Parents Won’t Pay for Harvard After a Year Off to Help the Poor

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Social Q’s

I am a high school senior who got into Harvard. I want to go, but I would like to take a gap year and work for an antipoverty program first, then start college in September 2018. The admissions office is fine with this. But my parents are freaking out. They say that unless I start college this fall, they will not pay for it. They are afraid that if I interrupt my education, I won’t go back, which is crazy. I am trying to be mature, but our conversations turn into screaming matches. Please help!


Let’s start with the 800-pound gorilla: Your parents seem to have $250,000 to send you to college; you probably do not. So, while I am 100 percent in favor of trying to persuade them about your gap year, particularly one with a focused mission, do not push them past the breaking point. You know these two better than we do — and whether their ultimatum seems real or hollow. If you fear the former, cave!

Start with the admissions office. Share your problem and ask if it has a (charming) staffer who can speak with you and your parents together. It is my understanding that many colleges now encourage gap years: More mature freshmen mean better-performing freshmen. So wanting the best for you may argue for delay.

But don’t neglect the personal appeal. If you worked hard enough to get yourself into Harvard, the idea that your ambition will disappear in a 12-month puff of smoke seems like lunacy. At some level, your parents know this; remind them gently. And try to find the seed of concern that is buried in the turf beneath this tug of war.

Still, you are a lucky duck to potentially avoid the heavy yoke of college debt. If the only way to capitalize on it, after failing to persuade your parents, is cratering to their demand, do it. They have a coarse power over you now. They won’t always; but for today, look out for yourself.

Free-Range Guests

We are active, in our late 60s and live in a warm-weather community. I work part time at a job I love, and he plays a lot of golf. We disagree over whether it is appropriate for me to continue working a few hours a day when guests come to visit. He would rather I not. But our guests seem happy fending for themselves, and we still have plenty of time to socialize. Thoughts?


I am going to give your partner the benefit of the doubt and assume that he lays down his golf clubs while asking you to take a powder from the office. Regardless, I have been a guest and a host. In both capacities, a few hours to myself are the sweetest nectar. Keep punching in. We all need a little room to breathe.

Your guests can take walks in the nice weather, bicycle or nap. Offer them the use of your library. (I suggest laying in as many collections of the stories of Alice Munro as possible.) Or they can binge-watch the new season of “Bloodline,” which has a handful of magnificent scenes with Sissy Spacek. Just be home (and engaged) for drinks and dinner, and you will go down as a fine host, indeed.

Holding On to In-Laws

I divorced my partner of nine years about a year ago. It was very amicable. During our marriage, my in-laws were like parents to me. We celebrated holidays and traveled together. But I am hurt and angered by their radio silence since the divorce. I haven’t heard a word from them. May I write them a letter telling them that I still think fondly of them?


Why not? Put yourself in their shoes. You and their child divorced. They have no way of knowing how you feel about them now until you tell them. For all they know, you wanted to divorce them, too. An ongoing relationship with them may turn on how your ex feels about their continued entanglement with you. But that’s down the road. The first move here is yours.

Gift Not Required

We had a birthday party for our 8-year-old son. He chose to forgo gifts, preferring donations to his school’s media center. We were so proud of him. Everyone brought cards with checks for the school, except one family. We are sure that their card was not lost or mislaid. Should we ask the parents about this or simply ignore it? (Our son likes spending time with theirs.)


Take a page from your son’s (nongift-guzzling) book and let this go. You invited the boy to your son’s party because they’re pals. And although it is customary to bring gifts to children’s birthday parties, it is not a high crime or misdemeanor to come empty-handed. They may have forgotten their gift (or really loathe the school’s media center). Why make it weird? Did you give the party to collect checks, or to celebrate the midpoint on your son’s path to his driving learner’s permit?