DEAR HARRIETTE: I saw a woman over the holidays who I had not seen for about 15 years. It was so nice to see her and to reconnect. One thing that bothered me, though, was that I could see that when she looked at me, she noticed that I have gained a lot of weight. She didn't say anything, but I saw her see me. I feel bad enough that I no longer have the figure I had when I was younger.
I now have a child and never had a good exercise routine, so I've basically sat on my butt for many of the years since I have seen my friend. Well, not exactly -- I have been taking care of my active son.
Anyway, her glance was a wake-up call. I would like to get healthier. I hope it is not too late. It is hard to commit to it, though. Any ideas for how I can change my attitude and get fit? -- Wake-Up Call
DEAR WAKE-UP CALL: Consider the fact that you ran into this woman a blessing. Who knows what she was thinking? What you think is what matters. One thing that could motivate you to move your body more and get healthier is your son. If you want to be able to be strong and vital as he matures, you must take good care of yourself. That includes moving your body every day, eating well and paying attention to your health.
Go to your doctor and get a physical to find out if there are any medical concerns that you should address. Ask your doctor for recommendations for a fitness routine and nutritional program. You may be referred to a dietician. Follow your doctor's directions. Whenever you feel yourself slipping, think of your son. Let him be your constant motivation.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I recently moved to New York City, and I have a car. I like being able to drive whenever I want to get out of the city or go to another borough, but I get way too many parking tickets. Either I forget to move my car for alternate-side-of-the-street parking, or I inadvertently park in the wrong space. It is so confusing.
I'm thinking of selling my car. My friends are up in arms about this. They love that I have a car and can drive to places that we otherwise might not visit. They aren't willing to help move my car or pay for tickets -- not that I would feel comfortable even asking them -- but they are pressuring me to keep my car. They have offered to chip in to pay for a garage, but that's expensive, too. What should I do? -- Car in the City
DEAR CAR IN THE CITY: Evaluate your budget so that you are clear about what you can afford. Search for affordable garages. If you look in remote neighborhoods, the price for a parking lot goes down. Or you can recommit to paying closer attention to street parking so that you stop getting tickets.
In terms of your friends helping to foot a parking lot bill, you can consider that. But make sure that you understand their expectations. Will they expect to have access to your car at their leisure? Will they want to drive it? Outline what the parameters and boundaries are. You can try this shared payment for parking for a few months. Evaluate it carefully to see if it works for all. If nothing works, you can give up your car and choose to rent when you need wheels.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My daughter is dating a boy I do not like. She and my wife say they love him. I have not told them that I disapprove. I don't like the way he talks to her. And he is distracting her from her studies. She has worked so hard to do well in school, but ever since she started seeing this guy, her grades have been slipping. What can I say to get her to focus on her studies again? I'm worried she will ignore whatever I say. -- Desperate Dad
DEAR DESPERATE DAD: Talk to your wife first, and point out that your daughter's grades are slipping. Let her know that you are concerned about how your daughter is spending her time. Acknowledge that you believe your wife likes this young man. Point out that you don't want to be the bad guy, but you do want to sound the alarm before your daughter's life veers off track. Ask your wife to support you in talking to your daughter about paying closer attention to her schoolwork.
I recommend that you focus on her studies rather than the young man. Condemning him may make your daughter cling to him more. Instead, encourage her to reserve enough time to do her work. Suggest that she seems to be socializing a bit too much, and her schoolwork is suffering as a result.
Ideally, your daughter needs to come to the realization herself that this young man is a distraction to her. Your best bet is to keep your comments targeted to her schoolwork. When she thinks about what has been occupying her time, she may realize that she has to redirect some of her time and energy to bringing her grades up.
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DEAR HARRIETTE: A family friend who used to spend lots of time with us basically disappeared a few years ago. Whenever we have invited her to come over, she has made some excuse and hasn't shown up. We finally got to see her this Easter.
