Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Please remind parents who are divorcing not to forget to have that all-important conversation with their sons and daughters in which they assure them that the divorce has nothing to do with them.

Don't assume they "know." Children need to be told that their parents will be there for them, even though their parents won't be living together. And it's vital that the parents follow through by being available to their children physically, emotionally and financially as much as possible.

My father abandoned my three siblings and me in all three ways. At 44, after three failed relationships, I still hurt because my father never told me the divorce was not my fault, and because he never stood by us. With the help of counseling, I've stopped blaming my father and myself for my failed relationships. I have finally made peace with my dad. I don't respect him or the decisions he made, but I do love him. He is who he is, and I realize now that it's time to get on with my life. -- ON THE MEND IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

DEAR ON THE MEND: That's good advice for divorcing parents everywhere. As I say in my teen booklet, the real victims of divorce or separation are too often the innocent bystanders -- the children. I tell the children of divorce: "Don't make your burden harder to bear by feeling in any way guilty about the split. Children are seldom, if ever, the cause -- or even a factor -- in a divorce or separation."

DEAR ABBY: I, too, used to silently condemn able-looking people who park in handicapped spaces. Then my husband developed lymphatic cancer at age 39 and needed chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

During his half-year of treatment, he displayed a handicapped placard in his car. Anybody watching him leave his car would have seen a tall, handsome, well-built man in the prime of his life. But the powerful treatments left him so weak and exhausted, he could barely walk across a parking lot.

That's when I realized that not all disabilities show, and if a person has a handicapped placard on the dashboard, he or she probably needs it. -- JULI IN VALLEY VILLAGE, CALIF.

P.S. Three years later, my husband is doing just fine.

DEAR JULI: I'm pleased that your story has a happy ending. I'm printing your letter as a reminder that people shouldn't jump to conclusions without having all the facts.

DEAR ABBY: I was driving home on New Year's Day via California Highway 73, one of the few toll roads in our state. At the collection gate, I followed a black four-door sedan. I thought the young female driver was talking excessively to the collector, but I stayed composed. When I handed the collector the fee, he returned it, informing me that the driver ahead of me had paid my fee and also wished me a Happy New Year!

Abby, a wonderful warmth came over me as my faith in the goodness of my fellowman was for that moment restored. -- LLOYD JONES, SAN DIEGO

DEAR LLOYD: A wonderful warmth came over ME when I read your letter. Thank you for sharing a dandy day-brightener.

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.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600