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How to honor parents who are difficult people

father and son

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Cecilia Zinicola - published on 06/26/21

Relationships with parents can be challenging, but it helps to focus on the positive and be witnesses of Christ's love.

Our relationship with our parents binds us in a profound way for life, even if we’re physically distant. 

That reality isn’t changed even if we don’t share the same values, or if they have attitudes that we don’t like or that hurt us. However, it can become a real challenge for us as Christians to live out the fourth commandment to honor our father and mother.

If we come to the realization that our parents treat us or others poorly, it can be devastating. The duty of treating them well, of avoiding speaking ill of them and continuing to love them in spite of all the harm they’ve done, can be difficult to put into practice. 

It’s not “honoring” to cooperate with bad behavior, so we’re not obliged to obey them in such cases or to say “yes” to everything they suggest or ask of us. To honor means to respect and care for our loved ones, taking into account their dignity as human beings and the connection they have with us because of the role they occupy in our life. 

Therefore, for us to honor them, it’s important to know how to differentiate the individual from the role they occupy. We may not agree with them, but as Christians we’re called to care for our parents as they cared for us as children, even though they made mistakes. We need to value and honor their participation in the sacred gift of life we’ve received. 

Our mission as children is to do what we can while being faithful to our principles, not allowing ourselves to be corrupted. We need to lovingly set limits, never giving up on our parents and acting honorably towards them. 

1Forgive their mistakes

Parents may not be able to fix many of the mistakes they make throughout life. One way to honor them is to find ways to forgive them, from near or far.

Forgiveness from the heart is a liberating act. We must remember that the world is a complex and confusing place. God chose to show mercy and look upon us with compassion. Instead of constantly complaining, being angry or seeking revenge, we should keep our heart clean.

2Appreciate the good things

Everybody has some good qualities for which we can be thankful. We should try to think of something positive about our parents, or something good they’ve done.

Instead of dwelling on bad memories, let’s reflect on how God has used them in some way to make us the person we are, and to help us reach where we are today. Recognizing this and acknowledging it before others is a way of honoring them. 

3Keep them connected to our family

When our relationships with our parents are difficult, it’s normal to distance ourselves from them. However, this can push them further away than is good for them.

One way to honor them is to continue giving them space within our family, even if they tend to reject it. Don’t give up on them, within what’s possible; send them a card or a photo, or facilitate contact with your children, their grandchildren. 

4Share the Gospel

There are many diseases of the soul which can only be cured by grace. The Gospel is an ideal place for an encounter with God, who is the One who brings true healing.

Our parents may never have another opportunity to hear about salvation. We should make it a priority to honor them by sharing words of wisdom and eternity, although it must be with great tact and respect.

5Do acts of kindness

Although it may never be openly acknowledged, no act of kindness goes unnoticed. We can be creative and do simple things for our parents such as sending flowers for no special reason or calling them on the phone just to catch up.

We can also use some special skill or talent we have to help them in practical ways, such as fixing the bathroom, mowing the lawn or running an errand for them. 

6Pray for them

Pray that you will have the strength to do deeds to honor your parents, but also and especially, pray for them if they’ve treated you badly.

God teaches us to “bless those who curse us and pray for those who slander us” (Luke 6:28). In this way we can honor them by placing their lives in God’s hands and trusting Him to assist them in whatever they need.

7Teach your children to honor their grandparents

Another way to honor our parents is to speak kindly about them in front of other people, especially our children or other relatives, even if we don’t agree with them or their lifestyle.

We must remember that our children will one day be raising our grandchildren and talking about our own mistakes as well. We should show our parents the same mercy we would like to receive. 

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