Dear Margo: Quote Not Lest Ye Be Wrong

When a moral mantra serves as a flimsy shield. Margo Howard’s advice

Quote Not Lest Ye Be Wrong

Dear Margo: My husband has been friends with “Sam” and “Rachel” for more than 30 years. While Sam and my husband have grown up to find mates, get married and have families, Rachel has struggled over the years with a couple of marriages, babies and single parenthood. Simply put, she makes poor choices — and her most recent decision tops them all in the doozy category.

Rachel has abandoned her 2- and 13-year-old sons to their respective fathers and decided to move forward with her life by marrying guy No. 3 without the hassle of the leftover children from the past. She literally told her 13-year-old, “I can’t worry about you anymore. I need to take care of myself now.” In our humble opinion, my husband and I think this is the height of disgraceful behavior, and we would prefer to have nothing to do with this woman.

While Sam is a darling man with respect for others and their opinions, the problem I need help with is his wife. Her mantra is, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” Generally, I ignore her views because they come from a pot-induced haze, but I see tough times ahead. The moment I said I didn’t think much of Rachel’s decision to abandon her kids, she was waving her finger in my face and yelling, “Judge not lest ye be judged!” What do I say? — Not Judging

Dear Not: Tell her she is totally misunderstanding the Bible. This verse is not a warning against judging an action; it is a warning against self-deception and hypocrisy. To support your position, tell her to go online to “Provocative Christian Living.” Who knows what else she may be misunderstanding? If she’s had one too many joints, just tell her, “A penny saved is a penny earned,” and try not to bring up Rachel’s parenting style again. — Margo, correctly

Lay It on the Line

Dear Margo: I’m having a tough time with my preteen nephew. I heard from another family member that he has been bullied in school, and I think he might be starting to lash out.

Let me give you some background on my child, which makes this issue far more difficult for me. My 3-year-old daughter is quite ill but functional. She has just finished chemo.

Over the weekend, my husband’s family came to visit. They come frequently, but during this visit, I found their son was being more aggressive than usual. He threw a ball at the back of my head, apparently trying to get me to “play.” His mother laughed. The next day, he continued this type of behavior toward my little girl. The last thing I want to do is have a rift between our families, but I have to look out for the safety of my children. (This child hurt my son over the weekend, but we believe this incident was accidental.) Thoughts on the best approach? — Conflicted

Dear Con: What a really hard road you have with your little girl. I am so sorry. Not just because she is ill but also because it’s important for your larger family, you need to talk to your nephew’s parents and report what you’ve heard about the bullying, though they may already know. This will open the door to suggest counseling so his aggression does not escalate. Outside help will also teach him to cope. And his teacher needs to be told.

Then you must remind them of your daughter’s condition, and perhaps all of you, together, should explain to the young boy that there is to be no roughhousing with her whatsoever. He is old enough to know what “not well” means. The priorities here seem quite clear. — Margo, firmly

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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87 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    Re Letter #1:  I believe there is far too little judging going on these days and I can fully understand the LW’s disapproval of Rachel’s decisions.  On the other hand, if Rachel is such a self-absorbed person and makes bad decisions, maybe the kids are better off with their fathers who might provide some stability.  That said, there is really no reason to say anythingmore to Sam’s bible-verse quoting, pot-smoking wife about Rachel.  If she and her husband want to continue their friendship with Rachel, its not really the LW’s business.  Just socialize separately with Sam and his wife and not with Rachel and when you are with Sam and his wife, don’t gossip about Rachel.  Problem solved. 

    Re Letter #2:  A calm conversation between your husband and his family members about the expectations you have that the nephew will control his agressive behavior around your children will hopefully do the trick.  If one family member knows the nephew is being bullied, his parents surely know as well but they might not be making the connection between the bullying and his aggression toward younger kids.  I hope it works out.  If nothing changes, take more drastic steps such as not having the kid around your kids.  I appreciate the sensitivity about your daughter and she does need extra concern but really, the kid’s aggression is unacceptable toward anyone…including you.             

