Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole


DEAR HARRIETTE: My children have been in private school since they were born. They have had a great experience thus far, and we see that they are flourishing. This is why we are so distraught about our next steps.

My husband lost his job almost a year ago, and I work but do not make much money. We can no longer afford to pay for private school. We applied for financial aid, but what was offered is not enough for us to manage. We are going to have to move them to other schools, and we are devastated.

We have found decent public schools they can attend. But we are heartbroken. Can you give us any advice on how to break the news to our children? -- Broken, Brooklyn, N.Y.

DEAR BROKEN: I feel your pain.

For many families in this still-fragile economy, it can be hard to survive even when private school education is not a consideration. In your case, if you need to cut expenses so that your home can be secure and you can put food on the table, that is your reality. Or perhaps you recognized that if you don’t save more aggressively now, you will suffer in the future.

You have to get your minds and hearts right for your children to stand a chance. Moving from the expense of private school to the freedom of a public school education can bring joy and possibility to your family. Once you have found and convinced yourselves of the benefits, you can share that reality and enthusiasm with your children.

Do not shield your children from the fact that private school is too expensive for your family. Teach them how much things cost and how to make a budget. The more anchored in the truth about your family needs and choices they are now, the better able they will be to make smart decisions when it is their turn to do so.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My husband and I have been married almost 20 years. We went to an event recently and saw a lot of people we had not seen in years. One woman saw me first, then I called my husband over to say hello. Her mouth fell open when she saw him, then she said she was afraid to ask if we were still married since so few people are. We all chuckled and moved on, but it was weird. It happens a lot that people say they are afraid to ask if we are still married. Is that really so unusual? -- Together Forever, Newark, N.J.

DEAR TOGETHER FOREVER: Unfortunately, nearly half of all American marriages end in divorce. That means people who go long stretches without seeing couples they know do not have any assurance that the couples are still together. Asking about a spouse who may be an ex-spouse can be awkward, which is why many people choose to say nothing, which can also seem awkward. This is a sign of our times.

To avoid feeling stuck in the middle, try piping up early in the conversation. Say something specific about your husband and you so that it is clear you are still together.