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When Life Gives You Lemons

Caroline Manzo tackles questions on holiday loneliness, moving, and fashion.

By Caroline Manzo

Got a question for Caroline? Send it.

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Jo from Pelham, NH says: Caroline - I was wondering if you had any ideas for the upcoming holiday season. My husband is in the coast guard and will be gone for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. This is the first year in our marriage we will spend all these holidays apart. We have two boys who are 13 and 15. This is going to be really hard on them this year. They are used to dad missing things such as Christmas or birthdays, but it gets to them. I was hoping you could give some insight on how to make this holiday season special with my husband gone.

Caroline says: I hear you loud and clear, Jo. My husband is in the restaurant business, and my kids and I have celebrated more holidays and birthdays without him than with him. Explain to your boys that their dad is not absent by choice, and if he could be there to celebrate, he would.

I think the biggest mistake you could make would be to minimize the holiday because your husband isn’t there. Keep the tradition going; decorate, cook, and celebrate as you normally would. Fill the house with people, surround your boys with love and laughter. Sitting around feeling sorry for yourselves is not an option, and I’m willing to bet your husband would agree with me.

You’re going to think I’m crazy but here’s another thought… Who says Christmas has to be in December? Make up your own Christmas Day. If your husband is home now, have Christmas in June. Put up a tree, buy gifts, cook a great meal and celebrate. Your sons will probably think you’ve lost your mind, but when all is said and done, it will be a memory they will always treasure, I guarantee it. (I still recommend you celebrate 12/25 as well.)

Bottom line is when life gives you lemons you have to make lemonade. Attitude is everything. The good news is this is a temporary situation with your husband, and you’ll have the opportunity to celebrate the holidays together in the future. Some people aren’t that lucky. Just remember to count your blessings.

Katie from Champaign, IL says: Hi Caroline - My husband and I want to move to a bigger city for better opportunities. It is about 500 miles away from where our families are. Every time we bring it up they don’t want to hear it, and they try to guilt us into trying to stay. I love my family, but what is a nice way to tell them they are holding us back by living here without sounding mean?

Caroline says: I understand both sides of this story, Kate. Your family is obviously close and the prospect of you and your husband moving away will certainly be a void in the lives of those you left behind. However, you’re not moving to escape them, you’re moving because the employment opportunities in your town don’t compare to what a larger city can offer. Right now your family can’t understand your decision to move, because their emotions are clouding their capacity to see things from your perspective.

I do have some questions. Do you have a plan? Have you researched the job market and/or set up interviews with perspective employers? Is there a substantial difference in the cost of living/housing market between the two cities? Have you looked into housing availability/options? What’s your financial situation now, and do you have money put aside to use as a cushion if necessary? If you haven’t addressed any of these questions, I would suggest that you and your husband spend a few days in the city to educate yourselves and make sure the decision to move makes sense.

Once you’ve established that the move would be in your best interest, you should have a sit down with your family members and show them how relocating will have a positive effect on your lifestyle/career. Chances are you will still have some resistance from them, but the bottom line is that you need to do what’s best for you and your husband. Let’s face it, 500 miles is a bit of a distance, but it’s not like your moving half way around the world. It’s going to be an adjustment for all involved; give everyone the time they need to realize the world didn’t end when you moved away and you’re still very much a part of the family.

Jenna from Layton, UT says: Hi Caroline - My boyfriend and I have been together for five years, and he has three kids with his ex-wife. I have tried my hardest to keep things between us civil, but it’s just getting very difficult. She thinks that I should have no say about what the kids do when she is around, but I don’t think it is right for the kids to act like little divas in public, and she is too busy being social to say anything to them. I don’t want to take her place as a mom, because let’s face it; no one can, because she is their mother. But I want to tell her I don’t think it’s right for the kids to act like that and for me not to say anything. I have talked to my boyfriend about this, and he says to just let it go because knowing her it would just cause more problems. What do you think I should I do?

Caroline says: It doesn’t seem like you have too many options, Jenna. Your boyfriend isn’t willing to address the issue with his ex-wife, and from what you tell me, your relationship with her is bordering on hostile.

Question: What’s your relationship like with the kids? Can you have a conversation with them regarding their behavior? If you think that’s an option, take a lighthearted approach so they don’t feel as if they’re being reprimanded. If you think it will cause an uproar, don’t bother.

I hate to say this, Jenna, but they’re not your kids. As long as both parents are present and actively involved in the children’s lives and your role is simply being their dad’s girlfriend, you need to take a step back and deal with it. It is what it is.

However, if you do have a hands-on relationship with the kids and are expected to be a mother figure when their natural mom isn’t around, you have a right to speak up. The first person you need to deal with is your boyfriend. He has to understand that he can’t have his cake and eat it to. It’s only fair that he tries to pave the way in establishing a positive line of communication between you and his ex when it comes to the children.

Since I don’t know all the facts I can only suggest that you never argue with their dad or knock their mother in front of them. Be a positive influence when you’re around them. You may not have a voice in disciplining them, but you certainly can have an impact on their lives. Remember, children learn what they live.

Mary from Lexington, MA says: I am a stay-at-home mom with two boys ages 11 and 13. I want to be current with today’s fashion trends, but also look appropriate for a woman in her 40s. I have a good basic wardrobe, but feel I lack special pieces. I enjoy your sense of style particularly your jewelry. Any style suggestions?

Caroline says: Thank you for the compliment, Mary! My wardrobe is mostly comprised of classic pieces that are versatile and can be mixed and matched without too much effort.

There are a few of things that believe should be a staple in every woman’s closet: A classic white button down shirt, a little black dress, a good pair of trousers in a neutral shade, a proper fitting pair of jeans, a few classic sweaters in assorted styles and colors, a classic pair of pumps, a comfortable pair of flats, and a good coat.

I’m aware of all the current trends, but I don’t fall victim to them as so many woman my age often do. I think there is nothing more beautiful than a woman who wears her age with confidence and grace. I love to experiment with statement jewelry, shoes, and handbags. It’s so much fun to reinvent the staples in your closet by pairing with different accessories and shoes – it totally changes the look each time you wear them!

Kelly from Livingston, NJ says: Hi Caroline - I’m a senior in high school, and next year I am going away to college. However, I am having a really hard time figuring out what to study and how to choose a career. Do you have any advice on how I can get a feel for different paths without wasting all of my time? Thanks!

Caroline says: Good for you, Kelly! Glad to see you’re continuing your education! My suggestion would be to get as many of your required courses out of the way during freshman year if possible. This way you won’t have to declare your major until sophomore year and will take some pressure off the decision making process.

You’re so young and you are not expected to know exactly what you want out of life at this point. I want you to allow yourself the time to explore any field that interests you. Be open-minded and don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Don’t expect to get it right the first time, mistakes are part of life. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself to have all the answers either. Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you, and things have a way of falling into your lap when you least expect it. Never say never! If an opportunity presents itself in a field that you wouldn’t ordinarily get involved in, give it a try! You may be shocked to find that you love it.

There’s so many options available to you. If there’s a company that you want to learn more about apply for an internship or get a part time job to get your feet wet and see if it sticks. If it does, great, if it doesn’t, that’s great too. At least you tried. You will never be wasting time as long as you’re being proactive.

Good luck, honey, I’ve got a feeling that you’ll do just fine. xoxo

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