DEAR HARRIETTE: I forgot a friend's birthday. I have a busy schedule with work and kids, and my memory isn't as sharp as it once was. I realized my mistake six days after his birthday, and I sent over an apology. He told me that my forgetting made him feel sad, and he explained that my mistake was the reason why he hadn't been in communication with me, although I've been so busy I didn't even realize that. I'm struggling to determine if he is overreacting or if I really messed up. He did remember my birthday, but I feel as though it's not too much of a crime that I forgot. I don't think he accepted my apology. Should I leave the situation alone or continue to try and apologize? -- Missed Birthday
DEAR MISSED BIRTHDAY: Clearly, your birthday call is important to your friend. Your momentary memory lapse was not lost on him. If you think your friend is still feeling hurt, you can reach back to him and make it clear that you still love him and know that recognizing his birthday is important. Tell him one more time that you are so sorry that you missed him this year, then point out that this lapse in no way reflects a lack of caring on your part. After reiterating your affection for your friend, let it go.
To help yourself in the future, you may want to put alarms in the calendar on your phone to remind you of important dates. Technology can support you.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I started a new job where I am the youngest person in my department. This causes some people to mistreat me and try and walk all over me. I don't understand why older people in the workplace aren't receptive and open to being around younger co-workers. I respect that they were there first and have worked there longer, but I feel that I should be respected just as much. How can I get them to treat me better? -- Age Discrimination
DEAR AGE DISCRIMINATION: Sadly, this type of behavior is common in the workplace. Many co-workers assume that young people are uninformed and less capable of doing a particular job than they are. Disparaging comments and jabs can hamper your ability to do your job.
To get your co-workers to treat you better, first be excellent at your responsibilities so that your work is above reproach. Focus on doing a good job, and ignore the barbs whenever you can. When comments are taken too far, use humor to lighten the mood. For example, if someone says you are too young to understand something, you could jokingly ask when a person is too old to understand something else. You can directly say to someone who is saying inappropriate things to you that you would appreciate it if they would stop. Point out that it's hard to do your job when you are constantly being harassed. Finally, go to human resources and report the individuals who are chastising you. Be specific with your complaints, using examples that reflect the exact language that was used and who the witnesses were.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am having trouble with one of my co-workers. She and I work together at a clothing store. I was assigned to show her the ropes since she is new, and I have been working here for a long time. At first, her work was OK, but recently she has become increasingly sloppy. She leaves her assignments half done and often wanders off to chitchat with other employees. Every time I try to explain the right way to do a task, she waves me off and doesn't take my advice. She doesn't seem to care about the quality of the work she does. I know that I should say something to our manager, but I also don't want to be the reason she gets fired. What should I do? -- Concerned Co-Worker, Cleveland
DEAR CONCERNED CO-WORKER: Since you were assigned to support this employee, you have an obligation to keep your boss informed about how she's doing. You can frame it in such a way that should not automatically lead to her firing.
Go to your supervisor and ask for advice on how to motivate this employee to stay focused. Describe what you like about her and what you think her strengths are. Point out the areas that you think aren't serving her well. And then ask for suggestions for what you can do to help motivate her. This way you are not singularly pointing out her weaknesses. You are also asking for guidance on how to be a good manager yourself. This will show your supervisor that you see where you can grow in your efforts to motivate others. Hopefully this will help both of you without leading to her firing. But she has to step up in order to stay on staff.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My fiance and I already seem to be arguing about the smallest things. For example, the other day I went to get ice cream and called him to see if he wanted anything. I asked what flavor of ice cream he wanted, and he immediately got upset with me, telling me I should've remembered that he doesn't like ice cream. He went on and on about how we've been together for six years, and I should know this about him. It was a mistake to forget this small detail about him, but I would much rather argue about bigger, more important things such as where our wedding will be held, not ice cream. I don't know if I am overexaggerating or if this is a glimpse into our future. Please help me. -- Nervous Finacee, Jackson, Mississippi
DEAR NERVOUS FIANCEE: I can see both sides of this argument. For starters, take a deep breath and think about your relationship. What do you know and like about your fiance? What are your least favorite parts about him? Think seriously about this. When you consider what you know about your fiance, go through a list of simple things such as what he likes to eat, wear and do. Consider favorite colors, restaurants, extracurricular activities, even idiosyncrasies. Make a similar list about yourself.
