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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I will graduate soon with a degree in nursing. This is a dream that is finally coming true. The problem is my mother-in-law expects me to take care of her and my father-in-law. They both have health issues, but nothing that requires 24-hour nursing care, and their medical issues can be resolved by simply taking their medications and following their doctors' advice.

I offered to help pay for home health care, but she said she doesn't want "outside" help. She expects me to uproot my family, move in with them and provide round-the-clock care, free of charge. I have worked hard to take care of my husband and children. I can't make a living working for free. I don't know how to say no without causing a major rift in the family. My mother-in-law doesn't take rejection well. Please help me. -- FEELING TRAPPED IN ARIZONA

DEAR FEELING TRAPPED: One of the hardest words in the English language for some people to say is "no." But if you don't master the art of standing up for yourself in a "charming" way, you will spend the rest of your in-laws' lives in indentured servitude.

So tell your mother-in-law that you have worked hard to get your nursing degree, and now you will be starting a career in the field. Tell her that you will gladly "oversee" their care -- from a distance -- but that you are not uprooting the family and moving in with them because it would be too disruptive. This is not "rejection." It is sanity. And it goes without saying your husband should back you up.

DEAR ABBY: My oldest granddaughter, "Allie," is a psychiatrist. I have always loved her, been proud of her accomplishments and have had a warm relationship with her.

Her mother -- my daughter -- got drunk and made several angry, harsh phone calls to Allie. Since then, Allie has refused contact with everyone in the family. I have written to her numerous times and so has my daughter, begging for forgiveness. My daughter has quit drinking, thanks to the patience and loving support of my family. She has also come out of an abusive marriage.

Allie gave birth to a baby girl last year. I have never seen my great-grandchild and it breaks my heart. Abby, what can I do to restore a good relationship with my granddaughter? I love her and pray for her every day. -- GRIEVING GRANDMA

DEAR GRIEVING GRANDMA: As your letter proves, being a mental health professional does not exempt someone from having family problems. Depending upon what your daughter said to Allie, it is understandable that she might want to protect herself -- and her baby -- from her verbally abusive, alcoholic parent. While it may be harsh for Allie to have cut off contact with all of her maternal relatives, including you, she may have done so to prevent you from trying to pressure her to "forgive" her mother for what has been an ongoing pattern of behavior.

Write Allie one more letter advising her that her mother is no longer drinking and has left her abusive marriage. Continue loving and praying for her. But until your granddaughter decides on her own to relent, there is nothing you can do to "fix" this. I'm sorry.

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