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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I have read your column every day for a long time, and I need an honest and objective opinion, which I'm sure you will give me.

I am almost 20 and have been married to "Todd" for nearly a year. We have a beautiful 9-month-old daughter named "Claire." We are living with my parents until we can get on our feet.

Todd's mother, stepfather and grandparents all live close by.

My problem: Between my mother and my mother-in-law, at least three times a week, I get comments of some sort on the way we are raising our daughter. I disagree with many of the techniques they used when they were raising children. What seems like advice or ideas to them seems like criticism to me. My mother especially is always saying that I should be doing this or that. Both Mom and my mother-in-law think that because they have been through it, they know what is best for our daughter.

I love our daughter with all my heart and consider myself a good mother. Although Todd's mother and mine did very well raising us, now it's my turn to raise my daughter the way her father and I think is best.

I love Mom and Todd's mother very much, and I have tried to talk to them about constantly giving me advice, but they get defensive and remind me that they have been parents for more than 20 years. Both insist that I should listen to them.

Abby, I know Claire better than anyone else, so shouldn't I know the best way to be a parent to her? -- YOUNG MOTHER IN PENNSYLVANIA

DEAR YOUNG MOTHER: Yes. Now all you need is the courage of your convictions. Stick to your guns and don't be pressured by all the unsolicited advice you're getting. You need not apologize for doing things your way.

DEAR ABBY: I work in a small office, seven women and one man. The holiday tradition is that the boss and his wife host a holiday dinner in their home for the staff. Last year was my first time to attend.

I was taught from childhood that when you go to someone's home for a party, you bring the hostess a gift -- which I did, along with a small gift for their only child. These gifts were not very expensive and our hosts seemed to be appreciative. The staff contributed to a joint gift for the boss.

Upon returning to the office the next work day, I was told by one of the longtime employees, "We don't buy gifts for the boss's wife and daughter." When you work in an environment of female employees, there can be a lot of back-stabbing, which I don't want to be a part of in any way. Now I don't know what to do about this this year. I would feel very awkward arriving empty-handed, and yet I don't want it to look like I'm seeking brownie points.

Although I won't be comfortable with this decision, I won't take a gift this year, but what should I do next year? Help me if you can, please. -- SHOULD ETIQUETTE PREVAIL?

DEAR SHOULD: It is gracious to give the hostess a gift, but in order to avoid conflict with your co-workers, you could send it a day or two after the party. (And though it's also thoughtful to send the child a gift, it's not necessary.)

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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