DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a professional life coach. I help clients sort out their problems and make smarter choices. So far, it's been going well. I mainly get clients through word of mouth.
The one thing that I haven't figured out is how to get my friends and family to pay for my services. It's one thing to give a little advice here and there, but several people in my life go so far as to call me and to schedule time to pick my brain without ever considering that they should pay for my services. Meanwhile, they will pay for all kinds of other services, such as manicures, the hairdresser and all kinds of other beauty services. I don't know why they should be more valuable than the services I offer. What can I do? -- Time to Charge
DEAR TIME TO CHARGE: Family members and friends often take loved ones for granted without meaning to. They are likely so accustomed to you doling out advice that it hasn't occurred to them that they should pay. It can be difficult getting them to pay even after you make them aware of their behavior.
One way to create boundaries around your work is to let them know that this is how you earn a living. Offer to "give" a half-hour of free advice. Any professional counseling time after that you can offer to them at a friends-and-family discount. In this way, you let them know what your standard fees are and what you are willing to offer them. If they balk, stop giving them advice. Tell them you just want to hang out and enjoy each other's company and not have to work. Then, stick to it.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My daughter just got injured and had to get 10 stitches in her leg. She has crutches and should heal fully. Her dilemma is that she is planning to go to an all-day outdoor concert in a couple of days. She is not supposed to bend her knee so that she doesn't break the stitches. I don't think going to a concert where she will be on her feet for many hours is smart. The nurse said she should be fine and able to attend, but I think it's too much. How do you think I should handle this? -- The Right Thing
DEAR THE RIGHT THING: Take it one day at a time. Since the nurse gave her clearance, at least you have one medical professional saying it should be OK. But you will be with your daughter and can see how she is mending. Look at her wound each day as you dress it.
At the same time, do more research on the location of the concert. How much seating is there? Which acts does she really want to see? You may want to limit how long she will be at the concert, if you let her attend at all. As upset as your daughter may be, do not let her attend if you are concerned that she will injure herself again. You have to be the parent in this scenario and do what's safe for your child.
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.
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