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Friend or thief?

Dear Annie: I have a very dear friend who is like family. I am 20 years older than she is, and at times I feel more like a surrogate mother than a big sister.

I know she has mental health problems, including anger management, trust issues, obsessive-compulsive disorder and, at times, I think, narcissistic tendencies. But she truly is a good person at heart. I encouraged her to get into therapy, and she has blossomed and grown over this past year. I support her 100% in any way that I can.

She is a single mother who works two jobs. She has three boys, and they are her world. My husband and I take the boys after school while she works her second job because they are like grandchildren to us.

The other day, I was getting ready to make Christmas cookies and thought I was losing my mind. Two of the prepackaged cookie dough packages were missing. The boys saw my bewilderment and informed me that their mom took them to make them cookies the previous week.

Tonight, when I went to make the cookies for our house and church, I discovered that I’m missing a cookie sheet. So, I’ve been thinking back, and a lot of things have gone missing, and I simply thought that I must not have bought what I thought, or used all of something and not remembered. I have asked her before about things missing or if she “accidentally” picked something up, and she would be honest and return it the next day. Nothing of major value by any means. Simple silly things like a candle or a pair of scissors or hand lotion.

Well, after the incident with the cookie dough, which really upset me, I bought a few bottles of wine to give as gifts, left them in the bag and taped a note on them: “Do Not Touch.” When she came by after work to eat and get the boys, she saw this and got upset and was personally offended. My husband says to let it be because we love those boys so much and she’s doing so well. We can afford to replace the little things.

I feel that she and I should have a conversation, and I feel her therapist should know.

To be honest, I’m afraid this will end up like our son, who robbed us blind and cut ties with us because we finally had to say enough was enough and file charges. I’m afraid the little things will become larger and the boys will think this behavior is acceptable if we don’t stop it now. Please help. — Stuck in Maryland

Dear Stuck in Maryland: You are correct to be concerned for your friend — not because of what she is stealing but for the fact that she is stealing from you at all. It shows a lack of trust. The fact that she took a little note and blew it way out of proportion tells me she is feeling guilty about something. As Shakespeare said, “The lady doth protest too much.”

If anything, sitting down with your friend and trying to get her professional help is the kindest thing. Make sure when you approach her that it is not with a “got ya” mentality but rather one of concern for her mental health.

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