Miss Conduct

Advice: Our niece is in a cult, and we’re afraid to give her money

Plus, I’m too busy for some old friends. Should I tell them or just ghost?

My spouse and I give our nieces and nephews a substantial cash gift when they turn 21, as the youngest will next year. But “Lisa” and her parents are members of a cult. Lisa is naive and immature, never having had any of the normal independent experiences of someone her age. I worry that she will give the money to the cult, or use it to pay down her parents’ debt (they have good incomes — most of which go directly to the cult). We want Lisa to get the same gift as her cousins. We’ve considered putting her gift into a trust until she is older and (hopefully) more independent. But we didn’t restrict how our other young relatives spent their money, and my intense anti-cult bias may be clouding my judgment.


M.D. / Boston

Being intensely against cults isn’t a bias. “Intensely anti-” is how you’re supposed to feel about groups devoted to separating people from their money and autonomy and social networks.

You are in no way required to finance a cult, directly or indirectly, because you’ve given unrestricted monetary gifts to your other nieces and nephews. It’s not unfair to Lisa; you’ve simply been lucky enough that no similar situation has arisen before, because all of the other recipients have been responsible enough to handle the money on their own. But what if one of them had been an OxyContin addict or a member of a white supremacist group? The gift was never entirely unrestricted, it’s that you and the rest of your family share similar enough values that the restrictions remained implicit. Well, now you don’t, and they shouldn’t.

Talk to your lawyer about the best way to manage the situation. Look for ways to control what the money is used for, rather than postponing her access to it. She may stay with the cult for the rest of her life, after all. You’re not punishing Lisa for that or trying to bribe her out of it. You’re ensuring that she will use her gift for non-cult related activities, just as her cousins did.


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I have some friends — not close, but we have history — who get together periodically for lunch. I find I would rather not join them. My life is busy with civic duties and I have grown away from them. How should I reply when the e-mails go out announcing lunch? It feels dishonest to say I will be busy every date they put forward, but when I go I feel bored and judgmental. How can I decline gently but honestly?

M.H. / Concord

Try declining enthusiastically and tactfully, instead. Stay on the list, but tell them to stop including you in the planning. “I love you all but I’m so busy there’s no point trying to work around my schedule. Figure out what’s good for the rest of you and if I can make it, I will!” Then don’t. Delete most of the lunch correspondence, but every few months respond with whatever news you have going on or a “raise a glass to me!” You might find you want to drop in once a year or so, after you don’t feel quite so hounded by them. People with civic duties to accomplish are wise to keep all the strands of their networks intact, if not active.


Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.