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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am 28 years old and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

Recently, a friend I'll call "Toni" asked if my 5-year-old daughter, "Chris," could stay overnight with her 4-year-old son. I have always said no, but this time Chris wanted so badly to do it that I said yes.

Toni knows how protective I am. She assured me Chris would be safe in her care. So my husband and I went to a movie and dinner. Since we were in the neighborhood, we stopped by around 10 p.m. to check on our daughter. When we arrived, we found Toni had gone to a party and left the children with a teenage baby sitter.

The children were upstairs jumping on the bed and raising Cain. I was horrified that my child had been left with a stranger when my friend had assured me she would be there. We packed up our little girl and left.

Toni called later to find out what happened. I explained my feeling that she should not have left Chris with a stranger without discussing it with me first. She called me paranoid and said I have a mental disorder and that I can't always protect my child.

Abby, I am not asking for advice. I am asking for your opinion so that I can prove a point. I want to open other parents' eyes to the fact that in this day and age we must do whatever is in our power to protect our children -- no matter whose toes we step on. -- PARANOID MOTHER

DEAR PARANOID: I agree that parents must do everything they can to protect their children. However, that is not what your letter is really about. Your friend was wrong to lead you to believe she would be supervising your daughter when that wasn't the case. It was dishonest and unfair, and I don't blame you for taking your child home. I see nothing wrong with parents socializing with other adults and leaving their children with a responsible sitter. But parents should have the right to screen the sitter themselves if they wish.

DEAR ABBY: When my daughter returned to college after Christmas break, my live-in boyfriend, "Ollie," informed me that he considers her to be a "guest" in our home and that she had overstayed her welcome. I feel that since she is still in school and my dependent, my home is her home and she is welcome to spend her breaks with me. My other daughter starts college in the fall, and I don't want her to feel that she, too, is a "guest" when she comes home.

This has been eating at me, Abby. I love Ollie, but there are no "choices" between my children and him. I thought he liked my children. I want to talk to Ollie to find out why he feels this way, and I am prepared to ask him to move out if he is firm about this.

Am I justified in drawing the line? -- HURT AND CONFUSED

DEAR HURT: You certainly are. Because your live-in appears to be both presumptuous and controlling, be glad that he spoke up now. A child coming home for a holiday vacation is hardly a major invasion. Consider very carefully what his attitude will mean for you in years to come. It is your daughters' home as well as yours, and he should not be dictating how long they should stay.

DEAR ABBY: I have two friends who divorced during the past year and now share custody of their children. During a recent argument, they began fighting over who gets to keep the church and the minister. So, Dear Abby, who does get custody of the minister? This is a new one on me. -- THE MINISTER IN QUESTION

DEAR MINISTER: Do not allow yourself to be drawn into something so petty. Both parties should be able to attend your church if they wish; there is usually more than one service on Sunday and separate sections in which to sit if they should happen to show up at the same time.

If they cannot agree to behave like civilized adults, then whichever one joined the church first should remain.

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