Dear Harriette: I got a new job this year, and it has me traveling more than ever. I like it, but it is taking a toll on my husband. He is so dependent upon me, I don’t think he eats when I am away. I do my best to make food for him that he can warm up, but sometimes I just can’t do it. My schedule is full, and I find it challenging to do everything. My husband does know how to cook, but he doesn’t like to.
I don’t want my job to disrupt my marriage, but I do need him to chip in a bit. Before I took this job, he had been out of work for more than a year and we needed me to find something. I feel like he resents the fact that I got a job. I’m trying to do what’s right for my family. I need my husband to participate and stop making me feel bad for not being able to do everything. — Stretched Too Thin
Dear Stretched Too Thin: It’s time for a family meeting. Check in with your husband to find out how he thinks he is managing since you took this job. Point out the obvious: You are on the road a lot, and you feel it is taking a toll on both of you. Tell him that you cannot do all of the things you used to do for the family and that you need his help. Don’t talk about him not having a job. Instead, paint a picture of today and what the needs are, and invite him to step up. At the same time, give yourself permission to stop trying to do everything. If you don’t cook for him every day, he will eventually remember to take care of himself.
Dear Harriette: When I hear about all of the cool things that some of my kids’ friends are doing for summer, I feel like I haven’t done enough for mine. When I was growing up, summer was a time for kids to play with their friends and chill until school. We didn’t go to camp for sports or academics.
These days, if your kids don’t sign up for some of these extracurricular activities, the assumption is that they are poor or that you don’t care about them. I care a lot. I think there is value in not having every second of their lives scheduled. They are doing well in school, and they seem happy — until they compare themselves to some of the kids who are, in my opinion, oversubscribed.
How can I get my kids to believe that the way they spend their summer is adequate — especially when I’m beginning to doubt it myself? — Summertime
Dear Summertime: It is dangerous to even try to keep up with the Joneses. There will always be someone out there who is doing more than you or something different than you. Resist the temptation to compare experiences.
At the same time, look around your city for free or affordable extracurricular activities designed for students. Most cities offer enrichment programs at the local museum or community center. Some colleges offer classes for younger students to get a taste of what’s to come. Utilize the library. Get your children to read and talk about the books they are reading. Many students have at least one required summer reading book. Expand the requirement to several over the summer.
You can engage your children to get them a bit more motivated. You can also remind them — and yourself — that some downtime in the summer is valuable as a respite before the school year starts up again.
Dear Harriette: I was working with my colleague the other day on a longtime project. We were chitchatting, and everything was fine until he attempted to say something complimentary, but it really was racist. I know he was trying to be nice to me. I also know that he cares a lot about me, but I feel like I should tell him that what he said was off. He told me that he thought that my skin color and that of another woman were so beautiful, just the right color of brown — not too dark, not too light.
You may think I’m being too sensitive, but for a white man to comment on gradations of color and give me and this woman high marks for being lighter-skinned is all kinds of wrong. How can I address this without coming off as overly sensitive? I feel like he would appreciate me talking to him about it if I can figure out what to say. — Color Sensitive.
Dear Color Sensitive: In order for us to tackle what are commonly called “microaggressions” around race, we have to find ways to speak openly about small incidents without becoming too heated. It sounds like your colleague truly was trying to say something nice to you. Unfortunately, he stepped into a hornet’s nest when he attached a value to a shade of brown.
You can double back to him and say you want to discuss a sensitive matter. Remind him of what he said. Tell him it was fine to say he thought you and the other woman were attractive. What was off was to assign value to your skin tone, especially because you are lighter-skinned.
Historically, light-skinned black people in this country “emerged,” so to speak, because of commingling between blacks and whites. In the earliest days of our country, that was often due to rape during slavery. Two distinct groups came to exist during those days. The darker-skinned people typically were given hard labor; the lighter-skinned people (often the children of slaveowners) were given in-house tasks. The division of favor for blacks was often made based on appearance and skin tone.
Obviously, that was generations ago, but there remains a certain unconscious privilege that is afforded to many lighter-skinned black people right now. Your colleague’s pointing out your particular beauty based on your lighter tone opened up those wounds of historical discrimination. Educate him. I’m certain he did not mean to be insulting or tone deaf. Use this moment to give him context for your concerns.
Dear Harriette: My daughter wants me to buy her ice cream or other sweets every day in the summer. I remember when the ice cream truck used to come to my neighborhood when I was a kid. I get that this can be a treat, but I worry about allowing my daughter to consume so much sugar. She is already a bit overweight. I don’t want to promote poor eating habits. How can I handle this without making her feel left out of what the other kids are doing? — Fewer Sweets.
Dear Fewer Sweets: Stock your freezer with low-sugar, low-fat sweets that are healthier. Let her know the selection that she can choose from. Steer her away from the ice cream truck or shaved ice stand. Create boundaries around what is acceptable and help her to adhere to them.
Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to email@example.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.