    • avatar toni says:

      Well said!

      • avatar David Bolton says:

        I’m sorry—I don’t get why LW1 is spending time judging a trainwreck to other people? It’s a trainwreck, you know it’s a trainwreck—do you need others to tell you and confirm that it’s a trainwreck?

        “Judge not… ” may indeed deal with hypocrisy, but it’s also a read-between-the-lines way of saying: “don’t waste your time and energy on the problems of others THAT DON’T PERTAIN TO YOU.” And this is what I draw from the letter: “she didn’t agree with my assessment of how awful Rachel is, because she’s a drug-addled person herself.”

        LW2: I always got back in line when someone jerked my up by my arm and said: “you can either act right, or you can go sit in the car.” Do it in front of his mother, keep control of your temper—and if his mother starts something, invite her to a private room in the house and let. her. have. it.

        • avatar Maggie Tenser says:

          LW1 isn’t judging a random person, she’s making the decision to drop an old friend because of a moral failing and this decision will probably matter to her other friends, i.e. Sam and Sam’s wife. She isn’t pointlessly judging someone, she’s deciding to take action (drop a friend), so she doesn’t have the luxury of just not thinking about the issue. When you’re talking with an old friend about why you have decided to completely drop a mutual friend of 30 years, your reasons for why you are going to drop them will probably come up.

          • avatar wendykh says:

            I agree here, that’s why it is being discussed. I’d just say plainly I don’t want to be friends with people who abandon children, and as far as judging not lest that someone judge me? I am fine with that because I don’t abandon my children.”

        • avatar R Scott says:

          LW1 and 2 – Yeah. What David said.   Gotta go now.

  2. avatar beatrix_pierre says:

    People who yell “Judge not lest ye be judged!” make me retort, “Right back at you!” The positive aspect of Rachel giving up her children to their fathers is not pulling a Susan Smith. I often wonder about women who have babies as they go in and out of relationships. Why go through pregnancy, giving birth and raising a child and jump into another relationship, only to repeat the cycle? Good luck to Writer #1 as she and her husband continue to socialize with Sam and his wife.

    Writer #2 Sympathies for your child. Hope the chemo eradicated everything bad and your daughter enjoys a long healthy life.     

  3. avatar Mjit RaindancerStahl says:

    LW#1: just think, there but for the Grace of God (who blessed you with better sense) go you.

    You could always gently stated that you would 1) appreciate more respect to your personal space, and 2) redirect discussion to the finer points of hating the sin but not the sinner.

    LW#2: You might try throwing a ball at the back of the mother’s head and see if that stops her laughing. A better tack might be to lay down rules of conduct at your house. Whether he’s being bullied or “just being a boy,” he needs to learn that his behavior is not acceptable.

    Also, I hope your daughter lives a full and happy life.

  4. avatar BC says:

    LW#1, when Sam’s wife sticks her finger in your face, SHE’S judging you.  Tell her that, and see what her pot addled brain does with that!

  5. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: I totally cannot relate to long-term friends (and their spouses) enmeshed with each other to this level. She’s a bad mother, but ultimately it’s none of your business. You feel for her children (as do I), but there’s nothing you or I can do. Hopefully those children have good/loving fathers. Remind yourself these are your husband’s long-time friends, and step back. And why try talking to Sam’s wife about Rachel? If your husband’s on board with you regarding disapproval of Rachel’s behaviors and actions towards her children (I totally agree), then quietly continue distancing yourselves from her. If Sam and wifey notice and don’t like it, tough. Good grief, aren’t there enough troubles with *in-laws*? ;-P

    L #2: As per Margo. Also that if he wants to “play” there are other ways of initiating play, such as politely walking up to you or daughter and asking. I definitely get the feeling his mother will get all angry and defensive, so approaching it in a polite “let’s make some rules” way is probably your best bet. And yes, it seems this young man does need intervention if he is being bullied. But you can’t let him take that out onto you/daughter.

