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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I have been dating "Charlie" for almost a year. We both have children from previous relationships. He has recently been talking about marriage, but as much as I care for him, I am reluctant.

When my daughter, "Mia," was in kindergarten, she was diagnosed with ADHD. I went through some rough times. It took all I had to raise her and her younger brother. Mia is now 13 and finally starting to overcome her ADHD issues.

The problem is Charlie's daughter (age 8) has ADHD far worse than Mia's was, and his other daughter (age 6) has an eating disorder.

Charlie divorced his wife just before we began dating, and he became a single parent. He has never parented alone. His wife was the primary caregiver to both girls.

Charlie does take the advice I offer and has tried to change his disciplinary habits, but only when I say something. And he doesn't take his younger daughter's disorder seriously.

I would like to stay with him, but -- and this is going to sound awful -- I don't want to raise his high-maintenance kids. I feel I have served my time as a parent to a child with special needs. Caring for his changes all the rules I have established for my own children. They're beginning to wonder why his daughters are treated more leniently and, "If I had done that, you'd have punished me" is something I hear all the time. -- BURNED-OUT MOM IN TEXAS

DEAR BURNED OUT: Your signature says it all. Have you heard the saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"? You and Charlie have a wonderful relationship right now. You can enjoy him and help him out when he needs it, and you're still free to absent yourself when his girls become too much for you.

Marriage is a package deal. If you combine households feeling the way you do, it would be unfair to yourself, to Charlie and all four of the children. I advise against it.

P.S. If you haven't already mentioned to Charlie that both his daughters need to be under a doctor's care, I urge you to do it.

DEAR ABBY: Our 24-year-old daughter, "Tiffany," still lives at home. When she was out of work for six months, we paid all her bills.

She has become very disrespectful to me and my husband. The atmosphere in our home has become so toxic that we asked her to move out. When we told her, she threatened us by saying if we make her move we'll never see her again.

I am overwhelmed with the feeling that I have done something to make her behave this way, and I can no longer function normally on a daily basis. I'm extremely depressed, and I desperately need advice on how to proceed. -- HELPLESS IN MARYLAND

DEAR HELPLESS: Is Tiffany on drugs? Does she have emotional problems that have prompted her personality change? If the answer is yes, she needs professional help and should be allowed to stay only if she agrees to it. If the answer is no, then your "mistake" may have been in being so lenient and generous that your daughter may feel it's her right to stay on her own terms indefinitely.

You are entitled to respect and peace of mind in your own home, so stick to your guns and don't cave in. Tiffany isn't going to disappear from your lives forever. In fact, if her behavior is any indication, I predict she'll be back the minute she needs money, if not before.

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