Q: Even though my husband and I have been married eight years, he won't assume his role as a parent and a husband. I take care of our two preschool children all day, but he won't help discipline them or do chores when he comes home.

He says he doesn't know how to discipline and has practically written off our 3 1/2-year-old as unmanageable because she won't follow his instructions.

I have given him parenting books and suggested that he get advice from our pediatrician, but he won't. He calls me an ogre in front of our daughter and says that she had better follow his instructions or he'll tell Mommy. He also won't let her take on small responsibilities.

When I work out his doing some household tasks, he follows them for a month or so and then slacks off again. If I challenge him about his chores he is full of excuses.

He has told me that he had a lot of responsibilities forced upon him as a child and now he resents it when someone asks him to do something.

I am at my wit's end and am considering divorce once the kids are in school.

A: A strong marriage is the greatest gift you can give your children but they'll never get it until you and your husband start respecting each other. Make the first moves. If you change, your husband will change and your 3-year-old will, too.

If you want your husband's cooperation, stop telling him what to do. And if you want your child to behave, stop giving her so much direction.

Post a checklist of the chores that need doing in the coming week and tell your husband that you'd appreciate his help but let him decide what to do and when and don't keep tabs when he misses. He works all day, too, and some days he may be much more tired than you think.

It's a matter of being grateful for whatever help you get. A husband who cooks dinner once a week is better than one who doesn't cook at all, and a husband who is appreciated for cooking that one meal will want to cook more.

Your husband will take even longer to change his attitude than you, but you won't resent him so much if you let him goof off and if you do some goofing off yourself.

Wash and fold his clothes but leave them on his bureau for him to put away. Put gas in the car but let him wash it -- or not. Leave his bike helmet, his tools and his crossword puzzles on the same chair every day, no matter how high the stack gets. Either he puts them away or nobody does. If that's not enough, skimp on everything else and hire a housekeeper for 4-8 hours a week. It's cheaper than a divorce.

You can also teach your 3-year-old to help, if you're respectful when you ask her and if you make it fun. Shout "Clean-up time!" Set Mr. Buzzer -- your handy kitchen timer -- and race around together picking up her toys before daddy gets home.

If she won't cooperate, put everything except a few playthings into a sack, but don't fuss. Just tell her you didn't realize she had more toys than she could enjoy and put the sack on a high closet shelf until she's a little older (like next week). For more specifics, read "Positive Discipline A-Z" (Prima, $16), by Jane Nelsen, Lynn Lott, and H. Stephen Glenn, and "How to Set Limits" (Contemporary Books, $14.95), by Elizabeth C. Vinton.

And please, please, take a parenting class with your husband. Even if you separate, you both need to learn what to expect of your children at each age and how to discipline them with love and respect.

Questions may be sent to margukelly@aol.com or to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.