Dear Readers:

Here is another favorite column that many readers asked for, along with the letter that accompanied it:

Dear Ann:

The U.S. and Canadian postal services must be collapsing under the volume of mail with copies of your columns. For most of my life, I have kept a clipping journal. In that journal are at least 21 Ann Landers columns. Your columns were particularly popular with me as a teenager growing up in the '60s. I also saved columns that reflected my life when I was raising my sons. I am enclosing a column that was particularly meaningful to me, and I hope you will print it again.

-- Another Fan in Charlotte, N.C.

Dear Ann:

What wisdom, consolation or advice can you give parents in their fifties who have worked hard to achieve the American dream, loved their kids, and tried to give them the best world ever? We are also the unhappiest.

Many of our children are unemployed dropouts, migrants, drifters, angry with the world, on drugs, hostile toward us, and out of joint with society. How much and for how long should parents pay, in terms of self- recrimination, worry, disappointment and financial support? How can we enjoy the years that are left to us now that we have more money and fewer business pressures, and are still in fairly good health?

It's heartbreaking to see our kids maladjusted, disoriented and unable to cope. We can't help but feel we are to blame. After all, they are our sons and daughters. We raised them. Where is the cutoff line? Do you have any answers?

-- Meant Well Parents

To you and the thousands of other parents who are miserable because of "what you have done" to your children, I say this: Stop beating yourselves up. You did the best you could with the tools at hand -- inexperience, clay feet, the works. No one knows why some children turn out to be champions in spite of parents who provide precious little emotional nourishment, while other kids -- who are loved, wanted, tenderly nurtured, and have all the so-called advantages -- turn out perverse, estranged and unable to cope.

I have come to believe in a genetic factor that has been ignored by many behavioral "experts." We all inherit our nervous systems, and if the nervous system is fragile, it places severe limitations on what a person can tolerate. Certain individuals are born survivors. They can withstand life's harshest blows, and emerge the stronger for it. Others crumble in the face of minor adversity. The same fire that melts butter can make steel strong.

And let us not overlook personal responsibility. I am sick of hearing children blame their parents for their messed-up lives. People with all sorts of handicaps can and do make it in this demanding and competitive world.

For those who are addicted todrugs, there are rehabilitation centers with trained personnel -- eager and waiting to help. For those who need counseling, there are mental-health clinics. Self-help groups do a remarkable job -- and they are free: Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Recovery, Inc. The list is endless.

So, enough of this, "You damaged me, now take care of me" nonsense. It's a cop-out. Parental guilt laid on by our kids is so thick you can cut it with a knife. It serves no purpose except to perpetuate financial and emotional dependence and create a climate of hostility, punishment, and ultimate failure. God helps those who help themselves.

To find out more about Ann Landers and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

(C) 1999, Creators Syndicate Inc.