I had a moment when just the two of us were in the kitchen talking, and I asked her what happened. At first, she didn't want to tell me, but then she said that my mother had said something hurtful to her, basically accusing her of being a taker when in reality she had been the generous one in the situation that was in question. She said she felt judged and hurt, so she walked away. I asked her if she would be able to forgive my mother, who is elderly and sometimes says the wrong thing. I told her how much we miss her and love her and want her to be part of the family again. Do you think I should tell my mother what happened? Should the rest of the family be told the truth? -- Welcome Back
DEAR WELCOME BACK: It's probably smart to tell key family members what happened so that they are sensitive to your friend if she does decide to come back into the fold. Tell your mother only if you think she will understand and be able to apologize. If she is at the age and state of mind that it may not sink in, let her be. Just do your best to make the family friend feel comfortable.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I recently started dating a man, and we go through the same trials and tribulations as any normal couple. However, none of my siblings approve of this relationship. He has not met my family yet, but I am anxious for when that day comes. My boyfriend strongly believes that he does not have to win over the approval of my siblings, and that my parents' opinion is what matters the most. His family bond is completely different than the bond I have with my family, so I can see where he is coming from. It is crucial to me that all of the people I love get along. How should I handle this situation? -- Us Vs. Him
DEAR US VS. HIM: You have challenges on both sides. Your siblings haven't met this man and have already judged him. He doesn't care to win them over. They are at odds before even giving each other a chance. Your job is to work on your family and on him to let both camps know what you want and need and to present to them ideas on how you can all get there.
With your family, invite them to trust you and to assume the positive about this man. Ask them to be welcoming of him when they do meet. Tell them enough things about him for them to feel at ease. You should also let them know that he comes from a different kind of family background, and it may take a while for him to engage in the ways that you and your family find natural.
With your boyfriend, introduce him to your parents first, as this is where he feels he has to be on good behavior. Let them get to know each other. Over time, make it clear to him that because of the way you grew up, your siblings are key to your life, too, and it is important to you for him to grow to know them. Introduce him to the rest of your family. Make it clear to him that you cannot have a future with a man who is not willing to embrace your whole family.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My family has lost the desire to go to church. We recently moved to a new home and have yet to find a church that suits us. The issue is that no one is making an effort to find a good option around us. I've explained my concerns before, but no one listens to me or is willing to help look for a new congregation. I am starting to believe that our lack of attendance is causing some spiritual instability within our home. How can I convince my family to take this more seriously? -- Go to Church
DEAR GO TO CHURCH: Since you are most concerned about establishing a new church home, why don't you take the lead? Start by talking to your former pastor, and ask him or her for recommendations. Your pastor may know churches in your new neighborhood or may have connections to the community that may be of value to you. Go online and look up churches in your denomination that are nearby, then take a drive by to see them. Spend the next month or so attending different church services to see what feels like a good fit. Always invite your family members to join you, but don't push. Once you find the one that you like most -- or even two from which to choose -- invite your family to join you to help make the decision. It may take a while for everyone to re-engage, but this process will get you to a decision.
Know that moving in and of itself can be stressful. Whatever spiritual instability you may be experiencing could be a result of that. Stay strong and keep your eyes open so that you notice what's going on with your family. Schedule weekly check-ins with them to see how the adjustment is unfolding for them.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been hanging out with a person of interest casually for six months. We agreed that we should start off slow and take time to get to know each other better. He often tells me about other partners he has dated, and he sometimes gets too specific for my liking. I try not to get frustrated because we are not in a relationship, but I often find it inappropriate being that we both clearly have feelings for each other. When I bring this to his attention, he argues, saying that he feels comfortable telling me everything about himself, being that I am now his friend. I am unsure how to feel about this. How should I move forward with this friendship? -- More Than Friends
DEAR MORE THAN FRIENDS: The danger of taking things too slowly in relationships is that you can slip into the "friend" label and get stuck there. If you like this man as more than a friend, now is the time to be crystal clear about that. This includes telling him what you want from the relationship. Among your stated desires should be that you don't want to hear about other women because you like him. You would like for the two of you to try being exclusive and taking your relationship seriously.
If you don't state exactly what you want, you don't create the opportunity to get it. If he doesn't agree, you will have to decide if you can accept just being his friend. At least you will know.
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