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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am really confused. I am 21 years old and I have two small children. I got pregnant and married at 17, so I haven't had much experience at life. I felt if I was woman enough to get pregnant, I was woman enough to take care of the child and raise it as best I could -- and I am doing that.

It never bothered me that I didn't have much of a teen-age life because I had been through a lot and had grown up fast. My husband, on the other hand, was not at all ready for a family. He married me, but when my baby was 8 months old he started messing around, so I left.

When I came back, things were OK -- but then he started drinking a lot and got both mentally and physically abusive. Things just seemed to get worse and worse, so I kicked him out. Then I found out I was pregnant with our second child. I didn't know what to do. He was living with some other girl and still coming to my home, making my life a living hell.

Then he told me he wanted to come back to his family -- so like a fool, I took him back. After my second child was born, I thought things were all right. But then I discovered that he was still seeing the same girl and that she had a baby. He swears it's not his; she says it is.

Now he has decided that he's finally ready to be a father and husband. I don't know what I want to do. I have held on and been through so much for him. But I don't trust him and don't know that I ever will. I don't have the same love for him that I once did.

Should I continue this relationship? Should I call it quits? Do you believe someone can change his whole way of life in only a few short months?

Please help me. I don't know what to do. -- LOST IN JACKSON, MISS.

DEAR LOST: A person can make great strides in changing his or her attitudes if there is sufficient motivation -- but considering your husband's history, I wouldn't bank on this reconciliation. Continue this relationship only on the condition that he agrees to joint marriage counseling with you, and that he make it possible for you to continue and complete your education. That way, if things do not work out, you will be able to support your children without having to depend on him. Good luck.

DEAR ABBY: Your column reaches so many people and is so effective, I have a request I would like to get out to people.

As I visit in a local nursing home, I see a tremendous need for help. So many of the people are lonely for someone to share with.

They love to tell you about their past, and many never get to go outside because the nurses and aides are too busy to take them out for a walk. Each time I take my friend out in the fresh air and sunshine, I can see a difference in her. I live in a warm climate and can do this often.

Even if people just visit and listen to the residents for a while, the people love the attention. Often there are organized activities the director needs help with, if people are reluctant to visit on a one-to-one basis at first.

If any of your readers are looking for a way to cheer up someone else and feel better in return, I suggest they look for ways to help others. Maybe a nursing home is not their answer, but many people need help in various ways.

My plea to your readers: Look for a way you can be of service to another. You will be blessed. -- MABLE'S FRIEND IN FLORIDA

DEAR MABLE'S FRIEND: For years I have pointed out the many rewards of volunteerism. I know from personal experience the satisfaction that is derived from reaching out to others, and I recommend it to those with time on their hands and charity in their hearts.

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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