DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been hiding my tattoos from my parents for years. They disapprove of tattoos in general and have somewhat traditional beliefs. I have two tattoos -- a large one on my upper arm that can be concealed under a T-shirt sleeve and a small one on my fingers. Recently my mother discovered my small tattoo and berated me only a little bit. The reveal went better than I thought it would, probably because the tattoo she saw is very small.
Do you think I should show my mom my bigger tattoo? It seems like my relationship with my mother is improving; it was somewhat strained in the past, and she has recently been more accepting of who I am. I am afraid that if I show her my bigger tattoo, I will lose our new connection. What do you think I should do? -- Tattoo Girl
DEAR TATTOO GIRL: I would continue to go slowly. Build your relationship with your mother, letting her get to know you as the person you are evolving into. Share ideas bit by bit with her so that she gets to know your values, your beliefs and your ideas. Tell her that you share some of the traditional beliefs that you were taught by your parents, but not all. Reinforce to her the values that you share, and point out where you differ. Let your mother know that you mean no disrespect when you take a different path than what she and your father have chosen.
When you feel that your mother is accepting of the fact that the two of you have some differing views but are able to love each other anyway, let her know that you want to share something with her. Do not spring it on her. Make her aware of the fact that you have a reveal, and then show her. Thank your mother for her support and love.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am currently in a short-term long-distance relationship, and my partner and I have noticed that it is harder to communicate as a result of this distance. We had been together long enough prior to our separation to understand that we both still love each other and believe that we can communicate well face to face, but we are having trouble with the long distance. Do you think there is anything that can be done to help us communicate better during the few months we will be away from each other? -- Temporary Distance
DEAR TEMPORARY DISTANCE: Talk about the big picture. Yes, it is challenging today, but you have a timetable. Create a calendar that you share that has as its North Star the date that you come back together. In between, assign dates for when you will talk to each other, see each other and otherwise communicate.
The good news is that technology can support your ability to be in close touch, even if you are unable to be in each other's company. Talk about trust. Now is the time to fortify that trust and encourage each other to live your lives as you stay committed to your shared journey.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am blessed to have a mother who is approaching her 90th year. She is fortunate to have quite a few friends her age who are still alive. I guess it's natural that they are having all kinds of health challenges. Every few months there's another issue. One has heart palpitations. The other got a pacemaker. Another is losing her memory. One of the few husbands left has inexplicable bleeding issues. And yet they are here. How can we, their children, stay upbeat when their health problems are scaring us? This came up again during the holidays when one of my mother's best friends was hospitalized on Christmas Day. -- Elder Care
DEAR ELDER CARE: Keeping things in perspective may help. You are so fortunate to have your mother and her friends in your life and doing their best as they advance in their years. You are now in a stage of life where you are having to care for your parents in the ways that they cared for you as a child. Often, elders require lots of hands-on care to manage from day to day.
Perhaps you can create an informal support group with your peers who have elderly parents. As your roles evolve into caregivers, be there for one another to talk about your parents' issues and your own ability to handle the realities of each day. You can create a group chat, a weekly call or a get-together if you are in the same town. Just talking to each other will help you to feel less isolated.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I was homeless for about two years. Finally, after a few false starts, a housing specialist was able to find me an amazing apartment in Brooklyn, New York. What I realize is that while I was homeless, I did not have to worry about purchasing groceries because the shelter I stayed in provided me with three meals per day. After two years, I went to the grocery store for the first time. While I was walking down the aisles, I stopped in my tracks. I stood still for about 10 minutes, paralyzed, because I didn't know what to purchase. I finally pulled myself together, bought a few items and went home.
Harriette, there are days when I have flashbacks to when I lived in the shelter system, and my past is trying to sabotage my future. I have come so far, but I realize how terrible my life had gotten. I have a job and am getting back on my feet. How do I stay focused on my positive progress without looking back? -- Next Steps
DEAR NEXT STEPS: Congratulations for getting through the system and staying as strong as you have. It is natural to have moments when it is hard to believe how far you have come. Now is a time when your faith is essential. You have made tremendous strides. Instead of trying to avoid your past, make a gratitude list that identifies what you have gone through and where you are today. Express gratitude for being able to go to the grocery store and having money to buy food. Be grateful for your job, which is helping you to be independent. When flashbacks occur, offer thanks for being able to survive the hard times.
