Question: My father has been remarried for over 20 years. I lived with him till after college and have had my share of ups and downs with my stepmother. I am 35, a mother of two children and successful in my career. The problem is that she never acknowledges or says anything nice about what I have accomplished.

She will still, after all these years, refer to an immature act that I did while growing up, as though I should carry that cross around forever and will never be a good person because I was a bit out of control as a kid.For example, I lost 125 pounds three years ago and now speak to women about losing weight. I was bulimic for a short time in college, but she still brings that up as the way I lost and I keep the weight off. I confronted her and said, "Why can't you see me as I am today and be proud of what I do that is good?"

She said, in a mimicking voice, "Poor little Julie, always trying to have everyone like her." My dad always defends her; it is as though I don't matter. Ever since that talk, I can't stand being around her, so much so that I don't want to see my dad - they are always together. He's getting older and I want my kids to know him.

- St. Louis, Mo.

Dr. Laura: A one-celled amoeba, when confronted by a sharp edge or noxious chemical, knows enough to withdraw in self-protection - and it doesn't even have a rudimentary brain! Human beings, with the complication of emotion over intellect, sometimes don't display the apparent wisdom of an amoeba. Therefore, we keep moving forward into the hurt, essentially hurting ourselves.

Your stepmother seems the type who creates a feeling of self-value by devaluing others. Ignoring the obvious out of a personal need for love and approval, you keep pushing what is an essentially self-centered and cruel person to fulfill your emotional needs. Once you accept reality and have her pegged in your mind, and stop trying to get love from a viper, you can keep the emotional distance from her, which you need to continue to interact with your albeit weak father as much as you'd like.

Question: How do I handle taking my 9-year-old and 15-year-old daughters to visit an out-of-town sister who is shacking up with a guy, who at 26 is a dozen years younger than she? She dangles a carrot by saying she will have him sleep in another part of the house, or leave while we are there.

My solution is to visit with my sister in places other than her home. But the response I receive back is that if he is gone and I visit her home for the day with my kids that the shacking up is never to be noticed. My contention is that visiting her home validates her shacking up. I am now doubting my position. Am I being too rigid? Everyone tells me that it is not fair to my kids not to be able to see their aunt.

- Burke, Va.

Dr. Laura: It is a parent's responsibility for the moral upbringing of children. Your sister is demonstrating disdain for the covenant of marriage by her lifestyle. While that is "her business," it becomes your business when and if it impinges upon you or your family.

This is not an issue of not seeing the aunt - she can always meet you guys at a park or restaurant, or come to your home for an entire week!

If you are uncomfortable being at her house with your girls, where it is obvious even without him around that a man lives there, unmarried to their aunt, then you have a perfect right to not take them there. It is amusing that people only see the rights of the "naughty" person, but don't acknowledge any rights for the person objecting and attempting to hold up moral standards.

Question: I have learned that another person has said something terrible about me to someone else. I am devastated and surprised - I thought this person liked me and that they were not the type to do something like that. I am angry and hurt, and don't know what I should do about this. So far I've just been festering. Any suggestions?

- Los Angeles, Calif.

Dr. Laura: One person relates a tale to another person who couldn't wait to relate the tale to you. Ever wonder about the motivations of each of these other people?

If I were told that somebody hurt my friend, I wouldn't think of going to my friend. I'd go right to the source to confirm or not, and if true, stand up for my friend. Those who simply carry tales are prone to be the type to make up or exaggerate because of their unchecked envy, need for importance or power, or downright meanness.

In other words, don't assume that this is even true. Part of your being a friend is to give your friend the benefit of the doubt and either ignore this, or quietly discuss it with them. The people you should really worry about are the talebearers, who lick their chops with relish over juicy tidbits of pain.