  6. avatar mac13 says:

    I just want to float something out there about LW1. She mentions 2 women her husband is friendly with. She basically calls one a self centered abandoner of children (trying to be polite here). The other she calls a pothead. Something about that is sticking in my mind. She speaks almost glowingly of Sam. That being said, the mental picture of a woman in a pot induced haze waving her finger trying to quote scripture strikes me as almost entertaining. My gracious grandmother would shake her head and make a coment about pots calling kettles black.

    • avatar JCF4612 says:

      A minority friend recently cracked me up by stating the pot was calling the kettle African American. 

    • avatar casino la fantastique says:

      Same, I’m not super fond of LW1.

      And why is she a bad mother because the dads are taking care of the kids now? Were they bad fathers before, when they were letting her do most of the child care?

      LW1 just doesn’t want the judgement finger pointed at her because it’s spot-freaking-on.

      Even if you think Rachel is super horrible (and I don’t think she’s a paragon of virtue, but there is a chance that this is actually better for her kids, if she’s in this mindset), what is it to you, LW1? Sounds like you need to find a new topic of conversation instead of gossiping about your ex-friends (not to mention your supposed actual friends, who you badmouth, too).

      • avatar Maggie Tenser says:

        Where in the letter does it say that the fathers were not very involved with their children before? And on what planet is it acceptable to tell your 13-year old child that you, “Can’t worry about them anymore”? That’s almost the definition of bad parenting.

        • avatar sueb1997 says:

          Yes, I’ve been waiting for the same reaction to be applied to “Rachel” as was given to yesterday’s child-and-relationship-abandoning woman.  If it wasn’t for the 2-year-old I was starting to wonder if this was actually the same woman being written about.

          I also wondered about the assumption that the pot-haze woman was a bible-quoter.  Margo mentioned the biblical aspect, not the LW.  I mean, I understand that it’s a biblical quote, but it’s also a common enough phrase that anyone might latch on to — if I’ve heard the phrase, that’s proof enough of that…  I too raised my eyebrows at the image of a stoned biblethumper — I’m sure they’re out there, but not common in my experience…

      • avatar mjd4 says:

        It’s not ok to tell a child “I can’t worry about you anymore,” but I have all too often heard it described as abandonment when the parents agree that the father should have custody.

  7. avatar martina says:

    LW2 – Your nephew threw a ball at the back of your head and his mother laughed?  I would have slapped my kid upside the head so quick she wouldn’t have known what hit her if she’d tried something like that.  But then, my kid wouldn’t have even considered throwing a ball at anyone’s head.  What’s the matter with people these days?  I also don’t think it would have been wrong to give him a VERY stern talking to if he’d hurt my ill daughter whether or not the mother was present.  No wonder the kid is lashing out. Sounds like he might even be lashing out not just because of the bullying but because he needs boundaries and his mother’s not providing them.

    • avatar Lila says:

      Martina, I think you nailed it. If a kid is bullied, and especially if nothing is done about it, what conclusion can they draw, other than this behavior is OK? In my own childhood I saw kids who were miserable and the adults would tell them stupid crap like “They only tease you because they like you,” “They were just playing a little too rough,” “You need to toughen up,” etc., which makes all the victim’s fault for not recognizing that gosh, those kids are normal and you’re a whiner. What the adults did not see or refused to see, was that friggin’ Lord of the Flies was going on when they weren’t looking. And then the adults wonder why Little Timmy is suddenly so aggressive or nasty in his play. Well, hasn’t everyone been telling him this is normal?

      In a case like this I think it’s important to tell the kid straight up that this is not acceptable, and – this is key – it’s not acceptable when other kids do things like that to him, either. But then – oh, the inconvenience – someone will have to actually address the problem of the bullies. Even these days with greater awareness, too little is done.