Check with the caseworker who helped you to see if there is any mental health support that you can receive from the city to help you work through this transition period.
DEAR HARRIETTE: A few years ago, my daughter moved to New York City to pursue a career in fashion. She is now moving to Los Angeles to pursue her modeling career, and she has secured a couple of campaigns prior to her moving west. I am proud of her because she is taking advantage of every opportunity in front of her, but this presents a dilemma for me. My daughter is my last child to leave the house, and I will have an empty nest for the first time in 23 years. The idea of living in this large house by myself bothers me. I'm thinking about moving to LA start a new life for myself and see what the world has to offer. What are your thoughts? -- Going West
DEAR GOING WEST: It is understandable that you want to downsize your life and make a change since your children will be gone, but following your daughter should be done with caution. Talk to her to see if she welcomes the idea of you moving to LA with her. Your daughter is building her life and exercising her independence. Make sure that you don't stymie that because of your new insecurities. If she likes your idea, be sure to set up your own life and not be reliant on her.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been friends with a small group of people for most of my life. Two of them had a falling-out about three years ago, and they have not spoken since. This has put me in an uncomfortable situation. I have remained close to both "Jim" and "George." Jim wants to reconnect, but he did something that crossed the line for George, who has said that he doesn't want me to mention Jim's name to him again. I feel like I'm stuck in the middle of a divorce, even though we are all just friends. Do I relay to Jim what George is saying? I love them both, and I wish we were still close. I believe in forgiveness, but George says he is done with forgiving Jim. -- Odd Friend Out
DEAR ODD FRIEND OUT: Don't get caught up in their stuff. To the best of your ability, you now have to be friends individually with each of them if you choose to stay connected to them both. Do not become the messenger who relays barbs or pleas back and forth. If Jim tries to get you to talk about George, just say he has to contact him on his own. You cannot get involved. You can express your sadness to each of them that their friendship has dissolved -- but that's it.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been going to the gym religiously for about a year now. I hired a trainer there who has been helping me to get stronger, and I am finally feeling better about my body and my health. In December, I got a notification that my trainer no longer works for the gym. This is sudden. I just trained with him before I went away for Christmas. I don't want to work with anybody else, even though the gym offered to help me get matched to another trainer. I texted my trainer, who said he is probably going to open his own studio soon. But that's not now. I don't get it. This guy was by far the best trainer at this gym. I want to know what happened. Should I complain to management? Something happened, and I want to know what it is. -- Workout Blues
DEAR WORKOUT BLUES: Rather than complain, you can inquire as to what happened to your trainer. It's likely management won't tell you, though. Until he sets up his new space, you should keep going to your gym and take them up on finding you a new trainer -- even if it is for a short-term commitment. You don't want to lose the momentum that you have built up. Continue with your workout regimen, especially now as the new year has started. Motivate yourself to stay strong and focused.
Stay in touch with your trainer. When he opens his studio, check it out to see if he offers what you need before you leave your gym. Make a wise choice for your own body, not solely out of allegiance to him.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My teenage daughter told me something revealing about a couple of her friends at school. We have an excellent rapport, which is why she shared this with me. A week later, I was at a party with a group of friends, and, after a few drinks, I told one of the moms what my daughter had told me. I didn't mean to share what turned out to be confidential information, but I did it, and now all hell has broken loose. It's my fault. I apologized to my daughter for talking about something that she shared with me privately, but I feel horrible. I don't want to lose my daughter's trust. What can I do? -- Broken Confidence
DEAR BROKEN CONFIDENCE: Promise your daughter that you will never betray her trust again -- unless it is a life-or-death situation. The "life-or-death" caveat is important because you are still the parent. If a revelation is unsafe, you may need to address it. But generally, let your daughter know that you will agree to keep information private between you. This is the only way to get her to continue talking to you about her feelings and friend dynamics. It may take time for her to tell you more secrets. You need to be patient.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I hear all this talk about the economy improving, but honestly, my friends and I are not doing much better than a year or so back. It is tough. I feel like we got left behind or something. Or maybe it's only talk about the major improvements in the economy.
