update: my employee’s son is scamming her out of money, and I’m worried

Remember the letter-writer whose employee’s son was scamming her out of money? Here’s the update.

After I sent my letter things with Maggie’s family seemed to calm down. I don’t know if it’s because our advice helped, if EAP services helped, or if she finally just ran out of money. However, she did realize she’d crossed a line and even thanked me for not giving her money when she asked. I’ve kept track of the library money (something I needed to do anyway for various reasons) and none has gone missing. Maggie is still a diligent employee, though there have been some small issues with her need to please and she doesn’t handle feedback well due to the criticism I know she receives regularly from her family.

We don’t hear as much about Ralph and haven’t seen him in the library. At one point she said she couldn’t go another winter having him live with her in her one bedroom apartment, but a couple weeks ago she let it slip that she might be looking for a two bedroom place. She also seems to be handling her money better by not having cash on hand and by paying her bills differently so that there isn’t a lot of money in her accounts.

Unfortunately, because of Ralph’s behavior, Maggie is now back to being more dependent on her ex-husband for things (before all this started she wasn’t in contact with him). Maggie has always been the type of person who wants to help, but because Ralph and her ex make her feel useless unless she’s constantly helping them, she thinks people will think she’s a bad person if she’s not helping everyone all of the time. This means I’ve had to be more careful lately in what I ask Maggie to do because we know she’ll never say no (despite the fact that I tell her often that she’s always free to say no to my requests).

I know some commenters wondered how any of this was my business, but we are a small group in a small town and you can’t help but know things about community members. The library is a main social gathering place for people who don’t hang out in the bar. There are times I can’t believe what patrons tell us about their families or medical issues. I also appreciated the comments that rightly guessed I was concerned about answering to my community if something (like theft) happened and found out I knew we might have left ourselves open to the possibility. I’m still worried about Maggie’s health due to stress (her other son suffered a pretty bad personal tragedy last week), but the drama at work is much less.

{ 58 comments… read them below }

  1. CBH*

    It sounds like Maggie is slowly realizing the reality of things. Hopefully she will realize she is stronger than she thinks she is. I’m glad the OP and team can offer her tough love and a good support system/ resources.

    1. RB*

      I don’t know – it sounds more like Maggie hasn’t gotten better at saying no to anyone ever. It’s so sad to me that her entire self worth is based solely on her value to others, to the extent that it clouds her judgement on managing her own life.

        1. Anon non non*

          I don’t think that’s fair in this situation. I don’t think that Maggie is happy being a martyr, but years of emotional abuse have whittled her down to the point where she knows no other way. I’ve known people who truly enjoyed being martyrs and I’ve known people who were martyrs because that’s the only life they’ve known. It’s a safe guess based on the additional information provided about her past that Maggie falls into that second category.

            1. MerciMe*

              Are you using “rather” in the sense of “Yes, I would rather give in to unreasonable demands than die cold and alone in a snowdrift clutching my last match in my wizened hands”?

              Because it’s not like we’re talking about preferring bacon over books. We’re talking about trauma-driven survival reflexes that are probably wired pretty tightly into her brain by now. That stuff is mega-hard to deprogram.

        2. Say what, now?*

          Using that phrasing makes it sound like you’re lumping Maggie into the “oh, whoa is me! I signed on to do this thing for you but it’s such a burden on me so you should be eternally grateful and admiring of me” category. There are people who act like that all of the time even if you ask them to lend you a paperclip and we use the term “martyr” for them sardonically.

          But Maggie is different, she’s someone who is afraid of failing people’s expectations because she thinks that love is transactional. It’s not a crazy/weird thing to be afraid to lose the love of those you love. At our core most of us want to be loved. I’m sure the fear of losing that is driving some bad decisions and incorrect reasoning.

      1. OP*

        Unfortunately, this is somewhat the case. About a month ago on a Monday, someone ran a stop sign and hit Maggie’s car. She was ok, but badly bruised. That following Wednesday she was supposed to help wash dishes at a church function. The other person helping with that was supposed to be out of town, so Maggie was panicking about there being “nobody” to wash the dishes besides herself. I figured this couldn’t be true, so I called the other dish washer. It ended up that he didn’t have to be out of town so I told him what happened and he easily found someone to help with the dishes. On one hand, I feel like this kind of thing isn’t my business to manage. However, Maggie thanked me after and I think it really helps to SHOW her that she can ask for help and people don’t think less of her. Telling her doesn’t seem to get through.

        1. RB*

          That was great of you to do that. Such a good example of how things won’t fall apart if Maggie is not everywhere at once.

        2. Say what, now?*

          It’ll be a good thing for her to learn professionally as well. If she can’t ask for help washing dishes after a car accident, I’m sure that it’s rough for her to ask for help in her paid responsibilities. It’s good that you can foster different thinking in her.

        3. Temperance*

          Yikes. I mean, she sounds like a person who needs a lot of help to manage her life. You’re very kind to intervene for her, but like, wow.

      2. Anonymoose*

        Yup. Sounds like she’s making the monster worse, not better. But this is still a more positive letter than I expected. I thought for sure Ralph would have been arrested by now for fraud or dealing. Pessimistic? You betcha. Too many addicts in the family.

