DEAR AMY: I am 23 years old and have a 6-year-old son. We live at home with my parents. It's awful. We don't get along, and they never want me to be alone with my son. I'm a great mother, but they don't think I am. I want to move out, but they said I can't take my son with me if I move out. They are making it completely impossible for me to enjoy my life, so I work three jobs just to avoid them (they take care of my son while I work). I am saving for rent on an apartment. They said if I move out they are going to fight me in court for custody. I want to move out, but I don't want to ruin my family. What do I do?

-- Need to Live My Life

DEAR NEED: I see this from your parents' perspective as well as yours. You had a baby when you were a teenager. You deal with tension by avoiding your parents, thus leaving your son to their care. The more time they spend raising him, the less time you spend raising him. This does not show great judgment on your part.

You have to try to be objective and make whatever choice is best for your child.

Is his life stable and peaceful? Are your parents doing a good job with him?

Your parents cannot get custody of your child unless they can prove that you are dangerously unfit. The fact that you want to make these independent decisions is a good thing, but it is alarming that you have gotten to the point where you and your parents are making threats, instead of arriving at workable solutions.

You should seek the assistance of a social worker with your local department of children and family services. You need parenting classes and mentoring toward a more independent life for yourself -- and also help to mediate this with your parents.

Ideally, you would choose to live nearby so your folks could continue to spend time with their grandchild.