I feel like a failure. I work hard and am always willing to work long hours, but it doesn't seem to matter. After several years, I now earn less than I used to, not more. How can I keep my spirits up when I am feeling so down about money? It doesn't help that my friends and I are in the same boat. We are all basically living from hand to mouth. Who knows if any of us will ever be able to retire? I feel like an idiot. I'm not asking you to help me find a better job. Instead, I want to understand how to feel about my station in life. Right now, I just feel worthless. -- Down and Out
DEAR DOWN AND OUT: As you can tell from your friends, you are not alone in not experiencing the bounty that some news reports suggest America is enjoying. It really depends on the industry that you work in whether you would benefit from the changing economy.
That said, you are where you are. Many people's income decreases as they get older. That's why it's wise to save in your early years. If you weren't able to do that, what you need to figure out today is how you can live on less and save whatever you can for your retirement. Do your best to accept where you are and then to get creative about how you can earn more money. Draw up a budget that helps you to understand exactly what you earn and what your expenses are. Determine how much money you want to save in the next three to five years, then map out a strategy for doing so. You may want to talk to a financial planner to help you. Even on a modest budget, it is possible to set yourself up for your later years. Instead of feeling worthless, claim your value and map out a way to get to your goal.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am about to celebrate a big birthday, and I am planning to have a party. I have spent some time thinking about it and contacting vendors to set things up. I am going for it, even though it is expensive. I can afford it at this point in my life. The issue is that some people are talking about me, saying that I'm being extravagant. I want to have my party, but I hate these rumors and comments. I feel like I deserve to have a good time for this turning point in my life. How can I get people to realize that this party is something I can afford and want to do, but I don't want to hear their comments about it? -- Party On
DEAR PARTY ON: Do not indulge the naysayers. Create a guest list of people who genuinely support you. Invite them only. Let people say what they will about your party. Most important is for you and your guests to enjoy yourselves.
DEAR HARRIETTE: We had a power outage in our building, so the electric company guy made the rounds to all of our apartments. One of my neighbors opened the door for him -- naked. I learned about this from him when he was working on my apartment. He was so taken aback he said he now avoids her. Other people in my building have said that she suffers from mental illness. I don't know, but I am worried about her. We have had a lot of trouble with our power, and I don't want our misfortune to leave her vulnerable. What can I say or do to help her? -- Neighbor in Crisis
DEAR NEIGHBOR IN CRISIS: It is very thoughtful of you to want to look out for your neighbor. If she truly does suffer from mental illness, you may not have the tools to fully support her, but reaching out to check on her is a good idea. Don't bring up what happened with the electric company worker. Instead, ask how she is doing through all of this and if you can be of any support. If you know of other neighbors who know her better, ask them what you can do to be helpful during this stressful period. Being in good company could help to make her feel safer during this troubling period. Perhaps you can invite her and a small group of others over for a meal -- if you are able to cobble one together with no power.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a friend who has been promiscuous for all the years I have known her. Suddenly, she is acting like she is a Christian and is saved. She says she has changed her life, which is great, but now she has opinions about all of us. As she is working on her sobriety, she is becoming extremely judgmental of her core friend group. We have been there for her throughout her life. I don't appreciate being judged about everything I say or do, especially by her. How can I get her to stop talking about us and stay focused on herself? -- Friend in Sobriety
DEAR FRIEND IN SOBRIETY: People in early sobriety often seem obsessed with their own behavior and hypercritical of others. One thing they are often taught is to beware of "people, places and things" that remind them of their past and that might lead them back down a path toward self-destruction. If you and your core group participate in this behavior -- such as drinking alcohol, doing drugs or whatever else she used to do -- it might be best for you to keep your distance for a while. It may be impossible for her to separate her own issues from yours during the early days.
