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Dear Ann Landers: I am a 36-year-old divorced mother with two children. I follow very strict rules when it comes to dating. No man is allowed to spend the night while my children are in the house.

A year ago, I met a wonderful man who is good to me and my children. Unfortunately, several weeks ago, "Tommy" got pneumonia, and I allowed him to move in so I could take care of him. He sleeps on the living room sofa. The problem is my mother. Mom thinks having Tommy in the house is bad for my children. She says I should give up custody of my children since I don't put them first. She also told my 15-year-old daughter that Tommy is "no good." Her damaging comments have taken their toll.

My daughter and I used to have a good relationship, but now it is terrible, thanks to my mother's meddling. I have stopped talking to Mom, but I still allow the children to spend time with her. Now I'm wondering if that's a mistake.

Should I tell Tommy to leave? I know he would find another place to live if I asked him to, but I hate to give in to pressure from my mother. I want to do the right thing. Please help me.

-- New Jersey Mom
Dear New Jersey Mom: The first "right thing" to do is get Tommy off the sofa and out of your home. His presence is creating a problem. I know you don't want to give your mother the satisfaction, but grit your teeth and let her gloat. As for giving up custody of your children, forget it. They need you. Next, tell your mother she is too involved in your affairs and to butt out. If you follow these simple instructions, your life will be less complicated, and you will have a healthier relationship with your children -- and your mother.

Son will do what he wants

Dear Ann Landers: When our son was growing up, there was a little girl who lived next door. "Chrissie" would come over every day and stay until her parents called or we sent her home. Eventually, her family moved to another neighborhood.

This year, my son started college, and guess what? Chrissie is also there. She told my son she is in love with him, and he has moved out of his dorm room and into an apartment with her.

I have argued with my son over this and told him we sent him to college to get an education, not fool around. Chrissie's parents, however, are thrilled they are living together and are very supportive. This is the first girl he has ever seriously dated. Why does their relationship have to be so intense? Whatever happened to old-fashioned morals, Ann? Is there anything I can do?

-- Disappointed Dad in Arkansas
Dear Dad: Yes. You can lay off. The more you talk against it, the more your son will dig in his heels. You do not, however, have to support his new living arrangements. Tell him if he chooses to share an apartment with Chrissie, he can pay for it himself. And make it stick. (P.S. If his grades drop because of his romantic entanglements, you might reconsider those tuition payments, too.)

Penny worth a million

Dear Ann Landers: For years, Dad had been telling us he was going to quit smoking, but he never could. One day, he stopped to buy his daily pack of cigarettes, which cost 25 cents a pack. When he put his quarter on the counter, the clerk informed him that the price had been raised to 26 cents. Dad didn't have any more change, only a $20 bill. He picked up his quarter and informed the clerk it would be stupid to break a $20 bill to get a penny for a pack of cigarettes. He never smoked again and lived to be 84.

-- "C" in Dallas
Dear "C": Oh, the might of a penny! It added years to your father's life. Thanks for letting us know.

Problems? Dump on Ann. Write her at The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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