Dear Prudence

My Daughter Stole My Granddaughter’s College Fund

She refuses to say where the money went.

Photo collage of a woman taking money out of an ATM and a frustrated older woman.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Motortion/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Prudence,

My husband and I sent money to each of our two grandchildren for their birthdays and holidays, having agreed that their parents would put the majority of the money in a savings account for college. We never thought to set up separate accounts ourselves because we trusted our children. Our grandchildren both started high school this year, and the college conversation started while everyone was visiting. Our grandson asked his father how much money was saved for him and was told it was $9,000. His cousin started to ask her mother, but our daughter changed the subject. Later we pressed our daughter on the subject privately. She confessed that there was no money left. Both of us were shocked because as far as we knew, our granddaughter hadn’t taken expensive lessons or gone to camp. Our daughter refuses to explain herself and demands we make it right. My husband is furious, and I am frightened of the future. We haven’t told anyone what our daughter has done. I work part time but all my money has been going into our retirement. We don’t want to disappoint our granddaughter, but covering up our daughter’s theft does not sit well with us. It will break our granddaughter’s heart if she finds out what her mother did. Please advise.

—Missing Grandparent Funds

As painful and bewildering as this situation is, I hope you can remind yourself that your granddaughter has other options to bring down the cost of college (scholarships, community college, applying to in-state schools) and that $9,000 was never going to buy her a debt-free education. That knowledge doesn’t solve anything, but it will help you maintain perspective and keep you from thinking your granddaughter is doomed. I do think you should be honest about what’s happened with both your daughter and granddaughter, because my fear is that if you don’t, your daughter will invent a story where you’re to blame. I want to believe that she did what she had to out of desperation and that she kept it from you out of shame. But even if that’s the case, even if she stole the money to pay bills to keep their heads above water, I worry that she’s so guilty and defensive and uncommunicative that she’ll lie to her daughter and claim you never sent her the money, digging herself deeper into a hole and taking you with her.

You don’t have more money to give your granddaughter. You can’t go back in time and open a 529 plan at her birth. The best thing you can offer her (and her mother) is a practical conversation about what resources she does have so she can start to make informed decisions. I’d encourage you and your husband to speak as calmly as possible during the conversation—recriminations and emotional outbursts will only make your granddaughter feel worse and increase the odds that your daughter will remain defensive. Be honest about what you do and don’t know. Your granddaughter likely will be upset that her mother used her college money for something else, but there’s just no way you can spare her that blow. You don’t have more money to give her, and you certainly can’t pretend you never sent the money just so your daughter can save face. The best and kindest thing you can do is offer your daughter another opportunity to come clean. Letting her know that you’re willing to talk about it with her, forgive her, and come up with an opportunity for her to try to make things right. In the meantime, your granddaughter needs to know she can’t count on your money when it comes to making her college plans.

Dear Prudence,

Our co-worker left in the beginning of October to move across the country for another job. We gave him a small going-away party and made a goodbye video, and some of us even gave him money to help get him started. Then we learned that he moved back home after a single day because the job wasn’t what he expected. It’s now been two weeks since he’s been home. We only found this out because our boss mentioned he had called asking for a reference. He hasn’t said anything to us about being back. Some co-workers feel he should reach out to us to let us know what happened, since we went to all of this trouble sending him off, but other co-workers think he may feel embarrassed and that we should reach out to him and offer our support. Any advice?

—Semi-Missing Co-Worker

In the absence of information, it’s generally a good idea to act as if you don’t know all the information. This guy just moved across the country and then had to (presumably) try to get his old life back in two weeks. He’s probably pretty busy! Why assume that he fouled up and owes you an explanation when you know nothing about the circumstances that led him to move back home? If you two had a friendly relationship outside of the office and you’re actually interested in maintaining a nonprofessional friendship, you can reach out to him, tell him that you hope everything’s going OK, and offer to get coffee. But if you’re just curious about what happened but didn’t know him especially well, you should leave him to sort out the next phase of his career.

For what it’s worth, it’s not unusual for people to throw a colleague a going-away party if they’ve worked together for a long time. The video is perhaps a bit above and beyond. I don’t know that I’d advise colleagues to give their departing co-workers money, but that doesn’t entitle you to juicy updates about his professional vicissitudes. If in the future, you might decide as an office to host smaller, more modest going-away parties (pass around a card, get a sheet cake from the grocery store, schedule it for 45 minutes on a Friday afternoon in a meeting room) in order to manage your collective expectations about what former employees owe the rest of you.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From How to Do It

My husband and I have been married for seven years. We started out very strong sexually, but over the past few years he has stopped bathing and brushing his teeth regularly. Nothing I say or do seems to compel him to wash. Sometimes he goes more than two weeks without bathing. He’s dirty (he works a manual labor job), and he smells awful. I don’t want to be in the same room as him, and the thought of kissing him or being intimate with him horrifies me. So we aren’t having sex and haven’t been in a while. I tell him that I can’t consider a physical relationship with him because of this, but he doesn’t believe me—he tells me that it’s my problem, that I lack confidence, or I don’t love him, or I’m not attracted to him. He is very angry a lot of the time and blames his attitude on me “withholding sex.” He sees a doctor regularly and is treated for mild anxiety, but nothing seems to get through to him about this. I want sex back in my life, but not with someone who is dirty and/or who is mean to me, and I’m not sure what to do.