I think my mother might have joined a cult

I don’t know if I should dig deeper or just hope that it burns out

PROBLEM: I think my mum might have joined a cult. She started taking an interest in spiritual things a few years ago and got on some websites that looked harmless to the rest of us. However, she then started to attend some meet-ups that were organised from these websites, and after that we saw her change a lot. She would quote explanations for everything to the point that it started being difficult to have a discussion with her.

My sister and I are in our mid-20s and we have both been travelling recently, but I have noticed now, on my return, that she has moved away from Dad in the house. It wouldn’t surprise me if she had plans to leave him. My dad is very laid-back and wouldn’t notice anything once he got out to play his golf. I don’t know if I should dig deeper into this or just let it burn out, which I keep hoping it will.

ADVICE: There might be a sense of change going on in your family: you and your sister have moved away and begun travelling and having your own lives, and your father seems to be very interested in golf and not hugely involved in what is going on in the house. Perhaps your mother has also begun to look for a new direction in her life and she has found meaning in her spiritual meet-ups.

You say that originally you thought this was harmless and so you did not take much notice, but as your mother has become more vocal about her ideas you now find it distressing. It is difficult to find that things are changing in your home life and particularly so as you fear that some kind of separation might be in the offing. There are things you can do to ease your own anxiety, and perhaps you might also initiate some discussion with and between your parents.

When we do not understand something, fear can become very pronounced. It seems that you do not understand your mother’s connection to this new spiritual path and you fear that she is being pulled away from you. This causes a reaction in you. Is there any way you could find out more about what she is connecting with? Perhaps go to a public talk or ask her what she finds so compelling.

If you ask from a position of disapproval or contempt, your mother is likely to shut down, and so you first need to acknowledge the fear in yourself.

Telling your mother that you are scared of her moving away from the family is a very good starting point but it is also important to acknowledge that she has a right to self-development in whatever way she finds good for her.

This will help to frame a more adult conversation where she does not have to protect you as a child but instead can share her insights with you as someone who loves and cares for her. As you discover what your mother is becoming excited about, you might find that you are less afraid and critical and more able to take a stance of questioning and interest.

You say that your father has not noticed anything, and perhaps he needs to be nudged into paying attention about what is going on in his life. The relationship between your parents is theirs to negotiate, but you have observed a disengagement on the part of your father, so you could bring this to his attention. You will have to judge the best manner to get his attention, as he might be very good at avoidance.

Here are your options: you and your sister could request a family meeting and state your worries that your parents might separate; you could speak to your father alone and stress the importance of action; or you might suggest that they both attend couple counselling.

The desire to keep your parents together is natural but there is a possibility that you could become too invested or involved in their staying together and this might not be the best way forward. When you have had the courage to face your parents with your worries, it is important that you then trust them as adults to deal with their issues.

They might not take up your intervention, and this could leave you feeling upset. You might have to allow for a period of frustration and grief. Your parents are facing a period of change with opportunities and pitfalls, but your job is to develop your own life and relationships according to your principals and ethics.