    2. AKchic*

      Sounds more like she’s gotten better at hiding her situation from people who actually care about her well-being. In cases like this, it would be like comparing her to an abused spouse, only it’s actually a little worse, because you can’t really divorce or just “walk away” from your children. You feel an obligation to your children. Society has pushed the idea that you are *always* responsible for your children, and any failing on their part is a failing on your part because you were the one who raised them, therefore their failure to launch and succeed is a failure to parent correctly/effectively, therefore it is ultimately your fault as the parent for what is currently happening.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        Yes, this. The parent-child – specifically, mother-child – bond is the one remaining bond where there is no divorce, no walking away, and no take-backsies (yes, people do disown their children, but that is very frowned upon in many circles). And especially if Ralph is Maggie’s only child (the original letter didn’t say) – there is the feeling of “you had ONE job…” if the child flounders or fails to launch.

        1. fposte*

          She’s got another son, apparently, because he just had a serious personal tragedy in the last line. Hope she’s got some good family luck elsewhere.

          1. Say what, now?*

            I hope so too. I’m kinda wondering if she’s isolated from her side of the family (either from deaths or they refuse to engage with her over her behavior with her ex and son) because it seems odd she’d resume relations with her ex after a long time apart.

        2. nonymous*

          Just wanted to chime in that even this has a lot of flavors. My mom comes from a culture where the care flows upward (children are obligated to parents for all eternity and then some); my MIL has the traditional Western perspective that kiddos are yours for life. Thanksgiving was awesome /s

        3. Temperance*

          I’m sure you didn’t mean this, but just FYI, it works the same way in reverse and this idea is often used to punish people with abusive or inept parents.

  2. Emma UK*

    Thanks for this update, I’ve been wondering about it. Whatever happens you have done your best to help.

    1. Hills to Die On*

      Sometimes that’s all you can do. Maggie has a safe, caring place to work where she is treated with kindness. That’s a very big deal.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      Me too! It sounds like Ralph picked up the disrespect for his mother from his father’s treatment of her. So sad.

      1. Moonmodule1998*

        I remember reading about how that’s not uncommon in abusive spouses, to turn their children against the abused. I too feel bad for Maggie and I wish her the best. I’ve never dealt with it personally, but I’d imagine it’s a truly horrible situation to be in.

  3. Chris*

    As an aside, I work in a very, very small branch library in a rural town, and you would not believe how much they trust us. Lots of people just want to talk to someone, anyone, and the nice man/woman at the library is often a person they turn to. I know so much about the medical issues, family drama, local politics, etc.

    1. LKW*

      I would imagine librarians are viewed as knowledgeable and perhaps some folks find their local librarians less judgmental than their clergy.

      1. OhNo*

        This seems to be the case, even at colleges and other types of libraries. I’ve never worked in public libraries, but I’ve still had a lot of patrons tell me more than I ever wanted to know about their family, health, or marital struggles.

    2. Anon non non*

      Part of my job involves calling patients to review insurance benefits with them. The call should typically take 5 minutes…tops. But a lot of my patients are sick, older, lonely, or all three and they just want to complain, talk about their cat**, tell me how they’re feeling ,or whatever. It’s hard to rush them off the phone when you know that they’re just desperate for that moment of talking to someone who has to listen and doesn’t dismiss them.
      **Yes…I really did have a patient who stopped me mid-sentence to ask me if I could hear her “little rascal purring? He’s such a fatty. He has four brothers…” and then went on to talk about all of her other pets for 20 minutes (a dog, a second cat, a lizard and bird in case you were wondering.) It was one of my favorite calls.

      1. Former Prof*

        And could you hear her kitty purring? If one of my silly boys jumps into my lap and happily starts his motor up while I’m on a call, business, medical, or otherwise, I will OFTEN ask people if they can hear him. It’s the best sound EVER. We need to listen to cats purring MORE :) :)

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Considering that it apparently helps the healing process along, maybe cats should be covered under health insurance! :P

    3. Miso*

      Seriously, people tell you so much. There were definitely times where I was screaming “TMI, lady!!” in my head.

      And the thing is, they’re not just telling you in the end… I know way too much about the ex-wife of my coworker’s brother because he was just sitting around and telling my coworker everything in detail. And it’s not just me who could hear everything, sound carries quite well in our library…

  4. MuseumChick*

    I really hope life gets better for Maggie and she finds more self-worth. Maybe you can host events focused on self-empowerment as part of your public programming? Or maybe something about emotional abuse? I’m sure there are many in your community, not just Maggie that could use help on that front.

    Your right to be worried if something were to happen and the perceptions is that you know about. We had a slightly similar situation at my work a few weeks ago that resulted in a long term employee being let go.

    1. OP*

      Unfortunately, we have no programming space. Any adult programs we host have to held off site and we have to book the space over a year inadvance. We are near a large medical/university research center, so there are many resources available 15 minutes away that do a better job than I could with my resources.

