DEAR ABBY: I am the stepmother of a preteen girl who has emotional problems. "Leah" treats me, my family and my friends like garbage. She's insulting, disrespectful and very mouthy. She lives with us because we are a stable, loving family, and our community has an excellent school system.

Leah's father and I are trying our best to raise her correctly and show her we love her very much, but it hasn't been easy. We are not the enemy because we expect her to clean her room, do her homework and participate in family life.

I would like to urge divorced parents everywhere to refrain from poisoning their children's minds about their stepparents. Bad-mouthing and brainwashing backfires in the end. Leah is more hurt than we are by her mother's constant negative input.

My husband and I will soon begin counseling with Leah, but I'd like to know if there is a support group for stepparents that we can join. We're trying the best we know how, and it would help to talk to other people in our situation. -- WEARY IN WYOMING

DEAR WEARY: I'm pleased that your family is getting professional help in coping with Leah's emotional problems, and I agree that speaking with others in your situation could be helpful.

The Stepfamily Association of America has chapters and support groups nationwide, as well as professional workshops and conferences for the entire family. Contact it toll-free at (800) 735-0329, or visit the Web site at www.saafamilies.org.

I wish you and your husband the best of luck.

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DEAR ABBY: My problem may seem small compared to many of the letters in your column, but I don't know what to do. My problem concerns dentists' offices.

When I was young, dentists had private treatment rooms for patients. Now I cannot find a dentist who doesn't subscribe to the "open floor plan." All examinations, treatments and cleanings take place in plain view of whoever passes by.

I am a very private person, and in addition, I have some teeth that are like the stars. (They come out at night.) I like to maintain the fantasy that my family, friends and neighbors do not know my secret. However, the illusion is difficult to maintain when I sit in plain view with my mouth open, while the "pearly whites" that once appeared to be mine rest on a pedestal, and my next-door neighbor strolls over to say hello. The old saying, "It's a small world," never rings so true as when I'm in the dentist's chair. I shudder to think that my gynecologist could follow in my dentist's footsteps.

The dentist knows how I feel, but he has no private rooms in his office. I could look for another dentist who offers more privacy, but I have been with "Dr. Bill" for 20 years, and I really like him. Any suggestions, Abby? -- OVEREXPOSED IN WASHINGTON

DEAR OVEREXPOSED: You are overdue for a frank talk with Dr. Bill. If you haven't told him how embarrassed you were when your neighbor caught you with your teeth out, you should have. Even if the office can't accommodate a private room, there is no reason why a curtain could not be installed near one of his chairs, as they are near some hospital beds.

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