As I grow old…er, I am becoming more and more aware of just how parents make it difficult for their children to honor them. I am mostly addressing parents who claim to be truly born again and follow Christ.
Good family relationships are inherently difficult because of sin. We all go “our own way” (Isa 53:6) and it is a real recipe for disaster–especially if parents refuse to grow in grace and knowledge of our Savior (2Pet 3:18).
God commands children to honor Mom and Dad (Eph 6:2). This puts it upon the children to give respect, to prize, to revere, and value highly their parents. But it also is an implied statement about how parents should be honorable, respectable, and valuable. Now, if parents are not this, it does not excuse the children, but parents should make it easy for children to follow this command.
How do parents make it difficult? Here are just a few ways:
1. By refusing to be humble learners. Parents often think that age = wisdom. It certainly can, but not always. It is only wisdom as the parents themselves continue to grow in understanding. Understanding and wisdom all come from God which means we must always be learning (Psa 119:104). Parents often do not learn a changing and challenging culture, and do not continue to learn the vast depths of their Savior, the Word, and the glory of God. They inadvertently begin to shut themselves off from aspects of life that their children and grand children are facing. They then send a message to the people they say they love that says, “I don’t love you to serve you in your environment, you must stay in my world.” This is tragic as it shuts off channels of communication and can be a real source of hurt.
2. By refusing to treat adult children as adults. As parents get older they grow stuck in their ways and they assume that the children will always remain children. As children, then, they cannot ever have opinions, logical thoughts, wise conclusions or make proper decisions. Parents unwittingly turn their children away from them by constantly treating them as children and further exacerbate things by thinking they cannot learn from their children. We joke about someone being a “Mamma’s boy” but this is no joking matter. It takes special skill and wise discernment for parents to make it easy for their children to become adults and parents should work hard at this. Parents often continue to make decisions for their adult kids without ever asking them or even considering they could make the correct decision for themselves. This builds resentment and anger and before long both sides are running for cover. It’s not healthy and causes great sorrow.
3. By never admitting wrong. Dads are notorious for this, but mothers are not far behind. Many grown kids today have never, ever heard their parents repent, confess sin, or demonstrate godly sorrow. This is stunning! In order for parents to be respected, they often think they need to be right. Dad’s angry outbursts or mother’s constant manipulation are off-limits and can never be spoken of and must be swept under the rug. It should never be about “who” is right, but always “what” is right. Parents who never see themselves as wrong cripple relationships. Generations of bitterness exists because of pride.
4. By constantly having to be in control. Mothers struggle here, but Dads are not without fault either. “I’m the mother and it must be done my way–this is how you show honor to me!” Now, I doubt any mother would say this (although, I wouldn’t put it past some), but it is THE message that is received by the adult child. From holidays, vacations together, or even just friendly visits, the adult child of a controlling parent breaks out in heavy anxiety just at the thought of the visit. Dinner must be done a certain way; the house must be certain way; the children better be a certain way; or the adult child will hear about it. This can crush relationships as it sends a message of superiority, arrogance, and covetousness.
5. By constantly making the child feel guilt. This perhaps is a bit of an overlap from #4, but I wanted to separate them for emphasis. Making a child feel guilt is controlling. It is a desperate ploy by the parent to make the child love the parent and have a relationship when it actually does the reverse. Things are said like, “You have to spend as much time at our house as you do your in-laws” or “I did this for you and you should at the very least do this for me” or “Your brother does this for me and you don’t ever do anything for me like that…”. I could go on, but I think you get the point. This makes it very hard for the adult child to love the parent and stifles relationships. Do this: Ask your adult child (and really mean it) how do they feel you try to control them? They may not give you a real answer at first because they will sense you are trying to control them again. So, be patient and really seek their answers.
6. By reversing the roles. Wow, this is a big one. I hear parents say all the time, “My children never come to see me; never call me; or forget my birthday…” and I typically then will ask, “Do you call them?” or “Do you go and see them?” There are a variety of answers to those questions, but frankly most of the time the parent expects the child to do the adult thing and the adult then becomes a child by making demands. Make it easy for your children to honor you by calling them. Initiate relationship. If they are not responding, it may very well be time to examine your heart and your actions/reactions toward them. Be the parent and like the older, more mature adult, initiate and seek restoration, forgiveness, and open communication by genuine Christ-like love and compassion. Parents cannot demand respect but get respect as they live a life worth respecting. Reversing roles puts relationships in real danger.
7. By not highlighting God’s grace in the lives of their children. Is every single area of your child’s life flawed? Well, yes, theologically, sin reaches it all. However, God’s grace is at work in the life of the child and it’s the parent who should spot it, celebrate it, and seek to highlight it. What we celebrate is what we will duplicate. As parents grow older, it seems grace alludes them. This simply means that pride becomes even more prominent in their life and humility and its effects are lost in the constant friction of life. Hopelessness is all the child sees. They soon give up even trying. This is sad.
Parenting is no easy task to be sure. Every step of life with all of its transitions are times for parents to regroup, check motives, recalibrate, and seek God’s grace. There is much uncertainty and insecurities in life because of sin but it is the Gospel that fixes all of that. Being kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving is all based on the cross (Eph 4:32). God’s glory is ultimately at stake here!
Parents, please don’t make it difficult!