DEAR HARRIETTE: I am an immigrant, and I have lived in this country for more than 20 years; in fact, I am now an American citizen. My problem is that as much as I want to visit my family in my home country, it is so expensive that I can go only every few years. I save as much and spend as little as possible here, but my expenses are considerable. Also, because I live in the United States, my family assumes that I am rich. I am expected to pay for the family homestead, even though I don’t work there, and when I come home, I am expected to bring lots of gifts and money to give to everyone. They don’t have any idea of what it costs to take care of just one person in the U.S. They expect me to be able to take care of all of them -- parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. I can’t afford it. How can I get them to understand? -- Across the Sea
DEAR ACROSS THE SEA: The biggest challenge you are facing is cultural. Your family in your native home do not have a point of reference for what it means to afford a life in the United States. You have been working very hard to live up to their expectations. Unfortunately, your efforts have helped to reinforce their belief that you can afford it all.
The only way that they are going to be able to accept your reality is for you to accept it. What’s more important: showering them with gifts and money, or seeing them? Evaluate that. Sometimes the resources may be more important. But other times, being in each other’s company is way more valuable. You decide, and then make it clear to them that when you visit next, you will not be able to bring the bounty of items that usually come with you. When you come with less, they may be disappointed at first, but they will come to accept the new reality.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I was just feeling pretty low, thinking about all of the things that aren’t going so well in my life right now. I am getting older, fatter and broker than ever. I am so worried that I won’t have the resources to take care of myself when I should be retiring. I was getting kind of panicky the other day, and then I got the sweetest message from an old friend who wrote to say that I inspire him. What? That was the kindest thing, but also unbelievable. I feel like such a failure, and here he is singing my praises. He really lifted my spirits. I’m afraid that this good feeling won’t last. What can I do to stay positive? -- Feeling Down
DEAR FEELING DOWN: My mother always used to tell my sisters and me to count our blessings, especially when we were feeling down. She would urge us to write down what is good about our lives, from the tiniest things to bigger ones. The list can include waking up in the morning, having food to eat, having a job, having loved ones or having the choice to rethink how you will spend the day. Make your list, and allow it make you smile.
Then offer service. Do something for someone who needs more than you, and your heart will warm. Also, attend to your life. Work on the things that need fixing so that you can improve your circumstances. Don’t give up.
(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)