All my life, I have been taught that God wants us to care for our parents in their old age. We are commanded to honor our father and mother in the Ten Commandments. The Bible says that it is good and acceptable before God to requite our parents, and if you fail to do this, you have denied the faith and are worse than an infidel (1Tim 5:3-4, 8). Mark chapter seven teaches the same message. And, Jesus himself set the example by making sure his mother was going to be cared for in her old age. Corinthians teaches us that love is patient and kind. Ruth was an example when she made the choice to stay with Naomi and care for her in her old age.
I love Heavenly Father. I want to honor him by being obedient and doing what he has asked me to do. I also love my parents very much. I have always been a daddy’s girl. But my Dad is a selfish man. He is choosing to use his retirement funds to make pleasure purchases, and then when the funds run out and there is not enough money left to cover basic needs, like shelter and medicine, he expects me to make up the difference. This puts a great burden on my family finances, as well as on my marriage relationship.
My husband and I are currently raising a family of our own. We don’t have extra money to make large pleasure purchases. But I don’t resent that I chose to have a family. I love my children and I want to bless their lives to the best of my ability by providing for their needs and teaching them to work hard for their own dreams. We are also planning for our own retirement so that we will not be a burden to our children in our old age. We are doing fine financially, but we don’t have a lot of extra money.
I want to honor my father. I want to obey God. But I feel taken advantage of and I don’t know where to draw the line. And if I set boundaries, how do I cope with the backlash I will receive?
Your love for God, your desire to care for your father, and your responsibility to care for your children don’t have to be at odds with each other. I believe you can live a congruent life as you work to meet what appear to be competing needs.
First, let’s talk about what “honoring your father and mother” does NOT mean. It does not mean that you do whatever they tell you to do. It does not mean you agree with everything they say or do. It does not mean that you ignore personal revelation. It does not mean that you become diminished as a person to carry out their preferences. It does not mean that you allow or enable destructive or abusive behavior to you or others. It does not mean that they always come first. Honoring a parent also does not mean you’re required to have a close relationship with them.
Unfortunately, many well-intentioned individuals have stayed in harm’s way out of a desire to honor their parents. Likewise, I’ve also witnessed unhealthy parents shame their children into silence in the name of honoring them. In these cases, the idea of honoring is used to keep everyone from facing the reality of harmful patterns. Honoring a parent should never involve controlling another person through coercion or shame.
Honoring our parents is about acknowledging any sacrifices and good they have done for us. We can show appreciation for giving us life. We can show gratitude for any efforts they have made to bless our lives. We can honor them for going before us and learn from the consequences of their mistakes and challenges. We can also honor them as we make healthy choices and build a good life.
President Ezra Taft Benson taught us that our Heavenly Father should get our complete devotion. He said, “One of the most difficult tests of all is when you have to choose between pleasing God or pleasing someone you love or respect—particularly a family member. We should give God, the Father of our spirits, an exclusive preeminence in our lives. He has a prior parental claim on our eternal welfare ahead of all other things that may bind us here or hereafter. Should we not love Him for it and honor Him first?”[i]
When we honor our Heavenly Father first and follow his plan for our lives, we’ll better understand how to best honor our earthly parents. The Apostle Paul reminded us, “We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?”[ii]
The Family: A Proclamation to the World teaches, “Parents have a sacred duty…to provide for their [children’s] physical and spiritual needs.”[iii] Your responsibility to care for your dependent children is more important than caring for your irresponsible father. He has a choice about how he’ll use his money while your children are completely dependent on you to meet their needs. If you decide to honor him by financially supporting him, it’s wise to seek personal revelation to know the best way to use your money.
Even though our own children are dependents and count on us to provide for their physical needs, we instinctively know there are limits to what we’ll give them. We know that complete indulgence would undermine our joint responsibility to care for their spiritual well-being. You can still love your children and set boundaries with them. Likewise, you can still love and honor your father and set boundaries with him. If he’s going to depend on you, then you’re allowed to have expectations.
You get to decide what you can give. Alma taught an important welfare principle when he established the church shortly after escaping the self-indulgent and reckless court of King Noah. He taught that the church should, “impart of their substance, every one according to that which he had; if he have more abundantly he should impart more abundantly; and of him that had but little, but little should be required; and to him that had not should be given.”[iv] If you have a surplus, you can determine how you want to distribute the money in the most responsible way. And, you can only give to him if you have it to give. If you don’t have it to give, then it’s not required.
If you desire to help your father financially, then it can be helpful to decide now how much you can support him and give him that number so he can decide how he wants to manage his money going forward. You can honor him by honoring his agency and allowing him the dignity and respect of directing his own life. If you know right now that you won’t be able to financially support him in the future, then share that with him now while he still has money so he has adequate time to make decisions for his future. Of course, if your father is disabled or impaired and you believe he needs a legal fiduciary to oversee his finances, then work closely with an attorney to make sure his money is going toward his direct care.
Either way, now is the time to be clear with him about what you can and can’t do for him financially. You can’t direct what he does with his money, but you can be in charge of your own finances. When you have a clear understanding of what it means to honor him, you won’t feel guilted or pressured into abandoning your own duty to care for yourself and your children.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
If you’ve broken trust with your spouse and want a structured approach to repairing the damage you’ve created, I’ve created the Trust Building Bootcamp, a 12-week online program designed to help you restore trust and become a trustworthy person. Visit www.trustbuildingacademy.com to learn more and enroll in the course.
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples, pornography/sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, and infidelity. He is the founder of LifeStar of St. George, Utah (www.lifestarstgeorge.com) and Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com). Geoff is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, the host of the Illuminate podcast, and creates online relationship courses available at www.trustbuildingacademy.com. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
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[i] The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988, p. 350
[ii] Hebrews 12:9
[iv] Mosiah 18:27