GUILTY – BUT WAS I CHARGED? Marilyn Armstrong

BROUGHT UP GUILTY

To be brought up Jewish is to be brought up guilty. I think Catholics have a similar problem. We are guilty of different things, however. Catholics have the whole “sin” thing to deal with. Jews get to be guilty about all of Our People who were slaughtered in various parts of the world because they were Jews in the wrong country at the wrong political period.

Hofstra University 2014

Often, for us, there was no right period. Until relatively modern times — minus Nazi Germany, of course — Jews were anathema to most Christian monarchies.

And all the countries were monarchies. We did our best for the long years under Islāmic rule. They were fine with Jews as long as we didn’t tread on their religious sensibilities and tiptoeing through other religious ideologies is a very Jewish thing. We got lots of practice.

When I married my first husband, he had no religion. I mean literally none. They didn’t attend any church and I doubt anyone had ever been baptized. Jeff thought he might be a Druid and planned to return as an oak tree. I was a non-practicing Jew. So we got married by a minister that his mother remembered had buried some family member.

We didn’t have a real wedding. No church or synagogue. No wedding gown. Just a little get together with a minister (Methodist, I think) and a few friends. A couple of weeks later, my mother had a reception at their house, which was nice because it was casual. We didn’t need fancy invitations. After which, we got on with the business of being married.

Our house in Baka, in Jerusalem

So, when Owen was about to be born, we had to figure out what to do about religion. We didn’t have any and neither of us were believers in dogma. I had a friend who was also a rabbi and he said he was not a believer in pediatric Judaism.

Neither were we, so we just didn’t do anything … except we had Owen circumcised which gave him a whole set of Jewish godparents … then we had him Baptized and Garry became his godfather. And that is why Owen’s middle name is Garry.

The Dead Sea

When Jeff and I divorced and I took Owen to Israel, it seemed a good time for him to be Jewish, so he had a Bar Mitzvah there, at the only Reform synagogue in Jerusalem.

He got a 6-year dose of Jewish guilt, but then he went back to the U.S. and forgot all about religion.

I got to keep the guilt. He got to be American.

Summer afternoon on the Mumford

Guilt can be a mother’s best weapon to manage recalcitrant children, by the way. Owen may not remember much Judaism, but he sure does remember guilt. Not bad at using it himself, now that I think of it.

19 thoughts on “GUILTY – BUT WAS I CHARGED? Marilyn Armstrong”

  1. Interesting that guilt plays such a part in most people’s history. I never once guilted my children into anything. It was funny. It came out when we were (my daughter and myself) chatting with some gamers we played with. The mom asked if I didn’t guilt my kids into this or that. I said no. At first she didn’t believe it, then Kelsy, with awe in her voice said, “No, not once, not ever.” We were discussing kids growing up and parent’s pushing them to become doctors, lawyers, etc. I said, “I’ve lived my life, chose my path. They get to choose theirs. It’s why we have so many alcoholics and drug addicts and unhappy adults. They chose or were guilted into living out their parents dream. I wanted to be a dancer, or a doctor, or whatever. Or I am a doctor, you will be a doctor. I’ve always been straight with my kids about everything, and there were consequences as a result of decisions that was the end of it. In retrospect, I think it was a good thing. I hate that people guilt others into doing something.

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          1. There is that! I guess I was pretty lucky, my kids were great. I didn’t have a lot of the problems parents have. Sure they did stuff, they thought I didn’t know about. The first time my daughter tried smoking, I got a call. So we went for a walk after dinner, and I asked if she had something to tell me. She did. We talked it through. She didn’t smoke again. There were lots of things but fortunately for me, they didn’t amount to major problems. Went drinking, came home semi-hammered, pounded on the door made her get up and go to school anyway. She didn’t like sitting in class with a hangover. It didn’t happen again, lol

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  2. Although not as steeped in history as either Judiasm or Catholism, Mormons (particularly Mormon mothers) have the whole guilt thing down to a science. I met someone once who was of the opinion that the whole Mormon experience is based in guilt, because of all the rules about no drinking or smoking or such. They were and were not right on the money. One CAN overcome instilled guilt, but I don’t think it ever totally leaves a person.

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    1. That’s it. You are guilty of what you did (and should’t). Didn’t but should have (VERY big in Judaism) when pretty much every single thing you do in life is preceded by and ended with prayers — often with prayers in the middle, too. Buddhism sounds better.

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  3. Guilt was one of my mother’s manipulation devices. I don’t feel guilt over anything any more, though sometimes I can see how I could’ve done better. I think the final straw in my guilt was my brother, the realization that nothing I did to save him would ever save him and it wasn’t my job; it was his. I almost killed myself from guilt after cutting him out of my life. Therapy helped me see that HIS failure had nothing to with me, was not my failure, that his life was his life to savor or trash as he saw fit. That was the end of guilt for me.

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  4. I can remember driving one of our sons to school and getting a call from the police saying he wasn’t at school. (he went in one door and out the other then went downtown) They all graduated eventually, but what a struggle. I wouldn’t want to be raising children these days.
    Leslie

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  5. I was raised Catholic and got around the guilt thing by being a good person and then eventually by becoming not Catholic. My husband is Jewish, and has many Jewish clients in his psychology practice, and guilt seems a big thing. It is also the source of a lot of good jokes, none of which I can remember right now–I was stage manager on half a dozen musical shows done by a Jewish group, and some of them were very funny.

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    1. If you are a religious Jew you are guilty by definition because there’s always a prayer or ceremony you needed to do but maybe missed. If you are a NON religious Jew, you are guilty of being non religious. Catholics live under a dark cloud of sin and Protestants aren’t allowed to do anything on the Sabbath. Guilty, guilty, guilty.

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  6. I thought parenting-by-guilt was just what my folks’ generation did; a sort of transitional strategy when they couldn’t use the “my-word-is-law-enforced-with-an-iron-fist” approach that their own parents (and probably grandparents etc) used. Both my parents are guilt super ninja who still know how to press my buttons, and I’ve tried really hard not to do the same with the boy-child. I must ask him next time I see him if I succeeded, or am just more subtle (or deluded) than I think.

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    1. My son can guilt me right back and he is so good at it, we both gave up on it. I was never good at the iron fist thing, but I was slightly better than average at guilt. Not as good as my mother, though. She was El Primo.

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