base -- even if your engagement is for only a few minutes.

Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to askharriette@harriettecole.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106

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