We Still Have to Honor Our Parents When We Grow Up

A few surprisingly simple ways to honor your parents even as an independent adult.

When a friend in her 50s began to share a prayer request about her adult children, my ears perked up. After all: I was friends with her children; I had danced at their weddings. I knew, too, that her kids loved her, thought well of her, and appreciated her. So it came as a shock to hear how much she was struggling with feeling forgotten and neglected by them.

“As a mom, it’s been nearly 30 years that I have thought about my children every single day and wondered about their well-being,” she said. “It hurts that it doesn’t even seem to be an afterthought to send me a text message to say hi.”

Her heartfelt admittance raised a significant question: What does it mean to honor your parents when you are an adult?

In the years when parents care for their children at home, a child needs to respect their parents and cooperate in family life. For many caring for very elderly and ill parents with a decreasing capacity to care for themselves, honor very often takes a practical, physical dimension in care-giving. But what of the decade(s) between those, when both the parents and children are adult and independent?

“Honor your father and mother,” were among the first words God spoke to his people (Exodus 20:12). The Apostle Paul points out that this was the first commandment with a promise (Ephesians 6:2). Jesus was quick to upbraid the Pharisees for making excuses: using their time and resources for religious good at the expense of honoring their parents. Anyone who does that, said our Lord, “nullifies the Word of God” (Mark 7:9-13).

Scripture is clear that the command to love our neighbor is not limited to our friendly neighbor, or even our known neighbor (Luke 10:25-37). Husbands are called to love their wives, not only when they are lovable. Wives are to respect their husbands, and not only when they are respectable (Ephesians 5:22-33). Citizens under cruel governments are still called to submit to those in authority (1 Peter 2:13-14). Clearly, the Bible teaches us that our relational commitments are to be unconditional. No matter how nasty they might be, neighbors are to be cared for. Wives, to be loved. Governments, to be respected.

Parents, whether we consider them honorable or not, are to be honored.

And parents, whether we consider them honorable or not, are to be honored.

The trouble is, there are a great many instances of parents acting in very hurtful and dishonorable ways. In such relationships, the thought of showing such a parent honor brings pain, vulnerability and often terrific anger and deep frustration to the fore.

In such relationships, learning to forgive is a key component in learning to honor. Leslie Leyland Fields, author of Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom From Hurt and Hate, speaks of how forgiveness has the power to travel back through time: not to airbrush the past, but to tell a truer story about what happened. Learning to re-tell the story of a damaged relationship with parents is crucial. We need to recognize our own failings, and acknowledge that we are all made of dust and stumble in any ways. “Our parents did their best, and they themselves were deeply wounded,” Fields said in an interview with Religion News Service.

Acknowledging our parents’ humanity and their efforts are key components in showing them honor. For those who have suffered in painful relationships with parents, showing honor might begin with seeing parents as wounded rather than wicked, and seeking ways to appreciate the good they tried to do.

For many, though, the question of honoring parents as an adult is not an issue of a lack of desire or of insurmountable wounds, but rather an honest bewilderment as to how to practically do it. How do you show honor when you disagree with the advice they give? When they live far away? Or next door? When their comments seem judgmental? Or when you get married and are dealing with juggling commitments to a spouse and to two (or more) sets of parents? From a parent’s perspective: what made them feel honored? And what left them feeling neglected?

Acknowledging our parents’ humanity and their efforts are key components in showing them honor.

In a series of interviews posing these questions to the parents of adult children, I was amazed to see a constant and significant trend in the answers. More than anything, they just wanted to be acknowledged. Parents with adult children didn’t need their children to take their advice, but just to know they had listened and considered it. They didn’t need their children to be constantly available to them, or to be their “best friends,” but they did want to know they were accepted.

“The worst thing is when your kids treat you as if you have nothing of value to offer,” wrote one parent.

You Might Also Like

“We aren’t perfect,” wrote another, “but we do have some insight and we really are trying to help. Just to have that acknowledged goes a long way.”

The most often cited source of hurt from parents was feeling disregarded. However, small acts and words of acknowledgement were mentioned by almost all as being the most significant way they felt honored. One mother of three grown sons laughed as she told me: “my son used to set his phone to remind him to call me once a week. He only had five minutes, on his way home from his last class. But he was faithful to call every week, and given that we only had five minutes, we never talked about any hard stuff. But those minutes were precious: they kept the human connection. I felt remembered.”

