Dear Abby:

I am a 20-year-old woman in need of help. I used to live at my grandmother's house with my younger sisters and my parents. My father hasn't worked since I was born. My mom managed a local flower shop and made good money, but she was fired two years ago after she started using cocaine with Dad and her boss found out.

My grandma and my 19-year-old sister take care of my 12- and 14-year-old sisters because our parents are broke. To make matters worse, my uncle, "Ralph," moved here from Florida last year and now lives at my grandma's. Uncle Ralph has a jail record and is verbally and physically abusive to Grandma and to my sisters' cats and dogs. The police have been called, but they can't do anything unless Grandma says she wants him out. The thing is, she's terrified of him. She told my sister she wishes he would leave, but she's too scared to tell him.

Abby, Uncle Ralph is the reason I moved out. How can I get him out of that house, and how can I get my parents help for their drug problem? Most of my money goes to help out with my sisters. I need a car and I'd like to go back to college, but I can't until this burden is lifted off my shoulders. I suffer anxiety attacks from worrying about this. Please help!

Anxious in Pennsylvania

You may not like this message, but you need to hear it. You are not Wonder Woman, and you have placed far too much responsibility on your own shoulders. You are focusing so hard on other people's problems that you have forgotten to take care of yourself.

Isn't it time that your grandmother and parents took responsibility for themselves? You have already helped them as much as you can -- more than anyone can reasonably expect. There's a reason why airline passengers are instructed that in an emergency they must first place the oxygen masks over their own faces, and THEN over the faces of their dependents. It's so they don't all black out at once.

My advice is to contact Al-Anon (www.al-anon.alateen.org or 888-425-2666) and learn how to separate other people's problems from your own. Get back in school and get counseling through the student health center. Once you are out of school and established financially, then you will be in a stronger position to help your siblings.

Dear Abby:

My sister-in-law bought a pit bull. Because I have small children and am concerned about their safety, I asked her not to bring the dog to my house. She agreed.

However, my in-laws frequently baby-sit our children. Although my mother-in-law promised that she would not allow the pit bull there when my children are at her home, my father-in-law now says that this places him in an awkward position. He doesn't want to choose between seeing his daughter -- who likes to bring her pit bull with her everywhere -- and having my kids there.

He has asked me to reconsider. I feel strongly that I should stand firm, even if it means my in-laws no longer baby-sit, which will be a loss to my children. What is your advice?

Worried Mom in Ann Arbor

Small children should not be left unsupervised with any breed of dog. Children are unpredictable and could unwittingly do something to frighten or agitate the animal.

It would be nice if you and your sister-in-law could coordinate the visits of the kids and the dog. However, if that is not possible, unless you are absolutely certain that your children would not be injured, it's better to err on the side of caution and stand firm.

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