DEAR ABBY: I'm a 40-year-old single mom who shares a close relationship with my 12-year-old son, "Troy." I earn a decent living, but I can't afford extravagances like yearly vacations.
My mother and sister are considerably better off financially than I am. They constantly suggest great ideas for vacations -- theme parks, cruises or skydiving -- in front of Troy. I always feel terrible when I must explain to him that we just can't afford it.
I provide for my son and he doesn't want for much, but when Mom and Sis bring these things up, I feel like such a failure. How can I handle this without feeling like the bad guy? -- MOM ON A TIGHT BUDGET
DEAR MOM: Your mother and sister may not fully realize your financial situation, so here's how to handle it: Have a private chat with them and TELL them that what they are suggesting is not within your budget. Then ask them to please stop doing it in front of Troy because it is hurtful to him and embarrassing to you.
DEAR ABBY: Thank you for regularly advising counseling for readers who are dealing with emotional issues. Your message is heard in mainstream America and has an impact on those who are willing to hear it.
I grew up in a small town. My mother's family was of Irish-German descent; Dad's parents came from Czechoslovakia. Mom's family showed its love by teasing, criticizing and ridiculing.
I never saw my parents show any affection toward each other or to us, although we knew we were loved. They gave us a stable, comfortable home, a solid basic education, a strong work ethic and moral values.
Counseling was only for "crazy" people, and confiding anything to Mom set us up for becoming the topic of conversation with extended family. Nothing was confidential.
When I became an adult, I desperately needed to work with a therapist because I had strong negative feelings, depression and communication issues. Abby, one reason I was brave enough to seek counseling was because I had read your consistent advice to seemingly "normal" people to see a counselor. Another factor was being 300 miles away from my hometown.
Counseling was a godsend for me. It saved my life, and I recommend it freely to friends who need help. A wise professor said: "Everyone can benefit from counseling, and it's the person who says 'not me' who probably needs it the most."
My sister and brothers never left our small town. They are afflicted with the same issues I dealt with. One brother committed suicide at 41, and my mother lives in an isolated world full of physical and emotional pain.
Talking to a mental health professional when life feels overwhelming can make the difference between life and death. I'm grateful I had the opportunity, and comforted knowing it's an available resource if I need more. Thank you again, Abby, for making a difference in my world. -- LAUREN IN VIRGINIA
DEAR LAUREN: You're welcome. I have received occasional criticism for telling readers to discuss their problems with a licensed therapist. But when I hear from someone whose problem is so serious (or complicated) that it can't be adequately dealt with in a letter or a newspaper, advising the writer to seek counseling is the most direct and honest advice I can offer.
Thank you for letting me know my advice made a positive difference and that you're doing well. It's the most meaningful reward any adviser can receive.
What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)