  5. Megan*

    If Maggie has a faith community, could you suggest that she talk to her clergyperson? They may be able to help her with counseling, at least. If the library is the main social gathering spot, could you offer some programming in the evenings about assertiveness training or elder abuse or codependency, or anything else that might help Maggie as well as others?

  6. AnonAndOn*

    This was a letter that I was curious about, though when I posted in the update request thread I thought the woman’s pseudonym was “Martha.” I’d forgotten it was “Maggie.”

    I do hope that one day Maggie can get the help she needs. She’s so beaten down by Ralph and her ex that she doesn’t think she’s worthy. Being abused can really mess with one’s head.

  7. Multiple Emails*

    Thank you for including the explanation about living in a small town and why everyone is so involved with each other’s business, it helps explain the situation a lot better. And thank you for being a good person, and opening yourself up to vulnerability by trying to help Maggie and her family. This is the way our world needs to operate.

  8. phillykate*

    I feel so bad for Maggie and her lack of self worth. I hope she realizes that self worth and love someday.

  9. Lumen*

    It sounds like Maggie is starting to take proactive steps to protect herself from her son’s behavior, which is awesome. Even if she’s not doing ‘enough’, or changing everything immediately, it really sounds like she’s moving in the right direction. I hope so much that her self-worth keeps going up so that she realizes she is a good person without letting someone financially and emotionally abuse her.

    I know she may not read this, but: Go Maggie Go! People you’ve never met care about you! You can do this!

    OP: You sound like you have a lot of compassion for this member of your community, and that is admirable. The more people who treat Maggie with respect and value, the more she might start to believe it.

    1. Anon non non*

      Agreed. It’s easy to stand on the outside and say she should do this or that, but Maggie is living that reality and the fact that she’s stopped carrying cash and making it so her bills are auto pay are steps in setting boundaries for herself. Gargantuan steps if you ask me.

      1. Nic*

        Those first steps, however small they might be (and making bills is NOT small!) are the hardest. Once you take those you build momentum, and every next step is easier.

        You go Maggie!

  10. chi type*

    Man I thought this was about my old branch until I got to the small town part. Sad that it’s so common.

  11. Oranges*

    As a people pleaser myself. It helps when other people ask the probability of an ask because I feel guilty saying no. I know that’s my problem to fix and I am.

    Example: we now have a “dishes forecast” in our house since I’m in charge of cleaning the kitchen. I would be asked to do so and it immediately sent me into a shame spiral if I didn’t have the spoons. But now I can say “dishes forecast is 90%” or “dishes forecast 30%”.

    The main issue I have was feeling like I was disappointing others by saying no. My sense of self worth is tied to not disappointing others because I am a social creature. In my case though it’s too closely tied.

    I don’t know what scripts can help you LW because we’re all different but any script that states “you won’t disappoint me” in a way that she can understand is going to help I think.

  12. Is it Friday Yet?*

    I think some of these comments are harsh and judgmental of Maggie. When you find out that a close family member struggles with addiction, they don’t hand you a guide book that tells you what to do and how to fix it. Addicts are masters at manipulation and lying. It is difficult to balance loving them but not enabling them AND not feeling guilty. I hope Maggie will get better at saying “No” as time goes on, and I hope Ralph stays sober. Thank you for the update OP!

    1. AnonAndOn*

      I never got that impression from reading the comments. They seem supportive of Maggie, not judgmental.

    2. Moonmodule1998*

      I agree. Especially the comment implying Maggie just wants to be a martyr. IMO that’s actually kind of a cruel, if at least ignorant thing to assume about someone you don’t know. And of course it’s possible but there are more tactful ways to bring up the possibility. Really though in my opinion, sometimes abused people do resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms, including perhaps a martyr complex. So even if Maggie did have a martyr complex then I don’t think she’s entirely undeserving of some compassion, because healthy people usually don’t have a huge issue like that. Anyway, that’s not to say she does, because I don’t think she does. I think she’s a woman in a bad situation and I’m glad LW is so understanding.

    3. PhyllisB*

      So true, Friday (about the addiction part.) I have shared before about my three children and their various addictions and how we handled each case. However, if someone had given me a book I would have been so grateful because 1. I learn best by reading about something. and 2. I didn’t really realize what I was dealing with until the second one starting having problems.

    4. Stellaaaaa*

      I don’t think anyone’s being harsh on Maggie. It’s one thing for a family member’s problems to affect your life, but it’s quite another when those issues bleed into your workplace and start impacting other people, who may have their own addict relatives that are not impacting you in the same way. When there’s a risk of the addict stealing your work keys and robbing your job, a little tough love is necessary.

  13. Just Jess*

    Maggie sounds like the type of person described in the book No More Mr. Nice Guy. The book has a gendered title, but it covers the issues of people pleasing for validation, codependency, inability to accept corrective feedback, dishonesty, and passive aggressiveness very well.

  14. Diamond*

    In the rural town where I live there is a particular population where one aspect of their culture is a strong obligation/pressure to share what you have with your family. In a perfect world this might be nice, but sadly in the real world it can end up like Maggie and Ralph. I wonder if this is part of Maggie’s culture too, in which case it would be immensely difficult to say no to the pressures of not just Ralph but your upbringing/community/wider family…

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