Dear Abby:

My husband, "Cliff," is in prison and we're not sure when he'll be out. We have two wonderful children, ages 11 and 13. We are allowed to visit him six times a month and can talk with him on the phone up to four times a week. Despite his incarceration, he is as involved as he can be in our lives.

I have a problem when meeting new people who ask where my husband is. The stigma of having a husband in jail is not something I want to carry in the small town where we live. Plus, I don't think it is something our children's friends should know because they might taunt them.

As happens more times than we'd like to think in this country, my husband was wrongfully convicted, and the explanation is a lengthy one. So, short of telling each person the whole story, what reply can I come up with when asked the whereabouts of my husband?

Needs an Answer in Ohio

You could tell your neighbors that you and your husband are having a "trial" separation -- but please be aware that the cat will be out of the bag the minute one of your children confides their father's whereabouts to a close friend. In a small town, there are very few secrets.

Dear Abby:

I am 12 and have lived in Texas all my life, until a few months ago when we moved to Las Cruces, N.M. My younger sister, "Janey," and I didn't want to move, but Mother met "Patrick" online and fell in love.

We moved to Las Cruces so they could be together and get married someday.

I like Patrick because he's nice to us, but Janey and I don't get along with his daughter, "Rita." She is 15, and says we have stolen her time with her dad.

She is jealous because he pays attention to us, and she can't have him all to herself.

Please tell me how I can let her know we're not stealing her father and that he still loves her.

Stressed in Las Cruces

As much as you might wish to put Rita's fears to rest, the person who must reassure her is her father.

Tell Patrick privately what you have told me.

Or better yet, clip this letter and tell him you wrote it. If he's unable to allay his daughter's concerns, some sessions with a family counselor would be a wise investment.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, Calif. 90069.

(c)2004, Universal Press Syndicate