  8. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW1) Let Sam’s wife and Rachel can smoke together, while you and your husband pursue life without them in the picture. Sam can figure it out on his own. He can either see you and hubby without dragging his “Judge Not” wife along, or he can tell her to cool it.

    LW2) Am so sorry to hear about your daughter. She needs protection. Tell the nephew’s to get a grip on him when he’s around your family or to stay away.

  9. avatar JCF4612 says:

    Meant Nephew’s mom. Bad day at the keyboard.

  10. avatar sdpooh says:

    LW#2…Parents often ignore bad behaving children because they are used to it.  Wednesday I was shopping in Walmart.  A child was screaming in the middle of the store, on and on.  I could hear it all the way in the back corner.  As I made my way through the grocery aisles, it go louder, having gone on for at least 10 minutes.  I came around the corner and there was the brat, sitting on the floor about 4 years old, screaming and pitching a fit while mom and granny looked at clothes.  I looked at the kid and said “knock it off, the whole store can hear you and you are giving me a headache”.  The little brat snapped his mouth shut and pouted.  Mommy and Granny just stared at me.  There is no rule against having peace and quiet in your world and enforceing it.  When I got to the checkout I mentioned the kid to the clerk and she said she was glad I said something, because the kid was getting on her nerves too.  Don’t be afraid to make your wishes known, especially in your home with a sick child.  If they don’t like it, they can go home and let the kid disrupt their house.  You need to have a calm place for your little girl to thrive and heal.  Stand your ground.     

    • avatar Lila says:

      sdpooh, good for you and I wish more people would tell misbehaving kids directly that their behavior is not acceptable. When they hear it from multiple sources, it reinforces their understanding of what’s OK and what’s not.

      Too bad these days, the worthless parents in these situations are just as likely to tell you “Don’t you tell my kid what to do!” Which is, of course, part of the problem in the first place. My answer to such clods: “YOU talk to them, or other people will.” And when age is the excuse: “He’s only four!” “Are you waiting for him to turn 18?”

      • avatar lebucher says:

        Ms. Lila, “Are you waiting for him to turn 18”, that is priceless!!!  And a good point as well, since a child’s moral and behavioral framework is built when he or she is quite young.

    • avatar julpfeif says:

      Sometimes kids will listen to a stranger, because the kids don’t know what you’ll do. But if the parents try to stop them, the kids just scream louder, because they’re getting the attention they want.

      • avatar martina says:

        This is very true.  They could have also been trying the ignore the temper trantrum because having one isn’t going to get you anything.  I’ve done that but after 10 minutes, I would have either put and end to it or pulled my kid out of the store.

        • avatar sueb1997 says:

          My mom tells me that I tried the tantrum-pulling routine, just once, at around age 4.  In a store, of course (where perhaps I had seen some other kid get something using that approach).  She says she walked over, looked down at me, and said “You know that doesn’t work with me” and walked away.  I stopped and never did it again.  :-)

        • avatar Ashley Carter says:


          Typically I pick a child up, bring them outside the store, and them them throw the tantrum outside. I feel less embarrassed out there and find it easier to let the child come to realize that they don’t get to win with a tantrum.

        • avatar Lym BO says:

