Now that we are in the mature years of our lives we have been looking back at our relationships with our parents during the years when we were raising our children. Though we had loving relationships with our parents and did many things to help them, we wish we had done a few things differently that would have blessed their lives, but now they’re gone. We just didn’t realize how much these actions would have mattered to them until now as we walk the path they walked.

We find that we are not alone in some of these realizations. After talking with others and examining our own lives we have netted them out into twelve things adult children need to be aware of and do while their parents are still living.

Family with grandparents1. “Honor thy father and thy mother . . .” (Exodus 20:12). There are many ways to keep this commandment. As adults this does not mean we must obey our parents as we did as children living in their home, but it does mean that we honor them by the way we treat them and how we live our lives and raise our families. We can accomplish this by doing the following actions, as well as many others that you will think of or are already doing.

2. Ask your parents for their counsel. When you’re facing trials or important decisions in your life turn to them and seek their wisdom. One wise parent wrote, “I love it when [our adult daughter] seeks my advice and counsel on things, although I am quick to assure her that she is so amazing that I trust her instincts in things and that my advice is just advice for her to take or leave. We have focused on how capable she is and how much we believe in her. When she comes to us with a problem, we always ask her what she thinks first then add our thoughts.”

Sometimes adult kids are afraid to ask for counsel because they think they have to follow it in order to please their parents. As their grown-up child, all you need to do is listen, thank your parent, and then do what you think is best for you. Calling on the wisdom of your parents is a smart thing to do. They’ve been through so much and know of pitfalls you may not see.

It’s normal and loving for parents to want to counsel their children, at all ages. Alma gave counsel to his adult children. He reminded them of the faith of their forefathers, of his own conversion, and of the love the Lord has for them. His whole heart was given over to helping them stay faithful. At one point he told them to, “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good” (Alma 37:37). We don’t know the ages of his children when he gave his counsel to each one individually, but from the responsibilities they were given we can assume they were at least in the beginning stages of their adult lives. From their actions we can see that they listened and tried to follow his counsel, even Corianton made changes after being chastised for his sins, and then went about doing much good serving the Lord. Following parental counsel to live righteously is a great example for all to emulate.  

3. Express and demonstrate your love to and for your parents. A friend wrote, “I have some adult children that when they hug me I can ‘feel’ their hug and know they still love me. I have other ones that when they hug me, it seems like they are thinking ‘there ya go’. I much prefer the first kind. And it’s also nice for them to let you know once in a while that they still need you and want you in their life.” And don’t forget to say the words, “I love, Mom. I love you, Dad.” They will hold these words in their hearts long after you wave goodbye.

4. Invite your parents to dinner. We can easily get used to being invited to our parents’ home for dinner and forget that they actually might enjoy being invited to ours, and not just once or twice a year on special occasions. One couple told us that they didn’t realize how important it was to do this until they reached that older stage of life. The kids were used to coming to the parent’s house and it just didn’t occur to them that the parents would like a break and would enjoy an invitation for dinner.

Woman on the phone calling family5. Call your parents regularly. Let them know you’re thinking about them and that you love them. Life can get extremely busy with a growing family and many days, even weeks, can go by without giving your parents a call. Waiting for them to call you shouldn’t always be the case. It doesn’t take long, and it means so much to them. A woman wrote us saying, “I love it when they call, and wish that some would call more. I think once a week is good because we have a very large family.”   Another parent wrote, “I love it when my adult children call just to say hi’ and ask how I am doing .”

Some calls can be short, others may need to be longer. Sometimes a lonely or ill parent just needs to share what’s happening. Listening to your parents can be a gift to them. You don’t have to make everything all better for them, just listen and do your best to understand what he or she is going through, assuring them that you are praying for them. That will go a long way in healing their sorrows. Having someone, especially a child, care deeply about them means the world to them.

Also, in those calls be sure to include some of the good things that are happening in your life. Parents often hear about the bad news, but would also rejoice in heard the good news. Keep them up-to-date on your and your children’s accomplishments and interests. One young mother living hundreds of miles away called her parents just to say, “Oh, my goodness, you should have seen Jason’s amazing footwork in soccer today. He stole the show.” Then she went into detail with a play-by-play account of what happened. The parents loved it. Keeping your parents informed brings joy into their lives.

6. Give your parents a helping hand. How refreshing it is to have a visiting child offer to help with some yard work or home repairs. Keep your eyes open for little things you can do to help. As parents age it’s dangerous for them to do certain things like climb ladders to clean out the rain gutters, or to lift heavy items, etc. Like it or not, their bodies are less balanced and are not as strong as they used to be. What a blessing when a child sees a need and goes into action.

7. Be aware of your parents’ financial needs. Children sometimes think parents have endless resources when in reality they may be just barely getting by. Certain adult children have a history of borrowing from a parent with the intent of paying them back “someday”. But “someday” just never seems to come.

If you have borrowed start today with a monthly pay-back plan. A woman, the firstborn of six, reported that one of her siblings kept pleading poverty to their widowed mother, who felt sorry for him and kept giving him money. His life never seemed to improve, while her savings kept diminishing. Their father had planned for their mother to have enough money to live comfortably in the final years of her life, but that security was dwindling away as a result of her inability to say no.

Finally, the daughter met with all the siblings and explained, without embarrassing anyone, that there would be no more borrowing of their mother’s money, that their mother would need it all for her future living expenses. They all agreed, with their mother’s approval, that the daughter would take control of the mother’s funds. Their mother was greatly relieved, since she had been feeling overwhelmed. As it turned out, a few years later their mother needed round-the-clock care and the money was there to pay for it. The daughter said, “It was a blessing. She had very little left when she passed away.” Our parents’ money is supposed to be for their needs, first and foremost. We never know what our parents will need in their declining years. We must not spend their future.