How well do you know each other? Answer your fiance's question. And find out how well he knows you, too. From there, move on to the wedding. Talk about what both of you imagined your wedding to be. Work together to create a plan that reflects who you both are and the life you want to build together. It is the little things that help to strengthen a marriage or tear it down. All of it is important.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I'm a high school history teacher, and I am struggling with getting my kids to focus on what I'm teaching. They always seem uninterested in the topic I am lecturing on, so I need some advice on how I can grab their attention. I've tried different techniques, but nothing seems to be working. I don't want to be a mean teacher who calls the student's home -- that is not why I became a teacher -- but I fear that this is the only way to get the students to take me seriously.
Do you have any advice on how I can get my kids to give me the respect that I had at the beginning of the school year and keep them interested in the material? -- Boring History Teacher, Dayton, Ohio
DEAR BORING HISTORY TEACHER: One way that students can engage with what seems to be boring subject matter is for the teacher to bring the content to life. Think about the subject matter that you are teaching and how it relates to their lives today. What are the correlations? What projects can you give them to do that show connections between history and current events? Invite them to debate two sides of a topic or research news articles that argue points that draw out details of your lesson plan. Even consider taking a field trip to visit an historic site that may bring a history lesson to life. (But be sure to get permission from the school before taking students off-site.)
DEAR HARRIETTE: My partner and I have decided to move in together. We have been dating for five years and think it is time we share an apartment. Last week, we started looking online at apartments in Philadelphia. As we were putting in the criteria -- such as location, number of bedrooms, etc. -- I was totally blindsided when my partner wanted to find a two-bedroom place.
I assumed that because we were moving in together, there would be no need to pay for an extra bedroom. My partner's response was that the extra bedroom would be for her. Basically, she wants to move in together, but have separate bedrooms. I was completely shocked at this, and it made me realize that she and I are on different pages when it comes to moving in together. Do you think it's abnormal for a couple to move in together, yet have their own bedrooms? -- Should We Live Together?, Philadelphia
DEAR SHOULD WE LIVE TOGETHER?: There is no blueprint for how couples should live together. What is important is for the two of you to understand your desires and needs and to agree on the plan. Find out why your partner wants to have her own room. Does she want it as an office, a place to chill or specifically as her bedroom? Talk about what "living together" means to you, and ask her to explain to you what it means to her. Essentially, the two of you need to be clear about what this step means for your relationship.
One of the challenges that couples face when they decide to move in together comes when they aren't clear about what this step says about their bond. Get clear before you sign that lease.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a younger brother of whom I have always been very protective. Recently, he asked me about getting a tattoo. I personally have two tattoos, so I'm guessing this was why he came to me. For some reason, I really do not want him to get a tattoo. I can't figure out why, because I'm clearly not against having them. I told him whatever he decides to get, it should mean something and should not be distracting to other people.
He sent me some of his ideas, and I hated all of them. I have tried steering him away from getting a tattoo by saying I regret getting mine. Am I being unreasonable for trying to convince my brother not to get a tattoo? Do you have any other recommendations I could try to change his mind? -- Don't Get a Tattoo, Dallas
DEAR DON'T GET A TATTOO: It doesn't work to be a hypocrite, as it is confusing for you and for your brother. It would be better for you to be honest with him and tell him that your gut says he shouldn't get a tattoo yet -- even though you aren't sure why. Your ambivalence is honest, and he will see that. Further, you do not have to like his tattoo choices, but you can ask him to explain why he likes particular designs. Having him articulate his views is smart. Remind him, too, that putting them in discreet places is helpful since he wouldn't want tattoos to stand in his way as he builds his life and work.
