Honour Thy Parents

English: "Honor thy father and thy mother...
English: “Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” Exodus 20:12 (King James version), illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently I’ve started to wonder what this is all about when we are instructed in The Bible ‘to honour thy father and thy mother’.  While I’m not sure that I’m going to reach a definitive answer, I am realising that I get a clearer impression of what it means as I age, and as my parents age.The place I learnt this instruction from as The Ten Commandments.  They were one of the first things I learnt at Sunday School as a child, and I remember having to be able to recite them.  I even at a silver charm bracelet which had 10 charms representing each commandment (in a shortened form).  What I learnt as a child included the reason why I should do this.  The commandment in Exodus 20: 12 says:

“Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your
God is giving you.”

Actually even when I looked at the whole commandment I still never really knew what it meant.  I assumed I would die young if I didn’t honour my parents, but then I was never sure what honouring meant anyway.

The Free Dictionary defines the verb honour (or honor) as:

vb (tr)

1. to hold in respect or esteem
2. to show courteous behaviour towards
3. to worship
4. to confer a distinction upon
5. (Economics, Accounting & Finance / Banking & Finance) to accept and then pay when due (a cheque, draft, etc.)
6. to keep (one’s promise); fulfil (a previous agreement)
7. (Performing Arts / Dancing) to bow or curtsy to (one’s dancing partner)

Even from there, it’s not very clear exactly what is meant.

My mother will be 85 in a few weeks, and my father died suddenly, at the age of 76, in April 2011.  A number of things since his death and even in the couple of years before Dad died have led me to realise that we adult children have a responsibility for our elderly parents.  I guess the issue for me is how does that apply to me and my family.  That time appears to have arrived.

Early this year (before I started blogging) I published an article about my father’s death and how that related to the Christchurch Earthquakes of 2010/11.  A member of my family was very upset with what I wrote, and said I had dishonoured both my father’s name and our family name.

I was pretty upset by that accusation and had to do some serious soul-searching.  Even though I wasn’t totally sure what was meant by the word ‘dishonour’, I was mortified at the thought that I might have done this.  My father was very special to me, and I would never have wanted to put something bad on his name.

Eventually I decided that what really mattered was what my mother felt about what I had written.  Actually she was happy with what I wrote, and so I concluded that while I would have liked to, it’s just not possible to please all the people all the time.  As long as my mother was at peace about what I wrote, and she felt that Dad would have been okay with it, then I wasn’t going to lose more sleep.

I don’t generally write a lot about my mother in my blog for a number of reasons.  Firstly some people who may follow my blog are friends/family/people who know her personally.  It’s simply not fair on her for me to be  saying all kinds of things about her in that case.  She is also a very private and reserved woman.  If she wouldn’t be saying these things, then I don’t feel it’s my place to say them either.

And finally Mum and I have never shared a close relationship.  Anything but.  Our relationship has always been strained, for as long as I can remember.  We are simply two very different people, although my brother reminded me recently that we have some similarities (which I wasn’t so sure I wanted to know about).  I guess that’s family for you.

All that said, she is my mother, she is ageing, she is now widowed and alone, and I am the family member who is physically closest (just five minutes down the road) and the one who has the time and perhaps inclination.  That has been the case now for the past 10 years so we have already been through a lot.

At the moment my mother needs support from me and it looks like that is going to increase significantly in the coming months ( contact me directly if you need that explained).

I don’t have a problem providing the support she needs because to me, that is what honouring her is about.  It’s also about honouring what my father would have wanted me to do, and perhaps because I was closer to him, that is the stronger thought right now.

My therapist and I fall apart at this point because he considers that I’m trying to replace my father.  I’m trying to be a husband for my mother.  I don’t agree.  I simply see a woman who raised me, had a husband for 53 years, and now finds herself alone and with failing health.

Dare I say it, I expect it will all go down hill from here in terms of her ability to maintain her independence and mobility.  Quite frankly, it puts me off old age.  I see what she faces and I see what some of her friends and relatives face, and I’m inclined to think I’m not interested in being old.  Perhaps I’m not meant to say that, but hey, I’ve said it.  I’m sure I’m not the only one with elderly parents who is thinking the same.

What I have yet to work out is how I honour my mother (and my father), and provide the support she needs while still looking after my own physical health and needs.  I suspect that is actually going to be the biggest battle.  The past few days have not been easy because I haven’t been well, but Mum  needed me.  But it was manageable and we have got through.

I’m also not sure how I protect my mental health through this, although I am fortunate to have a couple of close supports who are simply wonderful.  It’s difficult though, because our relationship has always been rocky and often my mental health has suffered.  I can’t afford for that to happen.  If I don’t maintain my own health, then I won’t be able to be there for her.

