I'm writing on behalf of a friend of mine who lives in another city. She and I have been talking on the phone, and I said I would ask your advice on a family matter that's been troubling her greatly. A couple of months ago, she noticed there was money missing in her purse. She'd withdrawn $200 from an ATM, and the next day, without having spent any, she was down to $180. Money kept disappearing after that, a ten and a five, until there was little enough left that anything missing would have been noticed. Then she withdrew another $200, and another $20 disappeared.
She confronted her teenage daughter about it, figuring that her 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter were incapable of such a thing. But her older daughter swore up and down that she hadn't taken the money, and my friend is inclined to believe her. (The daughter even offered to take a lie detector test.) My friend assumed that, having gotten things out in the open, the money would stop disappearing, but it didn't. Within a few days, she'd lost another $20. She'd always kept her purse on a chair in the dining room. Now she started keeping it in her bedroom. But wouldn't you know it, money kept disappearing. Now she keeps it under lock and key.
Her daughter still denies having anything to do with it, and my friend's attention has turned to her daughter's boyfriend, who's a good kid but pretty much has the run of the house when he's over. She's reluctant to confront the boyfriend, however, given that she has no real evidence to go on. Her husband, I should have pointed out, doesn't live with them, so she feels she can't rely on him. But she also feels like a prisoner in her own home, afraid to leave for fear that something valuable might end up missing. I told her she should have taken her daughter up on the lie detector offer. What do you think? Should she? Should she confront the boyfriend?
Money Problems: Your letter reminded me of my dear sister, who, 40 years ago, either did or didn't steal from my mom's coin purse, but might as well have, because my mom, serving as judge, jury and executioner, presided over a speedy trial in which my sister was found guilty and sentenced to one month's detention with revoked telephone privileges. To this day, my sister proclaims her innocence, and here's the thing: What if she's telling the truth? Wouldn't it be worse to convict an innocent person than to let a guilty person go free? Isn't that the principle upon which our system of justice is based?
Well, justice is blind, and in my mom's case, it was also deaf and dumb. But what is a parent supposed to do when all the evidence is circumstantial? Not much, I'd say. Otherwise, you're violating the trust that's already been violated once, by the act of stealing, and trust can only withstand so many violations. Your friend mishandled things, in my opinion. She shouldn't have confronted her daughter; she should have enlisted her help in solving the mystery of the missing cash. Likewise, she should seek the boyfriend's help in solving the mystery of the missing cash. Between the three of them, they ought to be able to unearth a clue or two.
If not, well, not all mysteries are meant to be solved. But they can be prevented, sometimes. Keeping her purse on a chair in the dining room was not a good idea, if you ask me. Kids are only human, and often less than that. If you dangle your coin purse in front of them, they're eventually going to grab at it. Not that my mom dangled her coin purse in front of my sister, not that my sister grabbed at it, not that I care. But if I did care, not that I do, and if she did grab at it, not that she did....
For how my sister would have spent that money, if she'd stolen it, not that she did, but if she had, write to: Mr. Right, Isthmus, 101 King St., Madison, WI 53703. Or call 608-251-1206, ext. 152. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.