A while back I started a series on the Ten Commandments. I got to number four, probably the easiest one for me to write about, and probably the most inoffensive to most non-believers – after all, what’s not to like about what superficially appears to be a command to have a day off? I kind of forgot about that series amidst all my other random blog posts, and then last week I remembered that perhaps I had a good reason for being stuck. Commandment number five. That’s where I got stuck.
Number five is the one about honouring your father and mother.
And I could have written a very lovely, likely nauseating blog post as an ode to my (truthfully) very wonderful parents, but as soon as I thought about it what came to mind was…but what if your parents suck?
I’ll admit, there is a part of me that is very sympathetic to the pro-choice movement. There are one or two women who make you think”Why didn’t you just have an abortion?”. That might appear exceptionally judgemental, callous or even evil to some of you, but hear me out:
Seeing a baby whose mother is addicted to heroin and has passed that on to them, or seeing women who know that they are entirely economically, emotionally or mentally unsuitable to parent or seeing women who physically or sexually abuse their children persuade me at times sometimes, it is crueller to give birth to life than to terminate it. Of course, their children could, and I hope will, go on to make wonderful things out of their lives, but the odds are hugely stacked against them.
I get angry after I see these women. And I undulate between pity (because I understand that people do not generally behave in these ways simply because they are ‘bad people’ – there a multiple factors at play) and anger for the soon-to-be baby that has to live through the consequences of their behaviour.
Poor single mothers are an easy target for bad parenting though. There are multiple men and women who have stable jobs and appear to be functioning on the surface, but have hidden addictions, abusive personalities and a myriad of issues that make them just as ill equipped to parent, but they unfortunately fall under the radar of public services.
Some parents suck.
Some people should never be parents in their current state. Some parents are your abusers. Some parents are the person who caused you the deepest hurt. Some parents are invisible. Some parents left you before you could remember their face. Some parents crushed your dreams and didn’t give you enough peaceful nights to rebuild them. Some parents are selfish. Some parents told you they hated you.
All parents are imperfect.
How do you honour them? Do they deserve honour? What does it look like to honour a parent who sucks at parenting?
I always say we can’t make arguments from definitions, but sometimes definitions are useful. The Greek word for honour used in the New testament is timao, which means ‘to set the value of’. I think this is a useful way of understanding the context of the word honour. The heart of this commandment is the value we should place on the relationship (or non-relationship) we have with our parents. Whether good or bad, these relationships will likely have lasting impact on the course of our lives. We should approach these relationships with that knowledge and treat them accordingly.Not only that, but good parents are an invaluable resource and we should use the wisdom they inevitably will have.
I’m cautious about being too certain in my opinions on this, but there are a few thing I am certain of:
1) Jesus took abuse, especially of children, seriously.
He said that it was better to tie a massive rock around your neck and drown yourself at the bottom of the ocean than harm a child.
2) You’re obligated to forgive, you’re not obligated to remain in relationship with abusers.
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” Galatians 5:14. If you wouldn’t want someone you love to stay in that situation or relationship, don’t stay in it yourself.
3) Where it’s possible to reconcile, you should.
This is good advice whatever your faith … “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”. Romans 12:18. That means if the you’ve fallen out, but reconciling will not put you in a position where you are open to abuse/abusive behaviour then try to reconcile.
4) It’s loving to tell people when they’ve messed up and it gives them opportunities to change.
“Better is open criticism than hidden love”. Proverbs 27:5
5) You’re entitled to be an adult and form your own opinions.
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” 1 Corinthians 13:11
It’s childish to accept your parents opinions and beliefs without questioning them – they can’t answer for you anymore.
5) They might not be bad parents, you might be screwing up.
Just a reminder – just because you’re angry with them, as long as they are not abusive, your anger doesn’t necessarily mean they’re in the wrong.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know your thoughts. Especially interested in those who have a different belief system – do you feel like you should forgive? Do you feel any obligation to respect your parents?