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DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a 25-year-old woman currently searching for a job. I have reached out to a family friend who has set up a meeting with someone who works in my desired industry. The meeting is scheduled for the end of this week.
What should I wear to the meeting? Because I am not going on an interview with this person -- it's just a general meeting about working in the industry -- does it mean I don't need to wear formal interview attire? Could I go in business casual as opposed to business dress? I am more comfortable in business casual, but wanted to know your opinion on what to wear in this type of meeting. -- What to Wear?, Trenton, New Jersey
DEAR WHAT TO WEAR?: Go to the meeting as if you are going to a job interview. That means your attire should be appropriate to the role you want. Do you know how people typically dress in this industry? Ideally, you should dress in a manner reflective of the role and in sync with what the person you're meeting with may be wearing. It is always safe for you to dress professionally. A step up from business casual would be wise. Wear a jacket and dress shoes. No jeans. Nothing too trendy. Make sure your hair is styled conservatively and your makeup is subtle. You want the person to see and hear you and not be distracted by how you present yourself.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am part of a parent group in my town. The group comprises 15 to 20 mothers who meet once a month to discuss issues that have arisen in our children's lives. Some of the common topics we talk about include house parties, underage drinking and low grades. Recently, some of the mothers in the group have used the meeting time as more of a gossip session. Instead of discussing our kids, they use to it talk about their tennis drama, or where the best chopped salad is. I'm getting sick of going to the meetings and dread when the time comes each month. Should I continue going if I don't see them as beneficial? Is there something else I can do to change how the meetings go? -- Leaving the Parenting Group, Syracuse, New York
DEAR LEAVING THE PARENTING GROUP: Before you take your leave, ask the group if you can have the floor for a moment. Remind them of the reasons why the group was formed. Tell them that you, for one, are still having issues with your children's behavior and would greatly appreciate their input on some of the things that plague kids today. Point out that it seems that the conversation topics have shifted to other things. While you respect that personal issues of the moms may be important, you are lobbying for the focus to go back to the children. Your plea will at least get the mothers to thinking about why they started to gather in the first place.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My parents have been married for over 15 years. They met in medical school. (My father is a surgeon, and my mother was a nurse.) There is a big age gap between them, as my father is 10 years older than my mother.
Growing up, I never noticed the age different, but as we all get older, I can see how such a huge age gap affects their relationship. My father is very traditional in the sense that he doesn't bother with new trends in the world or updating his lifestyle. On the other hand, my mother is more up-to-date with technology and knows more about the way the world works nowadays. Yesterday, they had a huge argument about getting a new car. My father wants to keep the car our family has now, but my mother wants an updated, safer car. Is there a way I can help my parents solve this dispute? What is your take on martial age gaps? -- Parents' Age Gap, Memphis, Tennessee
DEAR PARENTS' AGE GAP: It may be that the issue here is the age difference. It may also be that your father prefers to be in the role of decision-maker and doesn't appreciate your mother's pushback. Strategy may be useful here. Perhaps your mother can invite your father to go for a test drive of cars that she finds interesting. She can pose it as a fun activity that does not need to involve buying a car. She should ask him to humor her by going along for the ride -- literally. Exposing him to the new technology firsthand may open his eyes to what is available on the market and how much it costs. If your mother is able to give him this experience, they may be able to move past the rigidity that is currently standing in their way.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a pretty busy person. I have a full-time job and a full social calendar, and I love spending the free time I do have just relaxing. My friend recently brought up the idea of joining a book club with him. I love to read and find that it relaxes me when I'm stressed, so my initial reaction was to say yes. When I went home after accepting the offer, I started to doubt my decision. I read when I feel like it, not when I'm told to. I'm afraid that being part of this book group with make me feel obligated to finish the book on a timeline, which I'm not sure I'll like. Have you had any experience with book groups? Does being in one ruin the relaxing experience of reading? -- Book Club Newbie, Akron, Ohio
DEAR BOOK CLUB NEWBIE: Many people enjoy book clubs because they create the opportunity for a social experience designed around a particular topic. If you like talking about the storyline, plot, character development and other aspects of books, you may enjoy this type of engagement. These clubs work best when the size of the group is manageable -- no more than a dozen or so participants. They tend to meet once a month or even once a quarter. Yes, the discussion can veer toward the social, but the books do get discussed. You should try it out.
