Q. "No matter how hard we try to be good parents, it seems we're never good enough. We have two children -- the traditional boy for him and a girl for me -- and sometimes I think they were born whining.

"Jim is 14 and truly getting difficult, while Mary Lou is 12 and almost as demanding. Nothing suits them now and sometimes I think it never has.

"It seems they always want more. If it isn't ice cream, it's gum; and if it isn't gum, it's sodas.

"They have a lot of clothes -- more than I do -- but now they want designer jeans and Polo shirts, instead of alligators.

"They have a lot of extras too.

"Jim is taking a typing course this month and Mary Lou is in sewing class -- both at my insistence -- but we've given them "fun" things, too. We enrolled Jim in a basketball clinic, and when Mary Lou said it wasn't fair, we sent her away to camp in West Virginia for two weeks for riding and swimming.

"Now that these activities are finished, Jim has decided that he would do much better in tennis than basketball and is begging for lessons. Mary Lou says she wants to keep up with her riding 'more than anything in the whole world.' My sister-in-law drives her daughter to a stable every Tuesday and waits for her while she has a lesson. So now Mary Lou says if she can do that for her daughter, I can do it for mine.

"And last night I heard Jim say he's going to join the ski club at school -- without even thinking about where that ski trip money is coming from -- and Mary Lou was talking about the $200 camera she wants for Christmas.

"Even though we live in a rich neighborhood, we don't have a lot of money. I work 30 hours a week to buy extras. With inflation, it's getting to be a strain.

"I find myself resenting Jim and Mary Lou, and I know that's wrong. These are the children we wanted and waited for. They're smart, they're popular, they're nice looking and I really love them, but they just don't show any appreciation, and it makes me feel so petty to ask for it.

"Is there any good book I could get to help me accept my responsibilities with a better spirit? My husband says the only book that will help us is a checkbook with a lot higher balance than we've got."

A. Have you thought about the Bible? You could read about Job.

Or you could change your point of view.

There are things you owe your children, but you don't owe them nearly as much as you think.

No matter what customs are in your neighborhood, there's nothing written in the stars that says a child deserves holidays at camp or lessons in tennis, riding and basketball.

If you want you child to learn a skill like typing or sewing, then you either find a free class or you pay for it, but if it's something they want to learn, such as riding and skiing, they should want it enough to earn at least some of the money.

The same is true about clothes.

Of course it's your duty to give your children a wardrobe -- a swimsuit and a winter coat; several changes of play clothes and one or two party outfits; underwear, a pair of sneakers and a pair of dress shoes. If you can't afford new clothes, they can be secondhand. And if you can't afford that, look for hand-me-downs. The amount you spend depends on your income, not their wishes. h

If your children want designer clothes bad enough, they can sit babies, walk dogs, sell lemonade, mow grass and run errands to earn the difference. If a child doesn't think a signature is important enough for him to work for, it isn't important enough for you to work either.

And does your daughter get that $200 camera? Why should she? A 12-year-old would have to be a wizard in photography before she was ready for such an expensive present, and then it would only be one of those extravagant, once-in-a-lifetime gifts.

Even if you could pay for all the luxuries your children want -- without strain or resentment -- it would be unfair to them. This is especially true if they try to make you feel guilty for saying "no," since that only teaches them how to get away with emotional blackmail.

It's often not what you give, but what you don't give, that helps a child grow kind and generous and thoughtful. They can learn to play tennis and ride horses any time, but only parents can give them values. That's where your real responsibilities lie.