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Help! My mother hammers me with the 4th commandment!


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Katrina Fernandez - published on 10/26/17

When "honor thy father and thy mother" becomes a spiritual stumbling block

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Dear Katrina,

What do you think of the commandment to honor your father and mother? My mom whips out this commandment every time I disagree with her or I don’t take her advice. We’ve never really had a great relationship, so after college I took a job about six hours away from home. Now I see my mom a few times a year and at major holidays, and every time we get together she criticizes everything about my life (job, appearance, and the fact I’m not married yet). If I try to defend myself she says I’m being disrespectful and breaking the commandment to honor her. When I visited last Easter we got into an argument and words were exchanged. Then she said I was a hypocrite Catholic because I talk to her the way I do and I need to confess breaking the fourth commandment. So Easter Sunday I didn’t receive Communion because I felt like I wasn’t in a state of grace. My mom frequently pulls this stunt and ruins holidays and Masses when we are together. I am really tired of this commandment being such a stumbling block for me.

Dishonorable Daughter


Dear Daughter,

It’s really tough trying to honor a parent who doesn’t behave in honorable ways. As a child who grew up in an abusive environment, I have struggled with this very same issue. For a long time I simply decided that this commandment didn’t apply to me because I felt there was nothing worthy or honorable in either of my parents. But there is no “not applicable” option to any of the commandments.

There have been horrible parents since the dawn of time, so why would the Lord give us such a seemingly difficult commandment to follow? Because the family is central to community and a reflection of our society and of the Church. Also because this commandment teaches us about humility and submission of will. Honoring your mother and father is just as much about us as it is about our parents.    

Honoring your mother doesn’t mean that you have to allow yourself to be treated despicably. It’s actually a beautiful commandment that presupposes our relationships with other family members, teachers, leaders, and society as a whole. Don’t let your mom’s warped understanding of this commandment prevent you from the reception of sacraments and growing in faith.  

Since you probably won’t be able to change your mom (unless she wants to change) you can at least change the way you react to her. Don’t allow her to have that much control over you spiritual well-being. When she antagonizes you, remind yourself not to be baited into an argument and respond in anger using harsh and disrespectful language.  

Related: Honor My Mother and Father? Why should I?

While the fourth commandment sets some clear boundaries on how children should treat their parents, the Catechism of the Catholic Church also expands on this commandment to illustrate how parents should honor their children.

2222 Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons. Showing themselves obedient to the will of the Father in heaven, they educate their children to fulfill God’s law.2223 Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.”31 Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them [SOURCE]

As a parent, part of my responsibility to help my son grow in holiness. If may behavior causes him to sin in reaction, than I am failing as parent and the burden of that commandment falls on my shoulders, too.  

So how do you honor difficult, seemingly unworthy parents? You honor them by living honorably and treating others with respect and dignity. In cases of abuses, you can honor your parents by not perpetuating a cycle of generational abuse. For individuals estranged from abusive parents, you can still honor your parents by respecting the life they gave you and living virtuously. You give your family honor by being a good citizen and faithful servant of Christ.  

Related: How can I honor my parents when they are such miserable, difficult people?

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