I’m wondering though, what do you think honouring your parents means?  And how do you do that, if it’s at all possible, when your parents have caused you harm in the past?  If honouring your parents isn’t important to you, how do you view your role in their old age?

“I want to grow old without facelifts… I want to have the courage to be loyal to the face I’ve made. Sometimes I think it would be easier to avoid old age, to die young, but then you’d never complete your life, would you? You’d never wholly know you.” 

―    Marilyn Monroe

17 thoughts on “Honour Thy Parents

  1. John Richardson

    Makes you wonder why God didn’t command us to love our mother and father rinstead of honoring them, doesn’t it? Then I remember my own kids and telling them on many occasions, “I’d like for us to be friends but friendship is not required.” What was important to me in that context was that they obey me. I think this is part of honoring your mother and father but ihonoring seems much brodader than simple obediance. I do believe love is part of the equation but I think the rest of the equation is probably respect and trust. If you want to live to a ripe old age and have a life worth living it’s a pretty good idea to follow the lead of your parents, at least until you have the experience to make informed decisions. It also seems to me that for most of our life we go in circles whether we recoginize it or not. We start out as our parents children and if both live long enough end up as the parents of our mothers and fathers. Love, discipline, obediance, trust and respect seem to make a pretty good reciepe for a parent child relationship.

  2. Cate,
    I can’t imagine facing this. My mother died when I was quite young and I didn’t meet or know my father until a couple of years ago. As difficult and challenging as it sounds, I wonder if having any kind of a relationship with either of them would have had a positive or negative influence on my parenting of my children.

    When I read your words, I began thinking ahead to when my own children may be in your position – being called upon to offer care and nurture toward me that was difficult for me to provide for them when they were under my care. I hope they are as willing as you seem to be.

    All I know is that their forgiveness of the damage I caused has been the greatest gift and more honor than I expected at this point.

    I am almost certain that, regardless of her stoicism and apparent reserve, there is a deep well of maternal love along with leftover mommy guilt and regret that she may not even know how to recognize.

    Just like mothers of babies and young children have to find their balance between sacrificing what they need in order to provide for their children and ensuring they stay healthy enough to actually provide the care, so must you.

    The therapist should be helping you find that path instead of suggesting you are trying to be your father. That’s kind of off to my understanding of hints, which is limited.


    1. Thanks for your comment Kina. Actually what you say is helpful to me because I don’t have children and so I can’t look at it from that perspective. I’m inclined to think that forgiveness must be one of the biggest things we can give our parents. I’ve still got a bit of work to do on that one…

      1. I may mangle this, fibro-brain you know, but I once read something along the idea that forgiveness is letting go of the idea the past can be different.

        For me, I have found it far easier to forgive others as I stop focusing on what may have been done to me and realize the way my own words, actions, and lack thereof may have harmed others. Once I recognize those things and I honestly examine my own thoughts, beliefs, and ingrained responses that caused me to behave in hurtful ways, regardless of intention, I then begin to understand and realize that if I screwed things up the way I had, irrespective of my knowledge, insight, or intention and my misguided certainty that I would or could get it right when they got it wrong, but only ever wanted what was best for those I loved, then it’s probable those I’m harboring unforgiveness for are in the same boat.

        Blessings, Kina

  3. HI Cate 🙂

    Loved the post although this has always been a painful subject for me personally.

    On a purely biblical stance, the quote comes from Exodus 20:12 as well as the Ten commandments, the fifth of the ten and concerns our duty towards our relations although it specifically only mentions parents “Honour thy father and thy mother”

    Having a right attitude towards them, their persons, having a fond regard for them and respecting them is one thing but demonstrating that in all things is another.

    Having a healthy regard for them and for their authority (Lev 19:3), (Heb 12:9) is all part of it.. Take Ephesians 6:1-3 for example- which is of course based on both the Exodus and Ten Commandments statement – Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

    The question is of course when do we stop being ‘children’? Will I, should I, ever stop being my mother’s or my father’s child? Am I not an adult child of my parents?

    We grow and become independent and this is only right and proper but I wonder if in the doing so we haven’t lost sight – certainly in the west – of our responsibilities, our duties towards our parents? And I am very mindful here not only about our need to be held accountable for our actions but also of your question about our role in their old age.

    You know of my faith and so I know that I can speak with you about these things, But I am concerned about this question and how I myself act in respect of this question. As old fashioned, politically incorrect and as unpopular as it may seem, I do believe that the bible teaches that the father is to be the head of the family. BUT I believe that to be a servant-leader role.

    Of course a key phrase for me in the Ephesians 6 passage is “in the Lord” – Children, obey your parents in the Lord, What if your parents are not in the Lord? What about our responsibility to God and to the truth. What if what our parents are telling us or asking us to do is directly wrong?

