Honor Your Parents: A Practical Guide to a Challenging Concept

Published April 14, 2021
Two generations of women, wrapped in a blanket

Countless people grow up knowing that they are expected to honor their parents. It makes sense. For most, your parents gave you life, raised you, sacrificed for you, and love you fiercely. For a select few, this concept might make less sense and cause question. Where did the term come from? What does it really look like to honor your parents and when does the term simply not apply?

The Biblical Roots of Honor Your Parents

For certain religions, particularly Jewish and certain Christian sects, honoring thy mother and father is deeply rooted in their belief system. It is one of the ten commandments that all people of those religions are to follow and practice in their everyday lives. According to the Bible, children, young and old are to honor their parents in specific ways.

Appreciate Them

Recognize what they do for you and acknowledge the countless sacrifices that they have made over the years for your benefit. Know that everything they have done in their lives has likely been for you in some capacity. Parents don't ask for much in return, but appreciation and gratitude go a long way.

Accept Their Authority

Children are to recognize the authority of God through their parents. Serving their parents and seeing their ways as superior is an extension of the Lord. A section of the Bible says, " be obedient to your parents in everything, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord."

Treat Them Respectfully

What you choose to say to your parents and how you choose to say it is to be done with respectful tones and vocabulary. The Bible considers speaking to parents in disrespectful, ill tones as severe an offense and is not to be tolerated.

Provide for Them in All Ways

As parents age, it is the responsibility to care for them in all ways. As parents cared for their children in their younger years, the script flips and moves full circle when parents can no longer care for themselves.

What Does It Mean in Everyday Life?

The Bible lays out what it means to honor thy parents and explains that the principle of honoring parents is an extension of honoring the Lord himself. While the concept seems simple enough, how does it play out in real life? What does honoring thy parents look like in modern times for many believers?

Young man looking at phone, his mother kissing him and father looking at them

Display Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a major concept in the religion of Christianity. Jesus led by example, forgiving those who hurt and wronged him. Christians are often told to ask for forgiveness in order to be set on the right path, and children are encouraged to forgive their parents. Parents are human, they make mistakes and are by no means perfect. By exhibiting forgiveness and foregoing all grudges, children young and old can honor their parents.

Forgiveness is hard for a lot of people. Knowing that your parents have made imperfect choices and recognizing that they, like all humans, deserve grace and understanding, is one way that you can honor your parents in a practical sense.

Honor Them in Words

Essentially, speak well of your parents. It is anything but honorable to talk poorly of them. To engage in dishonorable speech pertaining to one's parents is sometimes considered as serious an offense as striking them, per Exodus 21:15-17, Leviticus 20:9. In modern times, this way to honor parents is fairly simple, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. While discussing past hurt and pain or issues with parents might feel therapeutic, and in some cases actually is therapeutic, know that there is probably a correct time and place for such behavior. Working through family troubles can be done in ways that don't disrespect the people who raised you.

Do Well by Them

Humans learn so much from their parents, both good and bad. Parents want to see their hard work in child-rearing reflected in their children as they grow. Demonstrate good choices in life and be reflective of your parents as you are an extension of them. Pay tribute to them when you achieve accomplishments, letting them know that you are where you are in life because of them.

Another way to exhibit this value is to be good parents yourselves. Treat your own children with love, respect, and kindness, and show your parents through action that you are a good parent because they were good parents.

Ask Their Advice

Your parents want to be of service to you. They want to help you throughout your life, no matter how old you become. One way to honor them is to seek out their advice and wisdom. Let them offer perspective and consider using what they say. You don't have to do what they advise all the time; you are, after all, your own person. But listening and contemplating their pearls of wisdom is an honorable act.

Aside from asking for advice, listen to their stories. Parents like to pack messages and words of wisdom into their tales, so lean in and hear all that they are trying to tell you.

Consider Their Values

There is a really good chance that you and your parents live your lives very differently. The generations change so rapidly, what is considered normal and typical to you and your peers might be totally taboo for your parents. Know what they would not approve of and do your best not to throw your behaviors and habits in their face. When you see them, curb your cocktailing, or choose not to smoke or swear in their presence. If they attend church every Sunday, consider tagging along, or if you are irreligious, see them off and wish them well. Meet them halfway by joining them for a post-church meal.

Woman and old man sitting and talking

Support and Provide for Them

Not everyone will be able to do exactly as the Bible says and care for their aging parents in all things possible. You can still support and provide for your parents, even if you live far away from them or cannot financially foot their bills. Making the time to connect with them on a regular basis is a way to emotionally support your parents in their older years. Asking if they need anything is an honorable act. It lets them know that you recognize that there might be needs and are willing to seek out what those needs are.

Religious and Non-Religious Ways to Honor Parents

When it comes to honoring parents, there are lifestyles to follow, that extend honor, and there are simple acts that can illustrate love and honor for those who raised you.

  • Pray for your parents.
  • Love your siblings.
  • Plan family events.
  • Share your life with your parents.
  • Spend time with them.
  • Learn to respectfully disagree.
  • Show interest in what they love.
  • Tell your parents you love them.

What Does It NOT Mean

Honoring your parents does not mean that you are a puppet and are to do everything exactly how they say for all the days of your life. Do not get it twisted. When it comes to honoring your parents, know where the hard line in the sand gets drawn so that your relationship with them remains healthy.

Controlling Your Marriage

When you grow up and marry, that is an entirely different relationship than the one you have with your parents. Letting your parents drive your union with a heavy hand is not an example of honoring them.

Giving Complete Authority

This can be confusing, as one of the guiding Biblical principles of honoring thy parents is to acknowledge their authoritative role in your life. What this means is to know your boundaries. Yes, they are authoritative figures and should be respected as so, but children should not be expected to do every single thing a parent says as they grow into their adult years, especially when their request conflicts with the personal views and beliefs of the adult child.

Follow Their Religious Direction

It is only natural for deeply religious parents to want their kids to follow their choice of religious path, but this is not their right to dictate. Everyone has the ability to seek out the religion and life path that works best for them. Parents do not get to dictate the religious choices of their children as they grow into adulthood and decide things for themselves.

Is It Okay To Not Honor Your Parents?

It is a nice thought that everyone gets a set of stand-up parents who love and respect their children and in turn, receive honor from their offspring. Life doesn't always shake out picture-perfectly, however, and sometimes parents end up being toxic forces in their children's lives. Are children to honor parents who have been abusive or neglectful?

It depends on who you ask.

Some sources will say that even through their many faults, parents gave you life and are extensions of a higher power, thus deserve to be honored.

Practically speaking, no. Just because someone gave you life does not always mean that you are indebted to them for eternity. If your parents were toxic, unstable, negative forces in your life, it is entirely your choice whether you continue to move forward with that relationship. Sadly, some family members are toxic. Knowing when to sever toxic and dysfunctional relationships is a challenge, but it can be freeing. There can certainly be cases where honoring parents doesn't make sense for some.

Every Family Is Different

You know what they say, different strokes for different folks. Honoring parents can look very different depending on familial values, cultural and religious values, and preferred lifestyles. Deciding how to interpret this value can be challenging, especially because families are so complex. Giving it some time and thought and deciding what it means to you and how it fits into your life will help guide you in how to apply honoring parents into your practical existence.

Honor Your Parents: A Practical Guide to a Challenging Concept