Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole


DEAR HARRIETTE: My sister asked if she could send her three kids to stay with me for a few weeks this summer while she and her husband go away for an extended vacation. Her kids range in age from 7 to 14 years old. I love them dearly, but I cannot afford to keep them for that long. I have been working part-time, barely paying my bills for the past several years. I haven't told her that, though. I know she can afford to pay for their food and stuff during their stay, but I feel weird asking her to do that. How should I handle this? -- Torn, Washington, D.C.

DEAR TORN: There is absolutely no reason for you to feel uncomfortable about asking your sister to pay for food and entertainment for her children. She knows what it costs to take care of them. I assume that she has asked you to welcome them so that they can spend quality time with family.

Be crystal clear with your sister when you discuss logistics of this potential visit. Be honest about the need for cash to cover them. Itemize what you think you might do together, including if you think you will need a sitter. For example, when you are working, where will they be? The more detailed your conversation is with your sister, the better you will be able to take care of yourself as you take care of her children.

If you find through the course of your discussion that it does not make sense for you to take them, tell her that. What you do not want is to accept the responsibility of the children and then not be able to handle it.

DEAR HARRIETTE: In a recent letter, a wife complained that her husband was spending almost a quarter of his paycheck on video games. That seems high. Is that percentage an alarm bell of an addiction? What percentage of time and/or money dedicated to an activity (video games, porn, etc.) can serve as an indication that something is not right? -- Adding It Up, Chicago

DEAR ADDING IT UP: Great question. While I do not have a percentage to point to, I did find some revealing information. According to Susan Shapiro, co-author of "Unhooked: How to Quit Anything," "an addiction is a compulsive reliance on any substance or activity that harms or deters your ability to function in a major area of your life." Shapiro goes on to say, "This includes work, school, family, social and intimate relationships." She includes video games, texting and pornography under the umbrella of soft habits.

If a person is suffering from an addiction, he or she will likely need more help than an invitation to do something else. Addictions, and bad habits, for that matter, can be almost impossible to end without support. Getting someone to make the choice to get help can be difficult, though. One recommendation is to ask the person to go to a meeting with an addiction specialist or a 12-step program to see if he or she can benefit from the experience.