Cast Blog: #RHONJ

The Keys to the Castle

Caroline Manzo tackles questions on wedding planning, having "the talk," and keeping the spark alive.

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Stephanie from Hollywood, FL says: Hello, Caroline! I love your advice and many people tell me that you and I are a lot alike when it comes to perspective -- so it's completely appropriate to get your advice. My fiancé and I have been engaged for two years. We are finally at a place financially to afford a decent wedding and set a budget of fifteen grand, which is modest. We are also trying to save up for our home. With so many family weddings, it's all starting to feel like a contest. Do we have a cheaper wedding to advance our dreams of home ownership, or should we invest in this amazing memory to be? The more I plan this wedding, the more dreadful it becomes. His family loves lavish, my parents don't care, and we're left in the middle with a potentially horrendous event if we can't go in one direction. What is your wedding advice?

Caroline says: You sound miserable, Stephanie. You also sound like someone who has her head on straight and her priorities in order. Spending excessive amounts of money for a reception doesn't necessarily insure that it will be an amazing memory. Tablecloths and favors don't create memories; good food, good music, and good people make for a memorable wedding celebration. To invest money for the approval of others is ridiculous. You can't give what you don't have; if your future in-laws want to contribute financially so the reception is "lavish" then by all means, go for it. If not, no big deal, I'm pretty sure they'll survive a less than lavish experience.

The menu doesn't have to be elaborate, just make sure whatever is served looks and tastes good so they don't leave hungry. You don't have to have a live band or orchestra, it could be a DJ or a one-man band, what matters is that your guests enjoy the music. The décor of the room could be very simple and still reflect beauty and elegance. You're gown can be cost effective, and as long as you glow while wearing it, you will be nothing less than stunning. 

Every girl dreams of the classic fairytale wedding where everything is perfectly perfect and prince charming is waiting for her at the alter. Maybe you won't have all the bells and whistles, Stephanie, but you will have what matters -- you're prince charming will be waiting for you at the altar with the keys to your beautiful new castle in his pocket. PRICELESS.

Alicia from Yuma, AZ says: Caroline – I am a mother of a nine-year-old boy. I have watched you and truly respect how down to earth and realistic you are. My question is concerning the topic of sex. I was wondering at what age do you feel it appropriate to discuss the topic? Any advice you could give would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for your time.

Caroline says: That's a tough one, Alicia. Depends on the child I think. Some kids mature faster than others both physically and emotionally. Watch your son as he develops and gauge the talk based on his maturity level, not his age; remember age is just a number. Look for signs. He may start asking questions, and if he does, answer them honestly. If you see a change and he doesn't ask questions, that's fine too, but keep an eye on him and lob out a comment here and there to provoke a conversation or get a point across. The method doesn't matter as much as the message.

When my kids were in grade school (5th grade) they had a program designed specifically for mother/daughter and father/son. The school nurse explained human anatomy, puberty, etc. The program was very tastefully done, and although it was awkward for the kids, at least they were with a parent and the boys and girls were separated. Is there something like that in your school system? If not, suggest it. 

Once your son is ready to go into junior high school, he should have a basic understanding of things. Trust me, kids today are more advanced than we believe, and it's our job as a parent to guide them down a responsible road. I've heard horror stories about sexual activity going on in middle schools, be aware and proactive.

I was lucky enough to have a good partner in Albert. There are some things that a dad needs to talk about with his son, not mom. Al always kept me in the loop and we worked as a team, but the kids never knew it. To this day there is a mom version and a dad version of discussions. I'm fine with that, and it's worked well for us. 

Al and I were (and still are) very vocal with our kids when it comes to using protection and acting responsibly. We talk openly and honestly as adults, and they know we're always there for them. The bottom line is this -- I would rather have an uncomfortable conversation with my child regarding sex than have an issue with my child because I didn't. 

Susan from Iowa City, IA says: Caroline – My husband and I have grown apart over the years and have become less intimate since our daughter was born a year ago. Is this normal or have we lost that spark? He is struggling to find his feet and get a job while I'm running the house, and that has added a considerable amount of stress. I do feel that my love for him has lost some of its passion and now we're merely trudging along. Can you tell us how to find each other and bring that fire and passion back?

Caroline says: Don't get discouraged, Susan. It seems that you and your husband have a lot on your plate. Navigating your way through new parenthood is hard enough, but you also have the added pressure of financial security looming over your heads. First things first -- realize that you have to work as a team and there's no room for the blame game. Be grateful for your daughter, and as long as your husband is actively looking for employment, you need to remain positive and supportive; attitude is everything.

It's not unusual to feel a bit disconnected right now, your role in the relationship has changed and you need time to adapt. Stress levels are high and understanding is low. 

I think it's important for you and your husband to find yourselves again. Make an effort to reconnect. Spend time together and leave your issues behind for a few hours. Don't make the mistake so many women make after having a child -- they forget to be a wife to their husband and somewhere along the way the magic gets lost. No grand gestures needed, just give your undivided attention to each other, hold hands, laugh, and enjoy the simplicity of the moments you share together. Believe me a little bit of love and attention goes a long way.

You just have to get used to wearing a few different hats. Keep a positive attitude and don't give up so easily. Marriage can be back-breaking work, but anything worth keeping usually is. 

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