You can also be frank with her. Tell your friend how proud you are of her accomplishments. Wish her well, and then set boundaries. Tell her that it doesn't work for you when she criticizes you on all that you say and do. Make it clear that you don't want to sever ties with her right now, but if she is unable to keep her comments about your behavior to herself, you may need to keep your distance -- at least for now.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been involved in my cultural community for many years, and I feel strongly that I should support our causes and work to build up the community in any way I can. I am African-American, and I understand the issues that we face; I have marched and petitioned and participated in Black Lives Matter and other things over the years to support my people. I am very active.
I joined an organization a few years ago, but I didn't really pay attention to the bylaws. I have now learned that this particular group has a rule forbidding marrying a white woman. I get their point: They want black people to love and choose one another. The thing is, I met and fell in love with a white woman. I don't want to walk away from my community, but I do want to marry this woman. What should I do? -- Racial Divide
DEAR RACIAL DIVIDE: This is such a prickly topic -- for you as an African-American and, dare I say, for many people of all ethnic backgrounds. For generations, the tradition for most people has been that people marry within their groups -- whatever those dividing lines may be. In this country, it was illegal for many years for blacks and whites to marry. This was called miscegenation, and it often came with penalty of arrest, ostracism and even death by the community at large. In reaction to the extreme practices of racism, some groups chose to create their own rules to protect their communities and keep them strong. This may be why your organization made this bylaw.
The realities of love and intimacy have always been different from those of the law. When people fall in love and choose to build their lives together, it's not automatically based on their ethnic or religious backgrounds. Many prominent African-American civil rights leaders were married to white people. They had their personal lives AND stayed in the struggle. I say choose love. You can leave that particular group or try to change its bylaws, but don't allow it to stifle your joy.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I started a new business, and it's going pretty well. My office phone is the same as my cell because I don't really need a business line. I have a frequent customer of the opposite sex, who texts, calls and emails me at unusual times, like late at night, early in the morning or on weekends. As you might imagine, my significant other doesn't love it. He says I have to set boundaries with my clients. I don't want to risk losing this client, but I see my boyfriend's point. If it were happening to him, I don't think I would like it. How can I handle this? -- Blurred Lines
DEAR BLURRED LINES: Stop answering this client's calls after hours. Create a voice message inviting people to call your business during a particular time. With this client, stop being so available. Return his calls and texts during normal business hours. Stay pleasant and upbeat but firm. After a while, he will get the message.
DEAR HARRIETTE: A friend of mine referred a woman to me for a job. I have so much respect for my friend that I hired his referral without checking any additional references. That turned out to be a bad idea. This woman has worked with me for three weeks, and other than the first few days, it has gone downhill -- and fast. I gave her an assignment, and she didn't meet the deadline in her first week. When I asked her about her progress, I got excuse after excuse. She was supposed to turn in two reports by the end of week one; I have yet to receive a full report. I got only a couple of pages of notes.
My experience is that people usually try to do their best, especially at first, because they want to make that 90-day mark and get benefits. I don't think I can keep her. I feel bad because she is close to my friend. Should I tell him what's going on? How can I get out of this and keep my friendship with our mutual friend? -- Awkward Work Situation
DEAR AWKWARD WORK SITUATION: Deal with the employee first. Talk to her about her job performance, and inquire as to why she is underperforming. Probe to see if she understands her assignments, or if she has outside factors that are distracting her from completing her tasks. Let her know that if she is unable to meet her deadlines within a specific period of time, you will not be able to keep her. Find out from human resources if you need to give her a formal warning since she is still on probation. If you must fire her, do that before speaking to your friend.
