I spoke with a friend a few months ago over a beer, and he was talking about health issues his parents were having. His mom has been battling cancer since her early 70’s, and his dad was at the beginning of stage Alzheimer’s. I could tell he was burdened on what to do as he had to become a father figure to his own dad, as he watched his mental clarity and physical health declining. He asked me “What do you think I should do at this stage?” While I didn’t have much of an answer at the time, that heartfelt admittance raised a very significant question: As an adult man, 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 for the house to operate as it should and to fit into family life.
For many, caring for very elderly and ill parents with a slowly or quickly decreasing capacity to care for themselves, honoring our parents very often takes a new turn. We end up in a parental role with our parents, especially when doing physical caregiving.
But what of the decades between those times between infancy and elderly, when both the parents and children are an adult and independent and have the freedom to make separate decisions? I call them the middle years.
Honoring your father and mother were among the first commandments God spoke to his people (Exodus 20:12). Paul also is quick to show that in the first commandment with a promise (Ephesians 6:2). Jesus was quick to reprimand the Pharisees for making excuses; using their time, money 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, 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.
Here are a couple of ways you can honor your parents well into adult life.
1. Learning to forgive is a key to honor. 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 all make mistakes.
2. Acknowledging our parents’ humanity and their efforts are critical 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.
3. Call your parents. Seriously. Call your parents and just ask them how their week is going. Ask them what they are thinking about. Ask them when you can get together. Sometimes this is harder said than done especially if there has been a lack of communication in the past or there has been a wound dealt. Especially from our own dads.
4. Invite them back in. As best you can, plan to do things together with your parents perhaps with your own family. Sure, that can be difficult, but remember when you were helpless and in diapers, your mom or dad was there for you. Now is your time to honor them as an adult.
Article was written by Sam Casey. Sam Casey is the Managing Partner at Banyan Creative based in Matthews, NC. He tries to remember to call his mom and dad once a week.