While relationships between adult parents and children are among the most complex and catalytic of relationships, the question of how to honor our parents as adults ends up reducing to something surprisingly simple: not speaking badly about them, and remembering to speak regularly to them. As it happens, those small acts of honor to our parents are significant acts of honor to God.

Life is busy, and relationships are complex, but Jesus allows none of those as excuses for a failure to honor our parents. The good news is, honoring our parents as adults may not require a terrific expenditure of time and money. Perhaps, it could mean something as simple as a memo in your smartphone reminding you to “Call mom.”

Top Comments

Howie

6

Howie commented…

Trust me when I say it's worth the effort to honor your parents. After my parents divorced, my Dad pretty much checked out. He willingly did all of the obligatory things, like pay child support, and he thought the once a year visit was plenty, but by no means was he a great father to us. About 15 years ago, he moved back to the area where my brothers live. He was starting to form a real relationship with the Lord, and while he could still be a REAL jerk, we were definitely noticing changes. Sometimes, when he'd give advice, I'd want to yell, "Gee, that would have been great advice FIFTEEN years ago, Dad!" But the Lord really impressed upon me that we were being given a second chance. I talked about it with my siblings, and we decided to be purposeful in honoring our father (our Mom had passed away some years before).

It's the best thing we could have done. Daddy came to really know the Lord, and by us not 'punishing' him, we all developed a better relationship with him than we could have possibly hoped for. I was actually able to have some "grown up" conversations with him--turns out, when my parents split, he was in survival mode. He did the best he could with what he had, and told me that his absentee years was his biggest regret. Turns out, parents are human! :0)

Two and a half years ago, Daddy died very suddenly, and while the loss has been brutal, I am beyond grateful to the Lord that we were given a second chance, and that there are no regrets.

Rachel Colyer

14

Rachel Colyer commented…

Sometimes it's easiest to take advantage of the ones we love most and who have invested most into us. We feel as if they'll always be there, and somehow end up putting everything else in front of them. I appreciate that this article reminds us that parents are human too, and they need to feel appreciated. It's easy to look at someone as "mom" and forget she is just like me, but with more experiences. This is a great reminded to give an extra call or text every now and then.

4 Comments

Howie

6

Howie commented…

Trust me when I say it's worth the effort to honor your parents. After my parents divorced, my Dad pretty much checked out. He willingly did all of the obligatory things, like pay child support, and he thought the once a year visit was plenty, but by no means was he a great father to us. About 15 years ago, he moved back to the area where my brothers live. He was starting to form a real relationship with the Lord, and while he could still be a REAL jerk, we were definitely noticing changes. Sometimes, when he'd give advice, I'd want to yell, "Gee, that would have been great advice FIFTEEN years ago, Dad!" But the Lord really impressed upon me that we were being given a second chance. I talked about it with my siblings, and we decided to be purposeful in honoring our father (our Mom had passed away some years before).

It's the best thing we could have done. Daddy came to really know the Lord, and by us not 'punishing' him, we all developed a better relationship with him than we could have possibly hoped for. I was actually able to have some "grown up" conversations with him--turns out, when my parents split, he was in survival mode. He did the best he could with what he had, and told me that his absentee years was his biggest regret. Turns out, parents are human! :0)

Two and a half years ago, Daddy died very suddenly, and while the loss has been brutal, I am beyond grateful to the Lord that we were given a second chance, and that there are no regrets.

Jessica Pillay

1

Jessica Pillay commented…

This is such an American/Western problem. Look at most other cultures in the world, and adult children - whether they are Christian or not - have figured out a way to 'honor their parents' while still maintaining their own individual lives.

Rachel Colyer

14

Rachel Colyer commented…

Sometimes it's easiest to take advantage of the ones we love most and who have invested most into us. We feel as if they'll always be there, and somehow end up putting everything else in front of them. I appreciate that this article reminds us that parents are human too, and they need to feel appreciated. It's easy to look at someone as "mom" and forget she is just like me, but with more experiences. This is a great reminded to give an extra call or text every now and then.

Jason P. Morales

1

Jason P. Morales commented…

This article sounds more like how to honor your mother; I love my mom and do my best to honor her. I do however have a question: How could I, and why should I honor my father when he abandoned me 20 years ago, and has never tried to maintain or create a relationship with me? Over the 20 years he only called twice and made promises he later broke. I saw him 8 years ago, gave him my current address and phone number, and told him I would love to get to know him better and that he should call me. I haven't heard from him since. So tell me why I should honor this man and if I should, then exactly how would I go about doing that? Because as far as I'm concerned; my father died 20 years ago.

Please log in or register to comment

Log In