KATHY MITCHELL AND MARCY SUGAR \ Annie's Mailbox Mom pushes new boyfriend on her kids

Dear Annie: My dad passed away two years ago at the age of 60, and my mom finally began dating this year. My siblings and I are thrilled that she is moving on with her life and finding happiness.
The problem is, we didn't even know she was dating until two months after the fact, when she announced that her boyfriend had moved in with her. Now, "Harry" must be invited to all family get-togethers, and there is no "alone time" with Mom.
Mom wants us to be one big happy family, but Harry seems to have no interest in getting to know us. When we do get together, he goes off by himself, responds to us with one-word answers and then falls asleep.
We are willing to accept this man as part of the family, but we feel Mom is pushing him on us and vice versa. What can we do? Disappointed Kids
Dear Kids: Moving in together was a rather precipitous step, considering your mother's apparent lack of dating experience beforehand. First, do a little checking around and make sure Harry is not using your mother for her money or lodgings.
If he checks out OK, try to humor Mom. She wants you to like Harry, and she wants him to feel part of the family, so, yes, she is pushing him on you for the moment. That should ease up over time, but keep an eye out, just in case things change.
Dear Annie: I have a 14-year-old stepdaughter, "Mary," who came to live with her father and me about four years ago.
Mary's mother never gave her the skills and direction to be independent. Mom just let her do her own thing but still talks to Mary as if she's 4 years old. At 14, Mary should be active in clubs at school, into fashion and music, be able to stay at home during the day without a sitter, do her own laundry and possibly be able to baby-sit her younger siblings. Unfortunately, she does none of these things.
Mary has only recently begun taking care of her appearance and hygiene, and that's with a lot of prodding from her father and me. She still refuses to bathe or brush her teeth at her mother's house, and Mom says it should be Mary's responsibility to remember these things.
Just today, Mary asked for a coloring book and crayons to play with, and was extremely ticked off when I asked her to share them with her little sister. Is this normal for a teenager? I don't remember behaving like this at her age. Does she need help? What can I do? Confused Stepmom
Dear Confused: You are in a wonderful position to provide the guidance Mary needs to mature. Kids don't simply absorb knowledge in a vacuum. Teaching these skills is what parents are supposed to do, and Mary's mother has abstained.
First, talk to Mary's pediatrician, and be sure there is nothing physically or mentally wrong. Then, be gentle with her. Explain the benefits of taking care of her appearance. Avoid criticism and concentrate on the positives. Praise her when she shows resourcefulness and responsibility. Reward her with a trip to the mall or lunch at a nice restaurant. We're betting, with your help, she will start to grow up.
Dear Annie: I am short and I know it. It irritates me no end when someone hollers, "You're so short! And I think you're getting shorter!" I want to say, "You're so fat and you're getting fatter," but I can't get the words out.
There is nothing I can do about my height. Do you have a snappy comeback that would shut them up for good? Always Been Short
Dear Always: It's amazing how rude some people can be. We vote for the sarcastic approach. Look startled and say, "What? Really? Thank you so much for calling it to my attention."
Creators Syndicate
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