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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Last summer, we visited my husband's out-of-state relatives, including his "Uncle Pete." Five years ago, Uncle Pete was diagnosed with schizophrenia and I don't know what else. He is receiving therapy and taking medication. To me, his behavior is still very strange.

During our visit, Uncle Pete mentioned that, in his opinion, our 8-year-old son displays signs of mental illness. I was speechless and didn't give him a chance to go into specifics. I explained that our son is OK, but shy around people he does not know well. Uncle Pete says it's a sign of anti-social behavior.

When we returned home, Uncle Pete sent us a book about children and mental illness. His note said he didn't want our son to have a miserable childhood like he had. My husband told me to write a note of thanks -- ignore it, and let it go. However, I plan to return the book and say, "Thanks, but no thanks, and please mind your own business!" I'm afraid if I don't put an end to Uncle Pete's meddling he will continue with his "mission."

Now I'm trying to figure out why this bothers me so much. I think it is the term "mental illness" and the stigma attached. How do we handle this uncle? -- ANGRY MOTHER IN TEXAS

DEAR ANGRY MOTHER: Your husband is half right. Keep the book, but DO read it. And thank Uncle Pete for being so concerned and caring, because that's the place he is coming from.

Please don't be put off by the term "mental illness." It's a broad definition that can cover problems both large and small, and it's no reflection on your parenting skills. However, mental illness can be genetic and run in families. So, as a wise mother, you should have your son evaluated, just in case Uncle Pete has spotted something that needs to be treated. If your son passes the exam with flying colors, you can then assure Uncle Pete that the experts say there's nothing to be concerned about. End of story.

DEAR ABBY: I need your help. I am being married next summer. I am 23 and have been with my fiancee since high school. She is very possessive and insecure. When we go out, I find myself looking at other women and wanting to be with them. I think she knows, because she gets an attitude and then tells me she wants to leave. She's older than I am and comes from a broken home. In the beginning, my parents hated her. That made me want her even more. Now she's like a habit.

I have no one to talk to about this. My parents have finally accepted her, and I feel trapped. Sometimes I think they just want me out of the house.

At this point, our plans are pretty much made. I don't know what to do. Sometimes I feel that she thinks my family is nice because hers is so messed up. She has very few friends.

I know this wedding is a mistake, but I don't have the guts to call it off. We were both lonely people, but now I am always miserable. If the wedding goes through, I know we're doomed. Please tell me what to do. -- NUMB IN NEW YORK

DEAR NUMB: It's going to take all the courage you can muster, but call off the wedding -- and the sooner the better so that some of the deposits for wedding expenses can be refunded.

While your fiancee's reaction won't be pleasant, trust me when I tell you that it would be worse -- and far more expensive -- if you back out of the union once you're married. And once children come along, you're tied to her for life.

You have a lot more maturing to do before you're ready for marriage. You need to become more confident in your choices, more in touch with your feelings, and independent of your family before making a lifetime commitment to anyone.

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

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