DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a first-generation college student, and lately I have been feeling some serious guilt about it. I can't put my finger on one exact reason that I feel so guilty. I feel bad for leaving my parents. I feel bad that they had to take out loans for me to be in school. I even feel bad that I'm having such a good time in college, knowing that my family is possibly struggling (more than they care to admit) back home. I also feel an immense amount of pressure to push myself to be the best student I can be, or else all of my family's hard work, money and time will have been wasted. How do I let go of my guilt? -- First-Gen Student
DEAR FIRST-GEN STUDENT: You need to adjust your mindset. Do your best to replace guilt with gratitude. You are the first of what your family hopes will be many who will have this same opportunity. Yes, there is a lot of responsibility on your shoulders -- and you can handle it.
Start each day with meditation. Sit quietly and remind yourself of your job right now -- to learn and prepare yourself for your future. Anchor yourself in that understanding and go about your day. Study and focus on completing your degree. Make meaningful relationships and stay in touch with your family. Work to balance fun with duty. Remain humble.
** ** **
DEAR HARRIETTE: I've helped raise my niece since she was a baby. She is now a teenager. I've always been the mother figure in her life. I don't have any kids of my own, and I'm not sure that I ever want to, so my niece is probably the closest thing to a daughter I will ever have. My brother got remarried last year. The woman he married is wonderful, but it has been tough watching my niece and her become so close. I feel that I've been replaced. How do I handle this? -- Replaced
DEAR REPLACED: When family dynamics change, it can be hard to adjust. Rather than thinking of your sister-in-law as the enemy, consider her an asset -- more love in the family. For your part, schedule connections with your niece. Invite her to video chat with you once a week and to have a standing date together on a regular basis. Work to keep your dialogue open and free of pressure. In this way, she will continue to want to spend time with you. Your relationship is unique. Don't forget that.
Do note, though, that as a teenager, this is her time to pull away from adults. She is learning to be independent. She needs space to figure out her life at this age and to discover and build a relationship with her stepmother. This is a first for her, too. She has a lot to think about. Give her the space to learn and grow. You are a constant in her life. You aren't going anywhere, but you may need to be patient for a while as she sorts things out.