Next, contact your friend and give your update. He needs to know that his recommendation backfired. I caution people when they are making recommendations, because essentially, they are putting their reputations on the line. Tell your friend what this woman failed at so he will know in the future not to recommend her for that role. If he gets mad at you, so be it. Next time, do your own due diligence before hiring anyone.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My brother is wealthy. He and his wife have children, just like my husband and I, but they give them way more stuff because they can. All of our children are well-behaved, but my children live much more modestly. My husband thinks that my brother and his wife coddle their kids and aren't teaching them strong life lessons. I totally disagree. Plus, I don't think it's my husband's business to judge how my brother handles his affairs. Sure, we struggle, but that doesn't mean that because they don't, they aren't teaching their children to be good people. How can I get my husband to stop with his judgments and let people be? -- Stop the Judgments
DEAR STOP THE JUDGMENTS: It can be hard to observe the behavior of people of different means from you and not pass judgment. Your husband seems to be struggling with his own values and resources compared to your brother's family. You can't change his beliefs. You can caution him not to talk about them around your children. Remind him how uncomfortable his comments make you. Stand your ground when he goes too far. You should also forgive him for wrestling with this uncomfortable situation.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I belong to a sorority that I joined in college. Many of the women have stayed close over the years, and now I wish I had, too. They tried to keep me in the loop, but I was too busy. Now that a lot of time has passed, I feel uncomfortable trying to work my way back into the mix. They keep reaching out to me, but I worry that they are all close and have been for years, and I am the odd girl out. I don't remember all of their names, and I feel stupid having to reacquaint myself when everybody else is in sync.
Do you think I should try to reconnect with my former sorority sisters? I have spent my life building my career and see that this has made me isolated, but somehow they did both. I'm feeling like my choices weren't so smart. Do you think I should take my sorors up on getting back together? -- Sorority Life
DEAR SORORITY LIFE: If your sorors are continuing to reach out to you, it is because they genuinely want to be in touch. Believe that their overtures are real. You can re-enter sorority life in increments. Why not reach out to the person you feel closest to? Get together with her in person or on the phone. Tell her you appreciate her reaching out to you over the years, and you want to reconnect. Be honest and let her know that you feel awkward because you don't really know most of your sorority sisters since you left college. Ask her to help you get reacquainted. Take your time. You don't have to become everybody's friend, but it will be nice for you to get close to a few of them and experience the fellowship of sisterhood.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My mom lives thousands of miles away from me, and I visit her once a year. While I'm there, I handle all of the fix-it work around the house. This visit, I noticed that there are some basic things that aren't getting done. My mom is healthy and strong, but she is getting older -- in her 70s. I see that she hasn't kept up with little chores like regularly putting out the trash or properly scrubbing the kitchen floor -- things that are important to be handled on a regular basis. I am the only child, and I'm too far away to help her. What do you recommend I do? -- Mom Needs Help
DEAR MOM NEEDS HELP: As our parents age, this is a common challenge. Care starts with the little things and, over time, the needs grow. Look into community support first. Does your mother belong to a church? Perhaps they have a service that supports elders at home. Contact the local government to see what services may be available for your mom. Since she is healthy, the government may not be a viable option.
Look into apps that are available that offer all kinds of a la carte tasks. Check to see if TaskRabbit, Takl or other such services are available in her area. These allow you to order a range of tasks for a particular fee at a specific time. Prices vary depending on the task and the location.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a friend who has had a hard time finding work. I recently helped her get a freelance job where I have also been working, and she's doing pretty well. The problem I have noticed is that she is constantly selling herself, telling stories about things she accomplished in the past. These victories are from 20-plus years ago, and the young professionals she is working with don't care. I think it hurts her to bring up her past because it highlights her age. We still live in a society that is sensitive to age and gender. How can I suggest to her that she just do her job and stop singing her own praises? -- Helping a Friend
DEAR HELPING A FRIEND: Pull your friend aside and have a heart-to-heart talk with her. As difficult as it may be to bring up this topic, you know that she trusts you, so you are the best person to tell her. Suggest that she stop going down memory lane, and instead stay focused on the work at hand. If she handles a project well and she is asked how she knows how to do a particular task, she should then say she learned it when working on a project that she can describe.
In general, bragging about anything is annoying to those listening. Tell her what you have observed, how you have reacted to her commentary and how you have noticed that others have responded. Chances are, she doesn't realize the effect of her behavior. She is overcompensating while trying to fit in. Suggest that she just relax and let her work speak for itself.
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