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Dear Abby: Visits to mother-in-law feel like stepping into a fight ring

Dear Abby: I am dreading an upcoming trip that includes a visit to my husband’s mother, “Harriet.” She is prone to “accidents” when I visit, and I always end up getting hurt. Harriet’s “oops” moments usually involve my toes and feet, although the last time I was there she managed to strike my face.

Is there a way to keep her at arm’s length so she can’t get close enough to punch me? In the 20-plus years I have known Harriet, she has always been a bully.

– Apprehensive in Louisiana

Dear Apprehensive: Because this has gone on for 20 years, I’m inclined to agree with your suspicion that these “mishaps” haven’t been accidental. An effective way to prevent further injury would be to avoid being in the same town with Harriet. The next time your husband decides to visit her, take a detour and let him deal with his mother. She sounds like a handful.

Battling germ phobia

Dear Abby: A 30-year-old relative of mine has developed a germ phobia. She constantly applies hand sanitizer and avoids anyone who exhibits any kind of symptoms. She refused to visit me when I was in the hospital because she thought she might catch something.

Is there anything I can do to get her to give up some of the precautions she’s taking – or does she need professional help?

– Worried Relative in Tampa

Dear Worried Relative: Because you don’t know what has caused her health concerns, I recommend you ASK her. Hand sanitizers are popular because they claim to kill 99 percent of germs and decrease bacteria on the skin. Every time someone opens the door to a public building or presses an elevator button it’s as though that person has shaken hands with everyone who has been there before, so using hand sanitizer seems like good sense to me.

As to your relative not visiting you while you were hospitalized, the reason doctors are reducing the length of hospital stays and are performing so many outpatient procedures is to minimize the germs that patients are exposed to in the hospital.

Girl feels overwhelmed

Dear Abby: I just think that as a child, I have too many responsibilities to take care of. My mother thinks I am stubborn and not able to take care of myself. What do you think?

– Helena, Age 9

Dear Helena: I think you have a good mother. The way to teach children responsibility is to place some on their shoulders. If you learn the lessons of independence your mother is trying to teach you, with time these chores will become easier and less overwhelming. And you will thank her for them later when you’re older.