Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Kids Will Need Nurturing While Dad's Locked Up

DEAR HARRIETTE: My husband got arrested last week while we were at home. He stole money from his company. Now it’s all over the news, and I’m worried about how my son and daughter are dealing with their dad being locked up. So far, the sentencing offer is for 10 years, but our lawyer is trying to bring that down. If he can’t, my kids won’t have their dad around. How will I be able to raise my kids alone? -- Distraught Mom, Wilmington, Delaware

DEAR DISTRAUGHT MOM: Having your husband stripped away from the family is devastating. The reason makes it all the worse -- because of his illegal actions. Your children will have a tough time managing, especially in the beginning, given that your husband is suddenly not in the household. They will likely be ridiculed by their peers because of the public nature of his arrest.

In the midst of it all, your job is to keep them grounded and focused on being responsible citizens and students. It will be helpful for them to get psychological support -- you, too -- to help manage their lives through this period. Check with your children’s pediatrician for referrals. Your house of worship may provide support as well. In addition, the United States government has a wealth of resources to help children of incarcerated parents, from literature to support groups. To learn more, visit youth.gov/youth-topics/children-of-incarcerated-parents.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My father is making me marry an older married man whom I have met only once. He is from Cameroon, my home country, and stuck on the old ways of wedding arrangements. My father also has more than one wife, but I don’t want to live like that. It is the 21st century, and I want to be free to follow my dreams. My father thinks I should be married and secure.

There is no way I am going to marry this man; I do not love him, nor do I know him. How can I convince my father that this is a bad idea? It is not our way to talk back to adults, but I have to say something. Muslim law does not require me to marry this man, but my father wants me to. -- Holding My Own, Bronx, New York

DEAR HOLDING MY OWN: You come from a culture whose tradition is for the parents to choose the spouse of their child, especially their daughters. You are now in America and wanting to follow a different path. The best way for you to maintain your ability to choose without completely severing ties with your father is to tread lightly.

Request to talk to your father. Tell him that you appreciate the fact that he wants to protect you and make sure that you are provided for. Thank him for trying to sort out your future. Then tell him that you appreciate the opportunity you have had to be educated in the U.S. and to be exposed to so much opportunity. Tell your father you want to pursue a career now and marry later -- and you want to marry someone who is younger and whom you know. Ask for his blessing for you to wait to be married. If he ignores you, push back and tell him you do not want to marry the man in question. You are sorry, but you cannot do that.

(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.)