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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My 17-year-old son, "George," has a learning disability. I have to fight the school system to keep teachers from destroying his self-esteem. However, an even bigger problem is that my mother and my sister's boyfriend, "Tony," say cruel things to George.

Mother gives George a hard time because he won't try to read. I constantly tell her that he struggles hard to read, but doesn't comprehend what he's reading -- and it may never get better. Tony ridicules my son because he's a little overweight. How can I give George healthy self-esteem if others tear it down?

I also have a problem with the way Mother and Tony treat my 13-year-old daughter, "Allison." Allison is a tomboy who doesn't like to wear dresses. She prefers baggy clothes. She is a good kid. She's not into drugs, alcohol or sex. Mother berates her for not looking "like a lady," and Tony calls her a lesbian.

I hate to keep my children from seeing my mother or my sister, but it has reached the point where neither George nor Allison wants anything to do with them. How should I handle these so-called "loved ones" without starting a major war? -- MOM OF WONDERFUL CHILDREN IN INDIANA

DEAR MOM: As a parent, it is your job to protect your children and to act as their advocate. If you haven't done so, tell your mother and your sister's boyfriend that their name-calling is destructive and you want it stopped immediately. If they refuse, distance yourself and the children from their painful and abusive influence. Remember, your first obligation is to your children -- not your mother, and certainly not Tony.

DEAR ABBY: I'm married to a man who limits his social life to our relatives and me. That makes it very difficult for me to enjoy my own pursuits. When I want to go out, I have to give my husband a good reason and tell him every detail.

I invite him to movies and dinners out, but he's never interested. I try not to keep secrets from him, but I've reached the point where I feel like rebelling against his control.

It's wonderful that he loves to spend time with me, but I believe all couples require some outside interests and friends to maintain a balanced life. We've been together four years and were married last summer.

Is there any way to overcome these issues? -- MARRIED TO A CLINGING MAN

DEAR MARRIED: Yes. Marital counseling for both of you -- before he smothers you completely.

DEAR ABBY: I am a 13-year-old girl who looks much older than my age. When older guys see me, they think that because I look 18, I must be 18. They don't believe me when I tell them my age. Some of them don't even care.

How do I get them to leave me alone? -- LOOKS 18 IN VIRGINIA

DEAR LOOKS 18: It's not hard. After you tell them you are only 13, if they persist, ask them, "Have you ever heard the word 'harassment'?"

If that doesn't discourage them, tell them your mother is very familiar with the word, and if they don't leave you alone, you'll tell HER they're harassing you.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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