8. Don’t be a boomerang. There are some adult children who think it is their right to move back in with their parents. They may be thinking, “I’m struggling, therefore, it’s my right to go live with my parents during my hard time.” Sometimes that’s okay, when invited. Even then there needs to be a time limit. It’s a selfish attitude to think that “I can’t afford to live on my own so my parents must provide for me.” It may well be that your parents can’t afford it either. If it works out for you to move back with them you must act like an adult, not a child. You need to help with financial needs and family chores. You must not settle in like a teenager, expecting everything to be done for you. Their privacy must be respected, so keep your belongings in your room and keep it neat and tidy. Their home is still their home, not yours. You are an invited guest, show respect and gratitude.

9. Be aware of the needs of your senior-missionary parents. A missionary couple told us that they were strapped for funds on their mission, barely making it each month. The father said, “We have several children, but not once did we receive a letter from them with a five dollar bill or any money tucked inside it. It would have been such a blessing to us.” We asked them if they told their children they needed a little extra and they said they hadn’t. They didn’t want to burden their children, but still they kept hoping they would send a little money without being asked. Probably almost anyone can send parents a little cash at least a few times while they’re out there serving the Lord. Goodness knows they did it for us. Be generous with your missionary parents. Write them regularly and share pictures of family members. Rejoice in their missionary successes, and be aware that they will have many disappointing days. Let them know you and your children are praying for them continually.

10. Encourage your parents to have a life. When a parent is either divorced or widowed encourage their involvement in church and community activities so that their life continues to be full and enjoyable. Be interested in what they are doing. If they choose to date, encourage this. If they choose to remarry, give them your loving support and accept their new mate as a member of the family. Some adult children have selfishly withheld their love and acceptance of the new mate, making their parent sad and miserable. When you love your parent you will want him or her to have the greatest happiness possible. If a parent has lost a spouse and chooses to remarry it doesn’t mean they love the mate that has passed on any the less, they are simply lonely and want someone to share their life.

Some children have looked at the inclusion of a new mate as an infringement on what they think should rightfully be theirs. This has to do with time, money, and devotion. Treat them with the same respect you wanted as you were growing into an adult. You wanted to be respected in your choices, and still do. Aging parents have this same need. Even when mental capacities have diminished, the respect needs to still be there.

Arm around elderly parent11. Give loving care to your aged parents. President Ezra Taft Benson encouraged families “to give their elderly parents and grandparents the love, care, and attention they deserve.” He said: “Remember, that parents and grandparents are our responsibility, and we are to care for them to the very best of our ability. When the elderly have no families to care for them, priesthood and Relief Society leaders should make every effort to meet their needs in the same loving way.” (Ensign, Nov. 1989, p. 6.)

President Benson explained further that, “Even when parents become elderly, we ought to honor them by allowing them freedom of choice and the opportunity for independence as long as possible. Let us not take away from them choices which they can still make. Some parents are able to live and care for themselves well into their advancing years and would prefer to do so. Where they can, let them.

“If they become less able to live independently, then family, Church, and community resources may be needed to help them. When the elderly become unable to care for themselves, even with supplemental aid, care can be provided in the home of a family member when possible. Church and community resources may also be needed in this situation” (Ensign, Nov. 1989, p. 7).

Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “Middle-aged persons are likely to think of the commandment to honor our fathers and our mothers in terms of caring for aged parents. . . . When aged parents who are not able to live alone are invited to live with their children, this keeps them in the family circle and allows them to continue their close ties with all members of the family. When a parent lives with one child, the other children should make arrangements to share the burdens and blessings of this arrangement.

“When it is not possible for parents to be cared for in the homes of their children, so that some type of institutional care is obtained, their children should remember that institutional care will generally focus on physical needs. Members of the family should make regular visits and contacts to provide the spiritual and emotional sustenance and the love that must continue in the family relationship for mortal life and throughout all eternity” (Dallin H. Oaks, Gen. Conf. 1991).

If you do have the responsibility of giving home care for an aging parent with extensive needs, be sure to enlist the help of other siblings and/or ward members. You must take care of yourself and share the responsibility or you may end up being the one who needs the care. A family recently pooled their resources to hire some extra help to relieve the main care giver. This is a responsibility that needs to be shared.

Pray for the Lord’s guidance as you engage in this holy work of care taking. Knowing you are doing what you can to be a blessing to your parents will bring peace to your heart now and after they have departed this life.

12. Keep the faith. That’s one of the most important ways you will bring honor to your father and your mother. The apostle John expressed the heartfelt wish of every loving parent when he said, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John: 4). One mother wrote, “Oh, how I love it when [our daughter] demonstrates in her life that she values those things that we have taught her.”

President Spencer W. Kimball said it well: “If we truly honor [our parents], we will seek to emulate their best characteristics and to fulfill their highest aspirations for us. No gift purchased from a store can begin to match in value to parents some simple, sincere words of appreciation. Nothing we could give them would be more prized than righteous living for each youngster” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 348).

When all is said and done, we truly honor our parents by raising an honorable family. We hope your parents will be able to express the feelings that a friend shared with us. She wrote, “My adult children bring a ton of joy. I love my family and I am very pleased with how they are conducting their lives and I am very full with joy in my family.”

Gary and Joy Lundberg are authors of books on creating happy family relationships. For more information visit their website