          Yep. Kids throw tantrums partly because they get a reaction. My kids never did in public past age 2. I am constantly amazed by parents who think it is okay to let your child(ten) disrupt others peace. If they even start whiny I tell them to please lay down on the floor & make a huge scene so everyone can watch thier tantrum. They immediately stop the whining. Potential humiliation works wonders.
          I admonished a dancer’s sibling in the viewing area during dance practice. He was screaming, his mother was completely oblivious (in a 10x10ft room) so I told him to knock it off. He did. The other three mothers were shocked! The mother of the screamer walked out. ( In hindsight I think she was embarrassed not mad). The other mothers laid into me & told me I had better never admonish their children. I told them if their child was misbehaving & they did nothing I would say something. The one then divulged how she finds it perfectly acceptable to finish her errands at a store while the child is screaming. It’s her right. She has a right to shop just like everyone else. And we can just deal with it bc we’ve all been there. (Love that one) At the time, she had a 6,4,2 & one on the way. Yikes! I had adopted twins & had a surprise baby when they were 21 months old and then another on the twin’s fifth birthday (planned). Trust me, I never let them act that way. They knew better in public. So, um, nope, haven’t been there. Wouldn’t go there. Sadly, we constantly got praise when we went to church or restaurants about their good behavior. I say it’s sad because it should be the norm. The other mother was a preschool teacher and one point mentioned what a pain in the arse her job was & how she had to deal with little kids all day. Obviously her preschooler students also had no limits & she couldn’t manage them & wondered why.
          My kids are now 9,9,7 & 4. We have bratty, disrespectful kids over all the time (just once ’cause you are not being invited back). I am truly amazed how parents let their child behave. My childhood friends never acted that way. They were raised better. What has happened?! It’s not as if they had bad parenting & are following suit.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            I will get ragged on this site for saying I’m a “perfect parent” (which I am not, far from it) but our two sons (one autistic) were the same way in public. The younger one, now 15, has been described by teachers, his friends’ parents, and the adults he volunteers with as smart, funny, mature and respectful…and always welcome. Even though my older son is autistic, and we were working with the huge disadvantage of my ex-in-laws and husband refusing boundaries, to give consequences or limits, or to be consistent in any way…we still would not tolerate tantrums (he learned he could manipulate them this way, I would pick him up without any excitement, somewhat like a football, and carry him back to the car, install his wriggling, screaming self in his car-seat, and take him home…without whatever I’d said “no” to in the first place. It wasn’t “overload”. I knew the difference), inappropriate behavior, or ugliness. My older son became unmanageable when he became big and strong enough to hit me (he learned about beating up people for intimidation from some peers he had in church youth group who were into Neo-Nazism. His grandparents’…my ex-in-laws…church, not mine. I don’t attend). My younger son has a lot of friends, and they are some of the most decent, honest, respectful young people I have ever met…while still being kids.

            There was an exception, however. This priceless gem (my husband refers to him as The Future Serial Killer) once hid in MY bedroom closet for 20 minutes because he resented the planned video the boys were all watching at a sleepover. I asked where he’d gone, and one of the kids said he thought he was in my closet…at least that’s where he said he was going. Our bedroom is off limits, and we make that clear (unless someone needs the extra bathroom desperately). Sure enough, there he was, in the dark, in my closet. I promptly kicked him out, and told him that he knew we’d scheduled a movie as a break, and wind-down from games, so he could deal, or go home. He chose to stay, whining incessantly.

            Well, I eventually got to listen to him interact with his mother…until I told him he wouldn’t talk to anyone in that way at my house. Of course, his mother kept praising my son to high heaven (in front of both boys) while putting her own down. I asked her to please stop. We had him over one more time. On that occasion, he was so rude that I lost all patience, and told him I didn’t want to hear one more word (he was 13). When his mother came to pick him up, she not only flirted with Rusty (who kept looking at her like she’d grown a second head, then looking at me with an “Are you seeing this?” expression), but actively flirted with my 14 year old son, with her child sitting right there. A 38 year old woman flirting with her supposed friend’s husband, and her 13 year old child, in front of her own son and said friend. While her son lied to her and told her I hadn’t fed him.

            That was it. The welcome wagon shut down. So, I always like to get a really good glimpse of the parents when my son makes friends…it gives me a lot of clues about what to expect from the kids. No boundaries for parents equals none for the children they’re raising.

  11. avatar Lila says:

    Geez. Two days in a row featuring women abandoning their kids as a “hassle” and forging ahead with… the whole thing all over again. What clods.

  12. avatar