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

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I are the parents of two beautiful children, ages 6 and 7. My husband was divorced twice before we married. There were no children from my husband's prior marriages, and he has no contact with his former spouses.

I think we need to tell our children about his prior marriages in the next year or two, because his older nieces know about the divorces and could tell our children. My husband feels there's no need to tell the children unless they ask us directly.

Should we tell our children about the prior marriages, and if so, at what age? What can we say to them so that they won't be upset or feel insecure because of this family secret? Please advise. -- WHAT TO DO IN TENNESSEE

DEAR WHAT: Tell them now. Don't wait. When more than two people know a secret, it is no longer a secret. Since extended family members know about the prior marriages, the news should come from you and your husband rather than someone else. It would be wrong to keep this "open secret" from the children whom it will potentially affect the most. If they hear it from a relative, they may wonder how many other secrets have been kept from them. Don't worry about how to phrase it. Just say it took two strikes before Dad was able to hit a home run.

DEAR ABBY: This letter is for all those women who remain in loveless marriages "for the sake of the children" like I did. I wanted my children to have an intact family.

I said I would leave when my children were grown, but by then my husband had health problems, and I had responsibilities.

Intact family? That's a laugh. My children constantly fight among themselves and are disrespectful to me because that's how their father behaved.

Abby, I'm middle-aged and worn out. I wish I could divorce them all. If I had had the courage and common sense to leave when I was young enough to start over, I might now have some peace and tranquility. I gave away my life for nothing.

There isn't always a tomorrow. Sign me ... NO NAME, NO CITY, NO HOPE, NO LIFE

DEAR NO NO NO NO: If you're having a bad day, you have my sympathy. If you are being literal, and you still have your health, listen up! Being middle-aged isn't too late to make some therapeutic changes on your own behalf. It's not too late to find respite care for your husband while you take classes and sharpen the skills you'll need to make a life of your own and support yourself if necessary. Make one positive move on your own behalf, and I guarantee you'll make many others. It's only "too late" when you draw your last breath.

DEAR ABBY: I, too, am fed up with phone calls from telemarketers, so I wrote a poem and have used it several times. It has proven quite effective. After I recite the poem and the telemarketers become aware of my age, they hang up.

This is my poem:

"I have lived threescore and ten

"Paying bills that never end --

"I need no more bills to pay,

"So please hang up and --

"Have a nice day!"

Abby, it has worked so far. -- S.D.G., NEW ORLEANS

DEAR S.D.G.:

I am pleased it's worked for you.

But something else that you must do

Is have them take you off their list.

And if they argue -- you insist.

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

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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