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DEAR ABBY: I have grown children. All of them are underachievers. When contemporaries talk about their children getting jobs, getting married, having kids, going on vacation, buying a house/car, adopting a pet, I have nothing to contribute.

My children do not have lives; they work low-paying jobs and scrape by. Worse, they have no ambition to do better. They no longer live with me, but often gather at each other's places to play video games when they are not working. They are not enjoyable to be around.

My life is otherwise good, and I don't want them bringing me down. My marriage is solid, I work hard, we travel a few times a year and enjoy dining out and meeting with friends. We go to sporting events, live plays, concerts, movies, etc. What is a mother to do? -- LET DOWN IN MISSOURI

DEAR LET DOWN: Your children are adults. If they were motivated, they would be doing more with their lives than playing video games and scraping by. Be glad they are independent and have good relationships with each other -- it's a plus -- and continue living your life. You can't live theirs for them. And please stop comparing them to the offspring of your friends and acquaintances. If you do, you will be happier.


DEAR ABBY: I have dear friends and neighbors I really enjoy who have asked me to water their plants and feed the cat when they're away, which is not very often. I enjoy doing these things, and so I always feel awkward when they bring home gifts of jewelry or give me money. I would prefer that they let me do these things for love and friendship, but I don't know how to make them stop giving me things.

Is there something polite I can say to let them know that they should just let me be their friend? I would prefer that to feeling as though I'm being paid for my services. -- FOR LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP

DEAR FOR LOVE: Has it occurred to you that your neighbors bring things back for you because they enjoy giving as much as you enjoy doing things for them? If it hasn't, please consider it.

And afterward, if you still feel that their gifts are too much of a quid pro quo, explain that you like them very much and value their friendship, and they don't need to give you anything in return for the affection you feel for them. I don't think couching the message in those terms would be rude at all.


DEAR ABBY: Why do people stay in bad marriages? It causes emotional harm to the children (if they have kids), hearing their parents argue and name-call all the time. Wouldn't it be better to separate? -- UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS

DEAR UNHEALTHY: Some couples remain in bad marriages because they can't afford to live apart or fear being alone if they divorce. Others have dysfunctional love-hate relationships that, I agree, are unhealthy for everyone, including the children who grow up thinking it is normal. In my opinion, if couples can't live in peace and harmony, they should separate. However, not everyone agrees.

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