DEAR ABBY:

I'm 18. I started helping to take care of children at the age of 2. I have taken care of them alone since I was 7. Yet every time older people talk about child care, I am rudely excluded from the conversation with comments like, "You don't know what we're talking about. You're not a parent." And, "You're just a kid. You only THINK you know what you're talking about." I even get these kinds of comments from people who have asked me for advice.

I know it shouldn't bother me, yet it does. After raising my younger siblings by myself and taking care of the house, is it wrong for me to consider myself a parent?

- Practically a parent

DEAR PRACTICALLY A PARENT: No, in my opinion it isn't. Of this I am certain: You have more parenting experience than the adults who left a 7-year-old caring for her siblings by herself without supervision. According to the law, that qualifies as child neglect and abuse.

Living with parents

is a good choice

DEAR ABBY: I'm almost 30. I have a full-time job, and I'm still going to school. I recently moved back in with my parents to save money on rent so I can be debt-free in a year (I have only my car payment and one small student loan).

Is it considered socially acceptable to be living with my parents at my age? By now should I already be settled in a career? I don't have friends my age inside or out of work, so it's hard for me to find the answers to my questions. I am hoping you can help.

- Kelley in California

DEAR KELLEY: Please stop beating yourself up or worrying about what's "socially acceptable." Your reason for moving in with your parents is valid. In another year, you will have achieved your goal.

The success you're trying to attain takes time, not to mention some degree of luck. Accept that becoming established in a career doesn't happen overnight, and allow yourself enough leeway to earn your degree and get on track without being so self-critical.

Bride wants

a new bridesmaid

DEAR ABBY: How do I gracefully ask a bridesmaid to step down? She has been extremely unhelpful and missed all the events in the planning of my wedding. The problem is, she has already bought her dress. What do I do in a situation like this?

- Dress dilemma

DEAR DILEMMA: It depends. Ask yourself (calmly) what will you gain by asking her to step down, and what do you have to lose?

If you are considering it because you plan to replace her, the big day has already been planned and the events are over. Would her replacement be purely decorative? If you want to punish her, understand that because she has paid for her dress there will be hard feelings, and if she's a family member, there will be consequences later. (Frankly, if I were you, I wouldn't toss my bridal bouquet in her direction.)