DEAR ABBY: I am 27 and thinking about the future. After much consideration, I have decided that unless I have a very strong relationship in place by the time I am 30, I plan on going to a sperm bank and having a child on my own.

With the divorce rates what they are, and the custody disputes I have seen my friends go through, the idea of having a child on my own is very appealing.

I have set the deadline at 30 because I want to be a younger mother, and I desperately want my father to be around for my future child.

I felt good about this decision until I discussed it with a close friend who called me selfish for consciously depriving a child of a father. I think it would be selfish to deprive my future children of their grandfather, who I already know is an amazing person.

What do you think about this? Am I being selfish?

"" SECOND-GUESSING MYSELF IN NEW YORK

DEAR SECOND-GUESSING: Although many children are not so fortunate, I think that "ideally" a child should have two parents. Had you told me that you felt you wanted to become a mother by age 30 because you felt your chances of delivering a healthy baby were better, or that you felt a child would complete you, I would be more inclined to support your decision.

However, having a child because you want your father to be around does not strike me as a justifiable reason, and I hope you will think longer and harder about it before signing on for single motherhood.

Have you discussed it with your father? At the risk of sounding negative, what if he were to pass away or decide he'd like to move to Florida? Then what?

DEAR ABBY: I am a pack rat and a slob. My husband is the opposite. I am trying hard to change my ways, but it is not easy because I was raised to appreciate sentimental gifts, and my husband is always saying, "If you don't use it &

toss it!"

It has been especially difficult because we now have a 3-year-old. He gets many gifts from my mother. When he outgrows these toys, I often throw them out or give them away. If it's something Mother has purchased, I am afraid she may find it in our garbage and make me feel guilty "because it cost a lot of money" until I reluctantly agree to keep it.

This has happened in the past, and I have suggested that my mother keep it at her house if it means that much to her. She says her house is much smaller than mine, and she doesn't have the room.

Any suggestions on how to stand up to her regarding these toys? I feel constantly railroaded when it comes to getting rid of anything in my house.

"" PACK RAT IN REHAB

DEAR PACK RAT: You may think you have a problem, but it pales in comparison to the one your mother must have if she's rifling through your garbage. The next time she brings something you have thrown out back to you, confront her on that. Then remind her that regardless of how expensive the item may have been, once a child has tired of it &

it's over. And if she persists in laying on the guilt, donate the item.

DEAR ABBY: I'm slightly confused. If someone has extremely good qualities and states what they are, is that bragging &

even if there was no intention of making others feel bad?

"" INQUISITIVE IN SUNNYVALE, CALIF.

DEAR INQUISITIVE: It's a matter of degree. Tooting one's own horn isn't necessarily bragging; it can be a form of self-promotion. However, if you go on and on about your own "extremely good qualities" and fail to mention the good qualities of others, frankly, you will eventually find yourself talking only to yourself.

DEAR ABBY: My husband, "Sean," died suddenly last year. He was a wonderful husband and father in every way. I knew about Sean's cross-dressing from the beginning and accepted it unconditionally.

Our 11-year-old son, "Brad," knows nothing about this part of his father's life. Sean and I discussed it many times, and it was his wish that Brad not be told until he was older.

My concern is, I receive mail, credit card applications, personal letters, etc. addressed to "Serena." Only one member of Sean's family knows about Serena, although most of his friends do. I am unsure what to do if and when Brad asks questions, as we all know he will.

There are also clothes to get rid of and other personal items of Serena's.

I want to honor the memory of my husband and his other self without hurting his family or our son. It is hard sharing this information with banks, credit card companies, and other places where "her" name appears. I try to explain that Serena was Sean's alter-ego and that when he died, so did she, but I do not want to go into detail.

How do I honor the man and woman I loved, and at the same time, protect our son? This is the only subject we never had a chance to talk about.

"" ALONE WITH THE SECRET IN WISCONSIN

DEAR ALONE: Please accept my deepest sympathy for the loss of your husband. When dealing with credit card companies, banks, etc. it is not necessary to go into detail about who Serena was. It is none of their business. Simply state that your husband, Sean, is deceased, and mail in his name should be stopped. And also do the same for Serena.

As to discussing your husband's other self with your son, my experts advise that the best time to let children know about the cross-dressing is when they are very young (3 or 4), and can accept it naturally as "the way things are." Eleven years old is too advanced an age for the subject to be introduced now. You would be better to wait until the boy has matured into his late teens or adulthood to discuss it with him.

When you dispose of Serena's things, do it at a time when your son is away or out of the house. If there are special items you would like to hold onto as keepsakes, consider renting storage space or putting them in a location in your home to which your son does not have access.

For support and information &

as needed &

you should visit the Tri-Ess Web site, , as well as a chapter of Tri-Ess called Nu Lambda Pi. This is a family-oriented support group for heterosexual cross-dressers, their spouses, partners and family members. It can be accessed at /nulambdapi.

Dear Abby is written by , also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.