Sense & Sensitivity

DEAR HARRIETTE: My daughter decided to take a one-year break before attending college. I wasn’t happy with this idea at all. Since she’s been home the past few months, I realize she’s afraid to leave home. She’s now thinking about going to a nearby school instead of the university she initially wanted to attend, which was farther away. I believe the school she originally selected is the better option. How do I encourage her to leave home for the better school? -- Leave the Nest, Philadelphia

DEAR LEAVE THE NEST: Take cues from your daughter. If she is so afraid to leave home that she put college off for a year, pushing her to go away to school may not be the wisest decision. Help to wean her off being at home slowly. Let her enroll in the local school as a commuter student. Encourage her to participate in extracurricular activities such as student government or clubs that represent her interests.

Be sure to focus on the positive. Notice what your daughter is good at doing and support her in cultivating those talents and interests. At the end of the first year, assess with her where she stands and what her next steps are. It may take time to get your daughter to flex the muscles to go out on her own, but if you continue to be a cheerleader for her personal development, you should be able to help her gain more confidence over time.

DEAR HARRIETTE: With the holidays upon us, I’m dreading spending time with my family. My parents -- who’ve been married for 50 years -- have recently separated, which makes this holiday season a little awkward, since both will attend all family functions. They’re on speaking terms, but it’s hard watching this because I so desperately want them back together.

Honestly, I would rather stay home to avoid all family drama and hear about it later. What would be the polite way to get out of an invite I’ve already accepted? -- Avoiding the Awkward Holiday, Cambridge, Massachusetts

DEAR AVOIDING THE AWKWARD HOLIDAY: If your parents can figure out how to spend time together cordially during the holidays, why can’t you? Yes -- it might be a bit uncomfortable. Your parents were married for a lifetime. But consider the blessings in this situation: Your parents are both alive and able-bodied. They want to be with family. You can choose to want to be with family, too. You can talk to your siblings and other family members and agree to support each other when it feels uncomfortable.

Finally, speak to your parents. Make it clear to them that their impending divorce has left you reeling. You only know life with them as your married parents. You don’t quite know how to be with them as separated parents. Tell them that if they are both to attend the holidays, you need them to take the lead in figuring out how to manage this new stage in the family, because it is much bigger than the two of them. If things get tense, you can go to them and ask them to step in and help get everybody back on board. If they are unable to manage things, you will have to reassess how to handle their engagement with family in the future.

(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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