Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Parents Disappointed When Kids Don't Finish College

DEAR HARRIETTE: My husband and I are college graduates, and we always assumed our kids would go to college, too. Both of our children are in their 20s. They have decent jobs, but neither of them finished college. We are so disappointed. We know we can’t live our children’s lives for them, but we have read that you can definitely increase your salary with a college degree. Should we continue to encourage them to go back to school or just let them live their lives? -- College Dreams

DEAR COLLEGE DREAMS: Rather than admonishing them about a choice they have made, talk to your children about their visions of the future. Ask them to imagine their lives five to 10 years from now. What are they doing? How are they earning a living? Do they have a family? Do they own a home? Based on their answers, ask them how they are going to plot their course so that they are prepared to meet their expectations. By engaging in this exercise, you may be able to help your children see the value of pursuing higher education. This could be vocational, by the way. There are many tech jobs, for example, that can be high-paying but that may not require four years of college.

Your children are not thinking within the construct that guided you when you were growing up. You all may need to think outside the box in order to figure out a path toward stability and success. Encourage them, but don’t browbeat them.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My son is coming home from prison after being there for more than 15 years. I have built a community of friends who don’t even know that I have a child. I feel bad about that, but he has been gone so long that I haven’t talked about him. Honestly, I am ashamed of the crime he committed and the life he led that got him there, so I just walked away when he was convicted.

Now my son wants to come and live at home because he doesn’t have a job or anywhere else to live. This worries me for many reasons. I don’t want to have to take care of a grown man -- even if he is my son. We haven’t stayed in touch much over the years, and now I have a lot of explaining to do with my friends if he comes to live with me. How should I handle this? -- Wayward Son

DEAR WAYWARD SON: First things first. You need to talk to your son before he gets out to make a plan with him. Find out what his parole officer recommends. Often, people transition into halfway houses before being allowed on their own, so he may not be able to move in with you right away anyway. Find out what your son intends to do with his life. To the best of your ability, support him. That does not mean he has to live with you, though.

Regarding your friends, tell them when you are ready. You may want to confide in the people you are closest to in your friend group and share with others over time.

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