DEAR ABBY: I own my own home. My mother lives with me. I cannot understand why she makes up the most fantastic, whopping lies. Mother tells people that I live with her and she pays all the bills. Abby, I pay the bills, and I'm left with pocket change at the end of the month because her spending sprees keep me financially strapped.
She also has to be the center of attention. She'll go to any length to keep the spotlight on herself, even if it means making me look like a complete idiot.
If I do anything that earns acknowledgment or recognition, Mother tells these people that she instructed me, or suggested the work, or had a lot to do with the project.
Is her behavior a form of jealousy, rivalry or downright meanness? Is the attention so important to her that she must embarrass me or make me look like I'm living off her when the reverse has been true for the last 20 years? What makes my mother have to do this to me? -- PUZZLED IN NEW MEXICO
DEAR PUZZLED: People lie for various reasons. Some lie because they are ashamed to tell the truth; others lie to make themselves seem more important. Your mother may do it because she's competitive with you, but it's more likely she's a compulsive liar. A therapist might help you pinpoint her rationale, but I cannot without knowing her. You have my sympathy.
DEAR ABBY: I am in my late 20s and the man I date is in his late 30s. He has children by his first wife, from whom he has been divorced nearly six years. Although we have dated casually for a couple of years, our conversations recently have turned to serious topics -- like possibly marrying and having children.
I will be meeting his kids soon and would appreciate any suggestions you can offer in relating to them. I'm college-educated, independent, stable, and have a successful career. But his is a situation I have never confronted before. He has mentioned the possibility of introducing me to his children before, but this is the first time I have agreed. This is my first experience with children. He has two sons, 14 and 15, and a daughter who will be 13 in February. Help! -- PANICKED IN PITTSBURGH
DEAR PANICKED: Calm down and discuss your qualms with your boyfriend. Ask what kinds of things his children are interested in, then do a little reading up so you can ask intelligent questions. I have found that when people show a sincere interest in the interests of others, it makes them more attractive to be around. Remember, it's OK not to know everything. In fact, his children may feel they have more to contribute if you don't. And above all, relax and be yourself. (That's the person they're going to have to get to know, anyway.) This isn't an Academy Award performance -- so play it cool, don't try too hard, and I'm sure you'll be a hit. Good luck!
DEAR ABBY: After a recent trip to see my father and his wife (my parents have been divorced for eight years), my stepmother left a message on my answering machine that said, "It's Mom and Dad calling to see if you got home OK."
Abby, I barely know this woman and certainly have never called her anything but her first name. How should I deal with this sudden and unexpected change in her? -- OFFENDED IN N.Y.
DEAR OFFENDED: If the woman didn't like you, she wouldn't have left the message she did, which appears to be a warm one. If I were you, I wouldn't make waves. Address her as you always have and let her call herself whatever she likes.
To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Keepers Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600