Dear Abby:

My mother-in-law, "Diana," is a successful interior designer. Her son, "Brent," and I just moved into a new home, and she can't wait to visit. In the past, this has meant days of listening to Diana's endless suggestions about all of the "wonderful things we can do" with "our" new home. Brent is no help when it comes to shutting her off.

I'm anxious about Diana's visit because she ignores my hints that she keep her ideas to herself. Am I being mean-spirited? Her ideas are usually not in keeping with our style or budget.

How should we handle it when she offers a housewarming gift -- like lawn furniture -- and insists on "helping" us pick it out? Diana visits so often that we can't accept something and not use it.

Abby, this has gone on for 13 years. I love her in so many other ways, but this makes me feel like an ungrateful daughter-in-law. Please help.

Anxious in North Carolina

Since Diana is an interior designer by profession, she could be verbalizing her ideas out of force of habit. Once the ideas start flowing, it can be hard to shut off the tap. Rather than becoming defensive when Diana starts offering suggestions, simply tell her that you will "keep them in mind" or "give them some thought." It's not insulting, nor does it commit you in any way.

If she offers a housewarming gift, remind her that her tastes and yours are not always in sync -- and let her know what YOU have in mind. After all, you will have to live with the results. As a professional, she can respect that -- and with her resources, she can show you things you might never have dreamed were available.

Dear Abby:

I recently introduced my 31-year-old son and his ladyfriend of three years as my son "Ian" and his friend "Lisa."

Lisa took offense and said I should have introduced them as Ian and his GIRLFRIEND Lisa.

Since they are not married or engaged, was I correct in my introduction?

Ian's Mother

Technically, perhaps. However, since your son and Lisa have been an item for three years, it would have been more accurate to have introduced her as his girlfriend. It appears your offhand introduction struck a nerve, but it may be because she's sensitive about that subject.

Dear Abby:

Referring to the woman who is receiving checks from her elderly Aunt Millie, I would suggest that she contact Millie's children or someone who is involved in her day-to-day life before cashing them. Aunt Millie may not remember that she has already sent a check, or she may be arbitrarily sending checks to numerous people and charities.

Someone closer may be able to tell the writer to relax, enjoy the money and just thank Aunt Millie, or appreciate being alerted to monitor her checkbook and keep an eye out for other problems that may need to be addressed.

Gift-giving is often a way of staying in touch or seeking more contact. The niece and her children might write, call or visit Aunt Millie more often and give her the gift of their time.

Syble Solomon, Gerontology Department, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Thank you for pointing out that what I considered to be generosity might instead be a sign of dementia in Aunt Millie. If you are correct, contacting someone close to her could avert a big mess.

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