DEAR HARRIETTE: Happenstance or convenience or whatever has caused me to spend a lot of time with a co-worker who gets on my nerves. She constantly talks about people from the moment she gets to work until she leaves in the evening. She and I are the only single people at our job, so we gravitated to each other due to our situation. We started going to happy hour sometimes, and even working out on occasion. Now I realize I can't take her endless negativity. How can I peel myself away from her without causing a rift at work? I don't want to end up being one of the people she starts talking about. -- Running for Cover, Monticello, New York
DEAR RUNNING FOR COVER: Friendships that begin based on convenience often become fraught with challenges over time, because they are cultivated for less-than-optimal reasons. That said, you do not have to commit to hanging out with this woman for the rest of your tenure at your company. You need to wean her off of your constant interactions with care and strategy.
Think about how you would prefer to spend your time. What hobbies might you want to take up after work? Join a class but simply tell her you are busy. Don't talk about the class, because she may want to join it too. Do extra work on some days so you become unavailable to eat together. Be proactive and get to know other members of your team. Just because they aren't single doesn't mean you have nothing in common. Spend time cultivating bonds with your boss and other co-workers. You can tell her that you want to get to know the whole team so that when she sees you doing it, your behavior won't come as a surprise.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am getting so tired of politics. My husband keeps some news channel on at every waking moment, and I have had it. I don't want to hear the crazy stuff coming from the White House or from the range of pundits that my husband is obsessed with watching. I have had enough. It isn't that I don't feel love or responsibility for my country. But I don't see anything changing, just people yelling at each other. We have two kids, and I don't want them to think that our country is made up of arguments with people getting nothing done. How can I limit the onslaught of news and protect my family? -- Turn it Off, Dallas
DEAR TURN IT OFF: Talk to your husband about the importance of creating safe space at home -- meaning safe from the woes of the world, both political and violent. Ask him to agree to turn off the TV during particular hours and in specific common rooms so the children's exposure is limited.
On key occasions, talk to your children about current events so they are aware of the political landscape. Help them form their own opinions about particular political topics appropriate to their ages. Help your children understand the mechanics of the political process as well. They can have a voice, if they choose, but your home doesn't have to be ground zero for every pundit to state his or her case.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I feel so bad. Somehow moths got into my family's winter clothes when they were stored away. We have just pulled out our sweaters and almost all of them have moth holes in them. I feel terrible that my children have to wear sweaters with holes, but I cannot afford to replace them. I am afraid my children are going to be ridiculed from wearing holey sweaters, but I don't know what to do. How can I suggest that they spin this situation so it doesn't seem so bad? -- Full of Holes, Boston
DEAR FULL OF HOLES: Sadly, many families are opening their winter clothes along with you to discover that moths have invaded. The first thing you should do is invest in mothballs. Even though some damage has already been done, you need to exterminate the moths that are in your home to prevent further damage in the coming days and weeks.
For the damaged clothing, you may be able to sew some of the holes. Invest in colored thread and carefully sew or darn -- if you know how to do that -- as many of the holes as possible. Some clothing may fare better with patches. Get creative.
To prevent moths from taking over your valuables in the future, be sure to keep all of your clothing clean, especially wool and cashmere items. Handwash immediately after you soil such clothing items, and keep them stored in airtight containers.
DEAR HARRIETTE: One of my best friends just confided in me that she and her husband are getting divorced. I am shocked. They seemed to be a solid couple. They have been married for years, and their youngest child has just left for college. I've heard about the empty nest syndrome, where couples sometimes break up when the kids are gone. I didn't think this would happen to them. I'm not quite sure what to do. We are friends with both the husband and the wife. How do I support my friend and deal with the grief I am feeling over what's to come? -- In the Middle, Fairfax, Virginia
DEAR IN THE MIDDLE: When couples break up, the divorce affects many more than the two of them or even their nuclear family. Usually it is difficult for people to stay close to both the husband and wife, simply due to logistics. You can try to maintain both relationships and watch to see how things unfold. You certainly can remain kind and discreet to both of them. It is best for you not to discuss the details of their relationship with anyone, even when you have "juicy" details. Keep that information confidential. It will help you to remain neutral as you also avoid fueling the fire of gossip that is bound to emerge in the coming months.
In terms of how you are feeling, be honest with yourself and with them. Admit that you are deeply saddened about their breakup. You can even encourage them to get counseling before they make it final. You may need counseling yourself depending on how you manage emotionally in the coming months. Getting professional support is better than relying on friends.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a single mom and have been taking care of my son ever since he was a baby. His father hasn't been in the picture much. Now that my son is growing up, he is asking about his father and requesting that he get to spend time with him. He wants to have his dad in his life. I am very worried about encouraging this, as my ex has been unreliable in the past. I would hate for my son to get his heart set on being with his dad only to get his feelings hurt. How can I manage this situation? -- Needing Daddy, Detroit
DEAR NEEDING DADDY: Start by having a conversation with your son's father. Be kind and hopeful in your tone. Tell him his son has been asking to spend more time with him, that he needs to know his father. Without trying to guilt this man into building a relationship with his son, be practical and point out that it would be great for them to get to know each other -- on terms that your ex can manage. If he agrees, ask him to schedule times when he is sure he can commit to spending time with his son.
For your son, manage expectations by saying his father will try to be more available to him and that the two of them should take it slowly. Note that this is new for everyone, so it could be bumpy at first.
For you, intervene if the dad is a no-show. You have to manage the development of this relationship.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I was driving a group of teenagers to a baseball game when one of them opened the window and threw a banana peel out of the car. I was shocked. This child is close to my son and normally well-mannered. I pulled over, stopped the car and told him to get out with me and collect the banana peel to put it in the trash. He couldn't believe I did that, but he got out and picked it up.
Later my son told me how embarrassed he was that I picked on his friend like that. He said his friends won't want to hang out with him if his mother embarrasses them like that. I was so angry I didn't say anything to my son. How can I address this so my son understands how egregious his friend's behavior was? -- Crossing the Line, Atlanta
DEAR CROSSING THE LINE: Point out to your son that littering is illegal and immoral. It is our job to take care of our planet, not pollute it. That goes for your son at all times and his friends when they are in your company. Acknowledge that you did not intend to humiliate this young man. You did need to uphold your values, which meant the friend had to pick up his litter. Add that your son should reinforce good environmental habits with his friends.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I'm part of a group that takes an annual trip to a wonderful location. I have been traveling with them for about 15 years, and it's lots of fun. This year is different for me. I have been diagnosed with a serious health condition, and my doctors do not want me to travel. I am so upset because I look forward to spending time with my friends every year. Plus, I don't really want to talk about my medical problems. Should I go and risk what may happen? After all, life is short. If I decide not to go, how do I tell my friends without getting too detailed about my situation? -- Torn, Silver Spring, Maryland
DEAR TORN: You should follow your doctor's orders as far as travel goes. Throwing caution to the wind when traveling with a group of friends who would be unaware of your health condition would be selfish and potentially catastrophic, not just for you, but for them if they have to care for you should you fall ill while you are traveling.
What do you tell them? As much as you would love to join them, you are dealing with a health matter that requires you to stay at home this time. You don't have to say more. When asked, say you would rather not talk about it at this time.
Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106