    Or does this and the word “honor” in Exodus which in the Hebrew is ‘kâbad kâbêd’ and basically means to treat with gravity or seriousness, to give weight to, mean that actually we should respect them by doing all we can to respectfully show them the truth when they are wrong and thus not simply blindly obey them or put them on a pedestal regardless of their actions?

    In respect of my biological parents, (who are not believers) I struggled with them for years, not only as a result of my mental health but also as a result of a very poor relationship with my late father. Thankfully my attitude has changed in the more recent past and whilst I live in a different country to my family, I call my mother two or three times a week now. I listen to her words and I respect her wishes where possible.

    I also have unofficially adopted parents (who are believers) and they and I have a different relationship entirely. They know my needs more and they know that I, (despite my age and as a result of my mental health and the fact that I live alone) like and need to be held accountable at times and they fulfill that role in my life.

    All of which – my relationship with my biological mother and my unofficially adopted parents – is done with honesty and truth and I ‘give weight’ to the place of all of them in my life.

    You asked the question. “I’m wondering though, what do you think honouring your parents means? And how do you do that, if it’s at all possible, when your parents have caused you harm in the past? If honouring your parents isn’t important to you, how do you view your role in their old age?”

    For me, since we are talking about a biblical encouragement and commandment, it has to come back to that key phrase “in the Lord” and I could not possibly honour anyone “in the Lord” unless I did so with truth. For to do anything outside of the truth is to place it, in my opinion, outside of the Lord.

    Honouring my parents (biological and unofficially adopted) is extremely important to me BUT honouring Christ has to, in my opinion, take precedence over that in my opinion. So I meet them with love and respect and with truth because to do anything else. to remove any one of those three things is not to fully honour them. in my opinion. And being honest about what I am and am not able for is all part of that.

    I Hope that helps and sorry it was so long.
    Kind Regards and God bless you Cate 🙂


    1. It’s a difficult issue isn’t it Kevin? I didn’t reply straight away because I needed to stop and think about it. I really appreciate what you have said because it made me re-examine what happened for me when my Dad died last year. Hard, but necessary. I’m still not sure what the answer is. What it all means and does it continue for life? Must I still obey my parents now? That was the problem when Dad died, because I disagreed with him and refused to do something he wanted (and then he died minutes later). I guess in some ways the confusion is lessened a little for me in that my parents were/are Christians. Still, at 47 I can handle honouring more than I can handle obeying. Plenty of food for thought. Thanks for sharing and never apologise for length. 🙂

  4. Honoring my parents means respecting them. They brought me here and I need to acknowledge that! BUT!!!! As I have learned through life blood doesn’t mean anything. Mom and Dad mean something more then sharing DNA.

  5. Maybe honouring is different for different situations, that’s been a tough scripture for me becasue of the abuse. For me the conclusion I’ve come too, is I eventually need to forgive them, and honouring them for me, is not allowing them in my life. To allow them in my life, would enable them to continue abusing me. That’s not good for me or them. Thankfully, I also live far away from them, so things will likey fall on my sister now for any care they might need, which is fine with me. I don’t know if any of that makes sense.
    Maybe you just need to figure out in your heart what God means in it for you?

    1. I think honouring is different in different situations. I like that way of looking at it and I appreciate you took the time to comment even though I recognise that it must be a hard topic for you. I think you’re right in that it comes down to forgiveness and I am inclined to believe that this also means different things in different families. In time I’ll work it out for me, meanwhile I’m putting one foot in front of the other. I’m sure God can live with that.

  6. The idea of ‘honoring parents’ is something that I struggled with for a long time. I felt I didn’t have the parents that deserved honoring in any sense of the word, but at the same time my faith meant that I felt I ought to be more positive in my thoughts about them.
    Eventually I found that my way to ‘honor’ them would be to forgive them. That’s what I have done and now I don’t hold any resentment towards them and for me that is huge.

    And I love your reference to honoring Christ, That has made me think about the whole subject in a different light 🙂

    1. Thanks for your comment Carolyn. I think the concept of honouring can be very difficult when we haven’t had the ‘idea’ childhood. It sounds like you have responded to the challenge in a great way to ensure you get some peace. 🙂

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  8. This post has helped me see my own situation a little more clearly. I was raised with the commandments and came to loathe most of them because they were used to frighten me into submission.

    In my opinion, Cate, I would say that you have been honouring your parents. We don’t have to love, approve or be close to them. I THINK honouring comes from our actions. You are thinking about your Mum and how best to help her, now and in the future. I’m sure you are also spending a lot of your time doing different things for her. Above everything else, you are working through issues while remaining respectful and considerate. That, to me, is honour.

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