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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I had to write after reading the letter from "Mom in Denver," who asked for input from other mothers on how to be a good mother:

When I married at 17, I swore I would never have children for fear of abusing them as my mother had abused me. I love my mother, but I may never understand why there had to be so much hurt and pain while I was growing up.

Then I received the greatest gift of all from my mother-in-law: her unconditional love. Abby, she is my angel here on Earth. She has given me all the things I never received from my own mother: patience, understanding, confidence in myself. Without her, I would not be half the person or parent that I am. My mother-in-law is not only one of my best friends, but also the most wonderful "Grammie" to my daughter. I could not love her more if she had given birth to me.

I was 29 before I finally felt secure enough in myself to have a child. Then I realized that I am my own person with an abundance of love in my heart. I now have a beautiful 2-year-old daughter, and my only regret is that I waited so long to have her.

I know I am not perfect, but I believe that if you know love, you can show love. After all, isn't love the most important ingredient in raising a child? After that, the rest will fall into place. -- MOM IN DENVER, TOO

DEAR MOM IN DENVER, TOO: If anyone ever doubted the healing power of love, your relationship with your angel of a mother-in-law should dispel it. What a wonderful testimonial you have written to a remarkable woman. Your letter proves that, although children may be scarred by the bad examples set for them in childhood, the situation is never hopeless, and it's never too late to learn.

Read on:

DEAR ABBY: In defense of the mother who did a poor job of raising the 32-year-old woman in Denver: My own mother (now gone, bless her soul) was overwhelmed and undereducated, raising six of us on a skinny shoestring budget. Both my parents had problems with alcohol. So I grew up with little real parenting, except that I had the same parents all my life, a big family, and we had a home to call our own.

I married, had three children, and then faced raising them alone, for I was one of the early single moms. My three are remarkably loving human beings. Looking back, we had our share of challenges, most of which related to dysfunction, substance abuse and fear of intimacy. My three always tell me they know I did my best. They also tell me when they feel I'm "off the mark," but we all know we have each other and are family.

Kids are remarkably forgiving when they know you're trying to be the best parent you can be. Probably the most important thing is to always say "I'm sorry" and "I love you." It seems to me that those little words go a long way. -- DARBY, MONT., MOM

DEAR MONTANA MOM: I couldn't agree more. No one is infallible. May I add to your generous comments the importance of teaching young children, by one's own example, to respect authority figures such as teachers and police? Children learn volumes not only from what parents say and do -- but from what they don't say and do.

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