DEAR HARRIETTE: Two years ago, I met an older woman in my town's deli. She was eating alone and having trouble reading the check, so I went over to help her. We got to talking and became close friends. Ever since that day we meet up once a month for lunch. She is very old and needs help walking. She rarely gets out because she is afraid she will fall, so I like to take her out from time to time. I think she is great company, and I love listening to her fascinating stories.
My girlfriend finds the elderly woman rude and does not like that I spend time with her. I enjoy going to these monthly lunches, but I can see how it is a little odd. Do you think it's normal, and should I continue my friendship with this woman? -- Friends With an Elderly Woman, San Jose, California
DEAR FRIENDS WITH AN ELDERLY WOMAN: I think it is wonderful that you are spending quality time with this woman. Too often, when people grow old, they do not have family or friends around to keep them company. It is admirable that you noticed this woman and struck up a friendship with her.
In terms of managing your girlfriend, tell her you are sorry that she and your elderly friend do not click. Stop inviting her to join you during your dates. Do not lie, though. Just make it clear that you enjoy supporting this woman, and you realize that she has come to rely on you.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a newish mother; my only daughter is just about to turn 2 years old. She is such a sweet girl, and everything is going great with her health, growth, etc. I don't want to come off as a vain mother who cares only about looks, but I am having concerns about her ears! I know this may sound silly, but her ears seem to stick out more than normal, and they are becoming more defined as she grows. My husband and I have spoken about getting surgery to correct them and have them pinned back, but we are getting mixed responses about whether this is the right thing to do.
Should I let my daughter grow up and decide for herself, or make this decision for her because I think it is what's best for her? -- My Daughter Has Big Ears, Cambridge, Massachusetts
DEAR MY DAUGHTER HAS BIG EARS: Have you talked to your daughter's pediatrician about this? It is true that people sometimes elect to have surgery like this to enhance a child's appearance from an early age. I'm not a big believer in elective surgery, especially for cosmetic reasons for a child. That said, get your doctor's recommendation. Be sure to learn the pros and cons of the surgery before you take action.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My father passed away seven years ago. After he died, my mother came to live with my family and me. Because my children have essentially grown up with her living with them since they were babies, their relationship is nothing less than amazing. My kids look to her for advice and support, and they love her dearly. Unfortunately, last year my mother was diagnosed with dementia, and in the past few months it has become progressively worse.
With my husband and me working full-time jobs and the kids in school, we have reached a place where we are unable to give her the care that she needs. I have made the decision to move her into a nursing home; however, I am so scared to tell my kids. They are still relatively young and have not dealt with her dementia diagnosis very well. They feel that if we send her to a nursing home, we are "giving up on her." How do I get my kids to understand that in order to help her, we need to move her? I am worried that her daily absence will hurt my kids. -- Dementia in the Family, Baltimore
DEAR DEMENTIA IN THE FAMILY: You have to control the narrative. Explain to your children and your mother that it is time for her to live in a place that offers more support and that you will see her frequently. Do your best to establish a regular visitation schedule. Perhaps every Saturday or Sunday, you and the children can go to visit your mother. Bring her to your home for a family meal on the weekends. This consistency should help everyone. You will also need to talk to your children about the inevitable memory loss that is affecting your mother. Do not scare them, but let them know that your mother may be forgetful sometimes. Make sure they know that this doesn't mean she has stopped loving them.
Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to email@example.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106