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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I have two nephews and one niece, all teen-agers, who have lived with their father and stepmother for eight years. Their father divorced their mother, who is my sister.

Their stepmother, "Sharon," is trying to make me feel guilty for not sending her daughter gifts for birthdays and Christmas as I do my own relatives. She has informed me that her family considers my niece and nephews to be "family," and gives gifts to them on such occasions –- and she strongly implies that I should too. I resent Sharon pointing this out to me, especially since she does not encourage my niece and nephews to acknowledge the gifts they receive from me with even a simple thank-you note or phone call. Although my gifts are seldom acknowledged, I continue to send them out of a sense of obligation since they are my blood relatives.

Should I succumb to Sharon's wishes and include her daughter, even though I'm not a relative and feel ill will toward Sharon? -– CONFUSED WITH THE PROTOCOL, CHICAGO

DEAR CONFUSED: Yes, you should, because to do otherwise is to punish a child who had nothing to do with the breakup of your sister's marriage. And while you're at it, how about sending your niece and nephews a box of stationery and a note explaining the importance of acknowledging gifts? If you get that message across, it will be more valuable to them than any material possession you could give them.

DEAR ABBY: I am in love with my first cousin. We're both more than 40 years old. We knew we were attracted to each other 30 years ago, but we didn't say anything to each other at that time. He went ahead and got married. I remained single. He is now divorced.

A month ago we were at a funeral. That night we both decided to speak the truth to each other. After that, I returned home and told my sisters and brothers about it. Now they treat me like an outcast. I don't know what to say to them anymore.

Abby, I'm a grown woman and not a child. My cousin and I both want the same things out of life. This relationship will last until the end of time. Why can't my family stand to see me happy? -– IN LOVE IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR IN LOVE: Perhaps they're concerned because this seems so sudden to them. In addition, it isn't legal in some states for first cousins to marry.

People used to believe that if first cousins married, it might promote genetic defects in their offspring. However, since the advent of genetic testing for couples contemplating marriage, the risk of defects can be evaluated and ruled out. Your physician can help you allay your siblings' fears. If not, you may have to choose between your new love and your family.

DEAR ABBY: The letter about the grandmother in the Florida retirement home reading your column to residents who can no longer see well enough to read prompts this letter. I, and others, read your column faithfully to the 10,000 or so Sun Sounds Radio listeners, as our service to the print-disabled. "Dear Abby" rates as a MUST in Tucson. -– CONCHITA COLLINS

DEAR CONCHITA: Your letter made my day. I'm complimented that you and your listeners consider my column a "must." My congratulations for performing a worthwhile service for individuals who are unable to read on their own.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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