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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a mom of kids in elementary, middle, and high school. There is a woman who has kids in the same grades as mine, and our kids are in a lot of the same activities, so we see each other quite a bit. I was friendly with her but not particularly close to her. Well, she was recently caught embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from PTA groups, fundraisers, and extracurricular activities that she ran. This has been going on for almost five years. The fallout has been bad. The police were called, and her mug shot has been going around. Everyone has tried to keep the kids unaware, but that’s been a fruitless effort: All of the older kids and most of the younger kids in the community know what happened. My husband and I have talked to our kids about it, and have explained that they still need to be friendly and respectful to this woman’s kids. They seem to get it.
But I am angry. We, like a lot of families in our community, went through a really tough time financially. I got a second job to help pay for my kids’ activities for this year, and I’m furious that this woman stole the money we paid. I know a lot of other families are in the same boat. Also, a lot of issues had been coming up related to activity budgets, which is what led to the investigation into the finances. There were many times where the kids were told they couldn’t get pizza after soccer games as a team anymore because it “wasn’t in the budget” or my kid had to play an instrument that was nearly rusted through because “new ones would cost too much” or the drama club couldn’t get a new speaker after the old one died because they “didn’t have enough money.” Come to find out, they did have enough money for all of these things, but this mother was taking it for herself. This hurt my kids, and they’re pretty upset that someone they considered to be a trustworthy and kind adult turned out not to be.
I’m trying so hard to be compassionate, and to teach my kids to be compassionate. My older daughter says basically no one talks to this family anymore. But I’m so, so angry. Despite all of our financial troubles, I would never dream of stealing, especially from children and families in my community. How do I move past this, and how do I help my kids through this?
As parents, it’s one thing when another adult injures us in some way—but when you hurt or take something away from our kids, it can be much harder to move on from. If any of yours are struggling with their feelings about what this woman did—to them, to her own family, as well as to your community—I think it’s important to be there for them and listen, make sure they know they can always share with you, and try to focus on their reactions and emotions (though there is nothing wrong with acknowledging your own, of course, and it might help them to know you feel similarly). However they or you are feeling right now, it’s valid.
When I was a kid, an adult who volunteered for an organization I belonged to betrayed the trust my parents and others had in her. It took me years to stop being afraid of that person, but rebuilding my capacity to trust other adults in positions of power took even longer. I learned how important it was to think critically about adults and consider them one by one, as opposed to assuming all were automatically worthy of trust. And I learned that what happened wasn’t my fault, it was that person’s, and I didn’t want to let their actions destroy my ability to trust others. These were hard lessons, and it would have been better had I not had to learn them the way I did. But I think, sadly, these lessons are also part of growing up, and in the end I was very lucky compared with many kids.
I know it’s hard when your faith in someone, and perhaps in the people or institutions that missed warning signs, is badly shaken. There’s nothing wrong with you or your kids being upset and angry; it’s completely justified in this case—and remember, the presence of anger doesn’t mean you aren’t also compassionate. I hope that your family gets the time and space you need to process what happened in your community, and acknowledge your very understandable feelings about it. And I also hope that, in time, your children will get to know many more people who never give them reason to doubt their trustworthiness.
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About the time smartphones became popular, many of my mom friends put trackers on them before they handed them over to their kids. The agreement was that they were happy to pay for the phones but they wanted the peace of mind of being able to contact or find them. I didn’t do this—a combo of my kids getting cellphones later than most kids and because I just don’t think about stuff like this. Now both my kids are in college, and it’s way too late to install anything like that now, but I find myself envying my friends who continue to know where their children are. Case in point, my college son went completely AWOL for three days (despite a couple of texts I had sent about a tuition payment due). By the time he made contact, I was starting to really be worried. My friends don’t have those issues. Their sons might not get in touch with them, but they can easily see that they’re walking to class. But it’s healthier not to monitor, right? So why does this weigh on me?