Dear Abby:

My husband and I are concerned that his father may be in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. He's doing childish things like biting my daughter (only with his upper dentures, not his lower ones), hitting her, and getting mad when she "tattles" on him.

He can no longer remember simple things and even forgot to take my daughter to school one day. My mother-in- law keeps putting off talking to him, and says she'll do it "after the holidays," "after his birthday," then "after Father's Day" -- you get the picture.

We are worried that he will become worse and there will never be "a better time" to tell him. I want to talk to my father-in-law myself, but my husband thinks his mother should do it.

I don't want my 4-year-old to think it's okay to bite and hit, or that this is appropriate behavior for her to copy in preschool.

Troubled in Kentucky

There are other dementias in addition to Alzheimer's. Your father-in-law should be scheduled immediately for a complete physical and neurological evaluation. Tell the doctor what you have told me. His behavior with your little girl is inappropriate, and if he is so impaired that he forgot to take her to school, he should not be behind the wheel of a car.

Please do not allow this to continue. Your first obligation must be the physical and emotional well-being of your daughter.

Dear Abby:

Although I'm a junior in high school, I'm not old enough to handle all the problems in my family. I think a counselor might help me feel better, but Mother won't hear of it. When I find the courage to try to talk to her, she just says, "Later, honey, I'm busy now!" She doesn't really hear what I'm saying. She's always on the computer and looks like she's hypnotized or something. I would call my dad, but we don't have the money for long- distance calls.

I used to be able to talk to my uncle, but he's in jail now, and I'm not even allowed to mention his name. My friends dismiss my problems when I try to talk to them, so I stopped telling them. My aunt and my grandma hate each other, so I can't talk to them. My aunt has even threatened to kill Grandma.

Last week, I went to the home of a new friend, but it made me very sad. They aren't like my family at all. They were eating together and laughing. I started to cry because I know my family will never be like that.

I had a dream that I reached out my hand, but no one was there. Please help me.

Lost and Alone in Virginia

Before I answer your question, let me point out that you are an intelligent and sensitive girl. You may think you are alone in having this problem, but I have received letters from many other girls in exactly your situation -- with mothers who are preoccupied or absent entirely.

It's time to put on your thinking cap. Is there any adult in your life whom you can confide in -- a teacher, a neighbor, a school counselor, the mother of one of your friends? Are there activities you can join (school clubs, Girl Scouts, etc.) that will put you in contact with nurturing female role models? Perhaps one of them could e-mail your mother to shut down her computer and live up to the responsibility she assumed when she gave birth to you.

Whatever you do, DON'T GIVE UP. Although your mother, aunt and grandmother may not be the picture-perfect family you wish for, that doesn't mean you will never have one. The lessons you are learning today can one day make you a much more effective parent than the one you have, and you can create the family you yearn for.

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