We had the chance to powwow with the show's matriarch, Caroline Manzo, and pick her brain about the finer points of Jersey life, raising grown-up kids and the surprises that are in store for us this season ....
momlogic: What's your favorite thing about doing the show?
Caroline Manzo: There's a comfort level doing it with people who know and love you. My sister, my sister-in-law, my husband, my children, Teresa, who I've known forever -- it's kind of like a safety net knowing that they are there. It gives you license to be yourself, because you don't have to worry about hurting or insulting anybody. If you do, we're family -- you're forgiven.
ml: What do you like best about raising your family in Jersey?
CM: Having grown up in Queens, I remember getting on the city bus to go to school and walking 20 blocks to get home, whereas in New Jersey, you have to take your kids by car because there aren't many places you can walk to. But my kids come home and there's this big, beautiful backyard and trees -- the City is 25 minutes away, the Shore is 40 minutes away -- everything is at your fingertips. Whatever you are in the mood to do, it's right there for you. You don't have to trek. It's central to everything.
ml: How are Jersey moms different from other moms?
CM: I think a Jersey mom, at least in my little world, is not afraid to be who she is. That being said, if she wants to go out and be in the workforce and come home and be a mommy, we're like Superwoman -- we do it all. If you want to stay home, that's fine, too. But it's family first. We'll come to our kid's game in an Armani suit and sneakers and run up and down the football field, watching our kids play. We'll wear a baseball cap when we wake up to go food shopping, or just hang out in town. There is no putting an air on -- we have the audacity to be ourselves.
ml: You seem to have such a tight relationship with your kids. What's your secret?
CM: They always came first. When you make the decision to become a parent, you make the decision to dedicate your life to this person. I don't care if I haven't put heels on and gone out for a nice dinner in three weeks, my child comes first. I hear so many people say, "When I get home, it's my time." Well, guess what? Until those kids are sleeping in bed, it's not your time. The moment you decide to have a child, you have to be committed to it, because you cannot press rewind. You cannot say you wish you'd done this differently. If you choose to be a working mother -- that's fine, too. But dedicate yourself to this child for whatever time you have with them. Make them feel loved. Make them feel wanted. Make them feel special. That's what being a mother is. There's no rest for the weary when you are a mother.
My kids are now 21, 22 and 24, and they still come first in my world. Now, I can go on vacation without them, and certainly go to dinner without them, because they are adults. But if they pick up the phone and say, "Mom I need you," and I had this wonderful thing planned for six months, and I felt in my mind that I needed to be with that child, I'd drop everything to be with that child.
ml: What do you feel are some of the challenges of raising a young adult today?
CM: It's certainly a more competitive world. I think, at least in my children's lives, I have to step back and watch them either make mistakes or get hurt and deal with it themselves. You can only be the safety net that catches them and says, "OK, Mommy and Daddy are here. You have to go through this, you have to fix this, but we are here for you." So they have that shoulder to cry on, always. They have that cheerleader in the corner, always.
ml: Is it difficult for you to practice that restraint? It must be challenging at times to stand back and bite your tongue.
CM: It's heartbreaking at times. But you know what? The worst thing a parent can do is shelter a child. The worst thing a parent can do is not get them ready for the real world. The real world is an ugly place. You have to teach your children to come out swinging at times. You have to teach your children how to act in certain situations, and then sit back and say, "I did it, I did the best I could, let me see the person you've become. Make me proud." At times, you want to jump in and protect them, but you can't because that would be so wrong. How are they going to get through life? How are they going to teach their own children if they don't have the lessons and the strength within them?
ml: What challenges will you face as a mom this season?
CM: I can't tell you what, but it's unexpected.
ml: Describe each of your fellow housewives in a single word.
CM: OK .... Jacqueline is a free spirit. Teresa is hilarious. Dina is spiritual. Danielle is irritable.
ml: We're all dying to know what happens this season between you and Danielle ... can you give us a hint?
CM: Um, no ... I'm going to let you watch and see how that plays out!