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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I just finished reading the letter from "Sick of the Bad Rep," who is depressed at the thought of having three daughters-in-law when her three sons marry. Well, I have eight daughters-in-law, and I, too, was scared. Yes, mothers-in-law do get a bad rep -- and often it is well-deserved.

When my eldest son married, I knew it was time to cut the cord. So, I cut the strings off a thoroughly worn apron -- a visible sign of my intentions -- and washed, starched, ironed and placed them in a gift box, and gave it to my new daughter-in-law. She was thrilled and let me know it.

I now have seven more daughters-in-law, and they are all precious to me. One after another, they have told me how much they appreciated the manner in which they were welcomed into the family, and my ability to let go.

I agree with you, Abby, that "Bad Rep's" attitude is self-fulfilling. If she has done a good job rearing her sons, she has nothing to fear. Love is not divided; it is multiplied. Her sons' wives will bless her, and she'll have three precious daughters. -- ONE WHO KNOWS

DEAR ONE WHO KNOWS: I have received a bushel of letters echoing your sentiments -- but yours was by far the most original way of demonstrating to your daughters-in-law there would be no competition. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: It isn't just straight couples who have that dilemma. I'm a 48-year-old gay man. Twenty-five years ago I was in my first cohabiting relationship, with "Boyd." His mother made Joan Crawford look like June Allyson. Boyd had been married and divorced years before we met. His father was very pleasant. Boyd and I shared a room when we visited their home. The first time we stayed there, I noticed there were pictures of his wedding everywhere. When his sisters came to meet me, one of them asked why the wedding pictures were out. The four of us had a good laugh.

I am a fastidious housekeeper. The first time Boyd's parents visited us, I cleaned the house from top to bottom. One morning I got up to start breakfast and found his mom cleaning the sliding glass patio doors. I bit my tongue. As I handed her a cup of coffee, she said the sun looked so pretty coming through the doors, but the streaks on the glass had ruined the view. I wanted to slap her, but I hung onto my cool.

When people complain about their mothers-in-law I often share my stories. My point is, a woman can be a bad mother-in-law, be it to her son's wife -- or husband. -- OVER THE RAINBOW, HARRISBURG, PA.

DEAR OVER RAINBOW: I'm sorry your mother-in-law turned out to be the Wicked Witch of the West instead of Glinda. I have a mountain of letters from readers who respect, admire and love their mothers-in-law. They enjoy relationships straight out of the Book of Ruth, which, by the way, contains one of the most beautiful love poems ever written -- spoken by Ruth to her mother-in-law, Naomi:

"Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.

"Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me." (Ruth 1:16-17)

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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