What Honoring Your Father and Mother Really Means

What does it mean to honor someone? We hear the word “honor” in phrases such as: maid of honor, honor roll, honorary degree and honorable mention. All of these terms indicate high respect and esteem.

It is appropriate to honor someone whose attitude and behavior is worthy. But what about honoring someone whose attitude and behavior is unworthy? One thing is certain: while it’s not easy, it is possible to honor someone who has hurt you, who you disagree with or who challenges your patience.

To begin, let’s talk about what honoring your father and mother is not:

  • It is not subjecting yourself to continual abusive behavior.
  • It is not pretending that you were never hurt by them.
  • It is not allowing yourself to be controlled and manipulated.
  • It is not making your parents a higher priority than your own family.
  • It does not mean you always have to agree with your parents.

Now let’s talk about what honoring your father and mother is:

  • It is forgiving your parents for sinning against you.
  • It is doing all you can to keep the lines of communication open between yourself and your parents.
  • It is spending a reasonable amount of time with your parents, if possible.
  • It is believing the best of your parents and speaking of them in a way that wouldn’t embarrass them.
  • It is praying for your parents.

Setting Healthy Boundaries

First of all, it is important to note that it is not your responsibility to make your parents “happy.” They are responsible for their own happiness and therefore they do not have the right to guilt trip you into spending time with them or meeting all of their needs.

The following statements are manipulative and controlling:

  • “If you really loved me you would….”
  • “I’m sorry I’m such a burden to you.”
  • “My friend’s son calls her every day.”
  • “I’m going to die soon and then you’ll be sorry.”
  • “You don’t understand how lonely I am.”

If your parents say things like this to you, you should refuse to feel guilty and then set healthy boundaries. First, decide how much time to spend with your parents and then discuss with them what is realistic for your schedule and theirs. It is not a good idea to neglect your own personal needs and the needs of your family because you are spending an unbalanced amount of time with your parents.

Sadly, some of you may have parents who are consistently abusive to you and your family members. Visits and conversations with them may leave everyone feeling beaten down and confused. If this is the case, discuss with your parents how they make you feel. If you find that they are unwilling to change how they interact with you, then you need to distance yourself from them for the safety and welfare of you and your family. This is setting a healthy boundary.

It is possible to honor your parents even if you don’t interact with them through visits or conversation. You honor them by forgiving them, praying for them, and wishing the best for them. You want to leave the door open in case they change, but you are not under any obligation to subject yourself to harm. This is a difficult boundary to set and keep. It may mean not answering the phone or returning texts for a time, always with the hope that your relationship with them will improve.

There is also a flip side to setting healthy boundaries. It is not honoring your parents to think of them as your personal assistants.

It is unfair if you:

  • Only having them over to your home when you need a babysitter.
  • Borrow money without paying it back.
  • Call only to complain about your spouse and your children.
  • Expect them to change their plans to be available for you.

As family, we love and serve each other, but there must be give and take and a mutual respect for one another.

Honoring Your Parents Through Gratitude

It is certainly more difficult in some cases than in others, but all of us have reasons to be grateful to our parents. It is important to focus on what they did well and to express your thankfulness to them. For example:

  • Your dad didn’t spend much time with you, but he provided for his family.
  • Your mom often lost her temper, but she also praised you when you did well.
  • Your dad didn’t show much physical affection, but he showed up for your games when he could.
  • Your mom didn’t teach you how to run a household, but she made you feel good about yourself.

Blaming your parents for what they didn’t do will only breed bitterness. You will, in fact, find yourself so focused on the negative that you begin to act the very same way. That’s why we hate to hear: “you sound just like your mother,” or “you act just like your dad.” When we focus on what they did well, we imitate their positive qualities.

You’re All Adults Now

Do you remember when you first realized that your mom and dad are human beings with insecurities, questions and concerns? It might have been unnerving at first, because as children we think of our parents as strong, wise and confident. Getting to know your parents adult to adult is one way to honor them. It can also bring a great deal of insight as to why things were the way they were when you were a child and how to prevent some of the same pitfalls with your own family.
Here are some ways to learn about your parents:

  • Ask what their childhood was like.
  • Look at old photographs and yearbooks with them.
  • Find out how your parents met and what their wedding was like.
  • Learn about their work history.
  • Ask how your mom’s pregnancies were.
  • Find out about difficult times they’ve had and how they handled them.
  • Find out who have been and are their closest friends and why.

It is easier to have compassion (and honor) for people when you know what they have been through. But this does not always happen automatically. Parents may not openly share their difficult times—so you have to ask them. You’ll never regret the time you spend getting to know your parents and you will make them feel loved and honored by doing so.

Benefits of Honoring Your Father and Mother

  • Emotional Benefits: You’re able to let go of the pressure of “fixing” your parents and you can rest in the role of being a son or daughter. You will have honored your parents and even if they can’t love you back the way you wish, it may soften their hearts.
  • Spiritual Benefits: It matters to God that you honor your parents and He will reward you for it. You will sense God’s pleasure and feel His presence in a greater measure.

There is much more to say about how to honor your parents and why it is important. We have just skimmed the surface of the benefits that this honoring brings. To learn more, read on.

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How to Honor your Father & Mother