Real Housewives of New Jersey Dina Manzo

Baby sister to Caroline, the blond and outspoken event planner Dina Manzo founded the non-profit organization Project Ladybug, which is dedicated to making life better for kids fighting cancer. She is very close with her only child, daughter Alexia, 14, whom she had from her previous marriage to George Hadjiapostoli. She’s now married to Tommy Manzo.

How do you balance motherhood with the rest of your life?

Alexia comes everywhere with me, all over the place, everywhere I go. It’s been like that since she was a baby. I had her in the carrier going to work with me. We’re like sisters. Actually, it was hard this season because she was there but she wasn’t on camera.

Why did you decide to keep her off camera?

The show went a very different direction than I originally thought it would. I thought it was going to be a light-hearted family show dealing with my family. I didn’t realize the direction it would go. I don’t want my daughter to be any part of that.

How do the two of you spend your off-camera time?

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. We go shopping together or we’ll go to lunch. Sometimes she says, “Mom, I feel like such a loser. All we do is hang out together.” I tell her, ‘You’re not a loser for hanging out with your mom-we have fun!’ And we do. We belly laugh with each other. We have the best relationship. I’m very lucky she’s a good kid. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I want to kill her like every other teen, but for the most part we have a blast. She’s just like me, but a little more Greek-looking.

Do you have a parenting philosophy you go by that you feel makes the relationship work so well?

Put your kids first. That’s what I do, no matter what. When I was a single mother, I worked two jobs. Anything I do, I do with her in mind. Every decision I make, I think of her first and how it’s going to affect her. My mom did that with her eleven kids, and we’re all great, respectful people. It worked for us.

What do you think was the hardest part about raising Alexia when you were a single mother?

Dating was hard. I dated my husband, Tommy, without telling her because I didn’t want to bring anyone around my kid that wouldn’t be a part of her life. I didn’t want her to see me go on different dates with different men. It turned out good, though, because my husband was just “Uncle Tommy” to her. [Dina's sister, Caroline, is married to Tommy's brother.] She didn’t get it at first. It took a while before I sat her down and said, “You know, Uncle Tommy and I are good friends and blah blah blah:” It was difficult to hide it from her, but I didn’t want to bring anybody around.

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