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Recently I came across a Facebook comment to the effect that “Children don’t owe their parents anything.” The commenter said this in connection with her decision to cut off contact with her parents.
Certainly I don’t know this woman’s story, other than the handful of sentences she shared on Facebook. I assume she was fully justified in the decision, which I’m sure she did not make lightly.
But I couldn’t help but wonder if her statement was true. Do children really owe their parents nothing at all?
(And this should go without saying, but of course, none of this applies to cases of abuse. An abusive parent certainly is owed nothing!)
“The divine fatherhood is the source of human fatherhood; this is the foundation of the honor owed to parents. The respect of children, whether minors or adults, for their father and mother … is required by God’s commandment.” (2214)
“Respect for parents (filial piety) derives from gratitude toward those who, by the gift of life, their love and their work, have brought their children into the world and enabled them to grow in stature, wisdom, and grace.” (2215 )
“For Christians a special gratitude is due to those from whom they have received the gift of faith, the grace of Baptism, and life in the Church.” (2220)
“Filial respect is shown by true docility and obedience … As long as a child lives at home with his parents, the child should obey his parents in all that they ask of him when it is for his good or that of the family … Obedience toward parents ceases with the emancipation of the children; not so respect, which is always owed to them.” (2216-7)
Crucially, the Catechism does clarify that obedience is only required for morally right actions: “But if a child is convinced in conscience that it would be morally wrong to obey a particular order, he must not do so.” (2217)
It turns out the Church calls adult children to give their parents respect and gratitude, so it’s not quite accurate to say that children owe their parents nothing.
Sometimes respect and gratitude can be hard duties, though, especially when differing values lead to repeated conflict between the generations. It helps for both sides to give each other the benefit of the doubt and pray hard for each other.
With prayer and prudence, and giving lots of grace, we can hope to enjoy peaceful and happy friendships between the different generations.