Son, you come from a long, proud line of guilt mongers. Us Jews have been purveyors of fine guilt for thousands of years. It’s one of our primary parenting techniques, and it’s a skill that certainly comes with your genes.
This is basically how it works: rather than go through the trouble of teaching our kids to feel good about doing the right thing, we simply make them feel crappy about not doing it. Naturally, then they do it. The result, of course, is a kid that is confident in the knowledge that they are, at the very least, not crappy. And we want a confident kid, right?
Of course, when you become a parent you may prefer the alternative: raise a child to be confident that they are a good person who does the right things for the right reasons.
And I understand if that’s what you want to do. I mean, it’s just a long-standing tradition–just your heritage. Countless have died so you may have the freedom to lay guilt trips on your kids. But if you want to spit on their graves who am I to say no?
Whether you choose to take the guilt-free approach or respect your heritage, you’ll need to learn to recognize all the guilt-tripping techniques. Study the modern masters like your grandmother (That paragraph above was right out of her playbook.). But you also need to study the work of some of the earliest guilt-trippers.
Take Moses, for instance. He did some of his best work on his son, Eliezer, after he smashed the Ten Commandments in a fit of anger. His technique was stellar and is as valid today as it was back then. Most people think Moses carved a new set, but here’s how it really went down:
Look at this, the people made me so angry with their idol worshipping that I’ve gone and smashed the Ten Commandments that burning bush gave me.
What, so it’s our fault you smashed the tablets?
Oh, no, that’s not what I meant.
It’s what you said.
Well, take care of my people.
What are you talking about?
When I’ve been smitten, somebody will have to lead my people out of the dessert.
Jesus, Dad, you’re not going to be smitten just for breaking a couple tablets.
It’s just an expression.
Well, I’ll have to get started making a new set.
How are you going to do that? You’re 150 years old.
I’ll be fine. I’ll just use this rock here and ooh, oy–
Nothing I’m fine.
You don’t sound fine.
Just a little pain, It’s nothing.
What kind of pain?
I think it’s my heart, but it’s OK. I only really feel it when I try to lift things like chisels or mallets.
You mean like the kind used for carving tablets…
Oh, no, that’s not what I meant. I didn’t mean it like that. It’ll be fine.
Fine. I’ll make you a new set.
Is that what you think this is about? Oh no, I’d never ask you to do that. I couldn’t trouble you with that. I’m sure Dr. Leibowitz didn’t mean it literally.
What? What’d he say, Dad? Look I said I’d do it. I’ll do it.
Well, if you’re sure it’s no trouble.
I was just going to fix my tent so my family doesn’t freeze to death but I can do this instead.
What, now you’re trying to make your own father feel bad for being an old man? I didn’t ask you to do this for me, you know. You offered.
Well it’s very nice of you to offer. You know I would never ask you to do such a thing.
Yeah, I know.
Make them strong this time. Not like those cheap things God made last time. And I need them by Thursday.
So you can see that we’ve been doing this a long, long time. And when you’re washing the dishes because Mom has a hang nail and my big toe is sore, just know that you’re keeping a long, proud tradition alive. Whether you choose to continue it or let thousands of years of tradition die because you chose to parent more positively is entirely up to you.