Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

Wear and Tear Take a Toll on Family Holiday Hostess

DEAR ABBY: Over the past five years, family gatherings have become increasingly stressful. When they come here, my nieces don't control their young children. Last year after everyone left, I sat down and cried! The mess was horrific, and the damage to my house and yard was dumbfounding. What's worse is they didn't seem to care.

I'm dreading this holiday season. I have refused to host anymore and my husband supports my decision. But I feel bad for my parents. They are in their 70s and have always had pride in their family.

As our family has branched out, respect has gone completely out the window. Last Thanksgiving we were all on our own. We always invite my parents, but they decline because they don't want to hurt any feelings. We have told them it doesn't matter who they're with, as long as they celebrate with one of us.

I feel like I'm being punished for not having the whole family at my house. If it weren't for my daughter, we would leave during the holidays to avoid the dissension. How do I deal with my feelings and live with myself? I don't understand the disrespect in the young generation. If you say anything about a child's behavior, you are verbally abused and made an outcast. -- GIVING UP IN TEXAS

DEAR GIVING UP: I'm glad you wrote, because you're blaming the wrong people. The disrespect you have described is a direct result of children not having been taught how to behave by their ineffective parents, and because there have been no consequences for bad behavior.

If you are asked why there will be no celebrations at your house this year, tell the questioner it's because you can no longer handle the mess and the damage. It's the truth. And PLEASE don't feel guilty for doing so.

As to your parents, please understand that staying home is THEIR choice. They may prefer to celebrate -- or not -- by themselves. It has no reflection on you.

DEAR ABBY: I'm a 43-year-old single mom of 16-month-old twins and in the midst of a career change. I will be entering the legal profession. Some people have told me that courts and lawyers tend to be "conservative" and may frown on single mothers.

My question is, should I wear a ring on my left hand without saying anything about my marital status? Of course, if asked directly, I will say I am not married. But would simply wearing a ring on the third finger of my left hand (perhaps my boys' birthstone?) be considered disingenuous or dishonest? -- PUT A RING ON IT? IN NEBRASKA

DEAR PUT A RING ON IT?: Because of advances in the field of reproductive medicine, women both married and single have been able to safely have children at later ages. However, one of the interesting things about motherhood is that no one can tell by looking who is -- or isn't -- one. Unless you walk into court and announce that you are a single mother, your personal life should not be a distraction to anyone, whether the person is conservative or liberal. There is no disgrace in being a single parent if you can afford to feed and educate the children you have, so stop worrying you'll be labeled with a scarlet letter.

P.S. I see no reason to "put a ring on it" if it's a lie.

** ** ** For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more sociable person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)