DEAR ABBY: What is proper etiquette for buying a step-grandchild gifts for Christmas, Easter, birthdays, etc.? My daughter recently remarried, and I don't even know her stepdaughter. Am I expected to buy her gifts just like my own grandchildren? -- STEP-GRANNY IN TENNESSEE
DEAR STEP-GRANNY: To skimp on gifts for the new addition to your family would be a false economy. Welcome her, get to know her, and treat her like family because that is what she is now. If you discriminate on special occasions, the child will be hurt, her father will feel resentful, and you will put your daughter into an awkward situation. I strongly advise against it.
DEAR ABBY: Although I'm a junior in high school, I'm not old enough to handle all the problems in my family. I think a counselor might help me feel better, but Mother won't hear of it. When I find the courage to try to talk to her, she just says, "Later, honey, I'm busy now!" She doesn't really hear what I'm saying. She's always on the computer and looks like she's hypnotized or something. I would call my dad, but we don't have the money for long-distance calls.
I used to be able to talk to my uncle, but he's in jail now, and I'm not even allowed to mention his name. My friends dismiss my problems when I try to talk to them, so I stopped telling them. My aunt and my grandma hate each other, so I can't talk to them. My aunt has even threatened to kill Grandma.
Last week, I went to the home of a new friend, but it made me very sad. They aren't like my family at all. They were eating together and laughing. I started to cry because I know my family will never be like that.
I had a dream that I reached out my hand, but no one was there. Please help me. -- LOST AND ALONE IN VIRGINIA
DEAR LOST AND ALONE: Before I answer your question, let me point out that you are an intelligent and sensitive girl. You may think you are alone in having this problem, but I have received letters from many other girls in exactly your situation -- with mothers who are preoccupied or absent entirely.
It's time to put on your thinking cap. Is there any adult in your life whom you can confide in -- a teacher, a neighbor, a school counselor, the mother of one of your friends? Are there activities you can join (school clubs, Girl Scouts, etc.) that will put you in contact with nurturing female role models? Perhaps one of them could e-mail your mother to shut down her computer and live up to the responsibility she assumed when she gave birth to you.
Whatever you do, DON'T GIVE UP. Although your mother, aunt and grandmother may not be the picture-perfect family you wish for, that doesn't mean you will never have one. The lessons you are learning today can one day make you a much more effective parent than the one you have, and you can create the family you yearn for.
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