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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: This is for all the parents who have stayed together "for the good of the children." I grew up in a household filled with tension and bitterness. It was apparent to me that my parents had a bad relationship. Their misery showed, and I, as their child, suffered from it. Hearing anger and resentment on a daily basis was an awful way to grow up.

I believe the most important thing a parent can show a child is how to love. Children who do not observe this while growing up are deprived of something that is irreplaceable. Parents who are unhappy with their spouse often lack warmth. This lack of warmth is felt by their children, and affects them in a negative way.

I would have much preferred that my parents had separated. They did me no favor by showing me that married life could be miserable. They were distant and cold, and that hurt me worse than a divorce ever could have.

I hope parents who are truly unhappy in their marriages will spare their children the agony of living in such an environment. Parents who do decide to stay together owe it to their children to take measures such as family counseling to improve their relationships and ensure that they do not convey bitterness to their children. -- GREW UP SAD

DEAR SAD: You have written an eloquent plea for civility, and one which I hope that couples with troubled marriages will take to heart. A failing marriage does not have to be a "take no prisoners" battleground.

Read on:

DEAR ABBY: You have devoted some columns to the effects of divorce on children. Often the letters you print show how parents mess up their children when their own marriages break down. I want you to know there are at least two sane people in the world who didn't do that.

My parents divorced in 1979, when I was a little girl, but they always put me first and never made me doubt that they both love me. Although Dad hasn't been physically with me for day-to-day life, he has always "been there" for me. On my 17th birthday, he drove from Maine to Georgia to surprise me. The next year he came for my graduation and stayed at my maternal grandmother's home.

My parents both told me that many of their friends had used their children as "weapons" in their divorces, and they vowed never to do that. They have kept that vow, and everyone has benefited -- most of all me.

While divorce is not something people want to happen, it doesn't have to be the end of the world. You can have -- and be -- a family, even if it is in two different households. Parents still have a responsibility to their children. Children who have been emotionally scarred by divorce are owed an apology from their parents. There is no excuse for it. Parents who have experienced divorce and have let it affect their children should be ashamed.

I am living proof that people can be good parents even in bad situations. I have never been in jail, had an unplanned pregnancy or spent time in rehab. I am a well-educated, responsible and stable adult.

I sincerely hope that someday there will be more "products of divorce" who can say the same thing. If my letter helps make that possible, its purpose will have been served. -- STACI MARSH, GREAT FALLS, MONT.

DEAR STACI: Thank you for an inspiring letter. Your parents' marriage may have failed, but their divorce was a success. I wish everyone in that situation would follow their excellent example.

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