Reflection on the commandment to honor your parents

Libby Anne over at Love, Joy, Feminism has two new posts up about adult relationships with parents. The first post describes how her relationship with her father evolved (or devolved):

My father simply didn’t know how to let me grow up. He didn’t know how to switch from interacting with me as his golden daughter to interacting with me as an adult making my own way in the world. He couldn’t handle me disagreeing with him, because in his mind that meant he had failed me. Perhaps he was so afraid of seeing me hurt and so sure that his way was the only way for me not to be hurt that he simply couldn’t handle it when I saw things differently. Perhaps he simply wanted to protect me, but in doing so he forgot that he couldn’t protect me forever, and that at some point he had to let go and let me grow up.

The second post addresses how wronged many conservative Christian parents feel when their children choose a different path:

Over and over and over again, the story is the same. We grew up. Our parents became angry with us because we grew up. That’s it. We didn’t do anything wrong. We grew up.

[…] These rifts we have with our parents? These rifts are caused by our parents unmet expectations. Our parents expected us to be something we aren’t. But it is that expectation that is wrong, not us. Children are not robots you can program to run just so. We are not toys to be played with. We do not exist for our parents’ gratification. We are people. We are people, and we grew up, and now we have to make our own decisions and forge our own lives. You know, like grownups do. And sometimes that means making decisions our parents don’t agree with.

[…] When I stepped outside of my parents’ narrow expectations, I committed a huge transgression in their eyes. That is what created the rift between us. That is why my mother drove my [sic] into therapy. That is why my relationship with my parents can never again be what it once was.

[…] The problem isn’t that I haven’t listened, it’s that they’ve never listened.


I was an only child growing up, and with my father working all the time, I spent nearly all of my time outside of school with my mother – my conservative Evangelical mother. We had a great relationship for most of my childhood – she gave me a ton of attention and affection, and in return I was obedient to a T. But, as I got older, I started thinking for myself. Growing up with a mother who told me what to do, what to believe, and what to think, this was both exciting and I felt a lot of guilt about it. In high school, I began to question her – why did I have a revolving curfew (6 pm one night, 11 pm the next, depending on how mom felt)? Why was I arbitrarily allowed to leave the house one day but not the next? Why is all premarital sexual activity wrong? How is homosexuality a “lifestyle choice”? Why does the “Holy Spirit” tell one person one thing and another person a different thing? And so on. If you ask my mother, I was a “rebellious teenager” – but not because I did anything naughty, because I didn’t – I never engaged in any sexual activity (which of course is the sin above all other sins for young people in Evangelicalism) before I graduated from high school, neither did I drink or do drugs, nor did I really break any of my mother’s rules, hell I think I only missed my revolving curfew a handful of times by a couple minutes (and trust me, I heard about it). But, to her I was rebellious because I dared to challenge her assertions on religion and politics and her assertions of arbitrary power over me. Sometimes I even argued with her, god forbid. I was never allowed to be myself or explore anything outside of the life she had planned for me (graduate from a conservative college, get a corporate job, marry a virgin homemaker version of herself, live in the suburbs with my 3-4 children, vote Republican, and be an ardent worshiper at an Evangelical mega-church).  So, any questioning of this was, to her, a direct assault against her.

Whenever I’d start a disagreement or an argument with my mother, she’d often completely shut it down by invoking the 4th/5th (depending on your tradition) commandment. There was to be no discussion about anything – be it going to a friend’s house or whether or not the death penalty was just – I was to accept her judgement because God commanded, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” She still occasionally tries to assert control in my adult life with a slightly modified, “Respect your parents,” with the added, “I don’t stop being your mother just because you’re an adult.”

Now that I’m almost 10 years removed this, have children of my own, and am questioning Christianity as a whole, I find this commandment to be a bunch of bullshit. For one, it’s an easy cover for abuse. It also goes against everything we know about all other human relationships. We respect those who earn our respect. Just because one of the times you had sex resulted in a child doesn’t mean that you now have unbridled control over that person. That child is her/his own individual person. To try to assert thought control over another person and when that person thinks for her/himself, you throw a tantrum and tell them that they’re violating God’s commandments, is not earning one’s respect, it’s being a fucking immature child. Also, these things should not be taken personally. I vehemently disagree with my close friends on a number of issues, but because we both act like adults, they understand that my disagreement with them is not an attack on who they are. But, this is hard for many conservative Christians who are told that their faith is who they are. And thus, any “attack” against (read: disagreement with) conservative Christianity is a personal attack against them – and vice versa – an “attack” on (read: disagreement with) them is an attack on conservative Christianity, and thus God. I have a proposal – everyone should treat others with respect, thus earning their respect – no special clause just because of a biological accident. I’m not saying that you can’t or shouldn’t have a special loyalty to your family – I’m saying that parents should have an equal side of the deal to uphold – you know, have a relationship.

Now, I realize that not all conservative Christians are like this. Like all groups, conservative Christianity is made up of a diverse group of individuals who have many different personalities. But, this attitude is fairly common in these circles, and it is this attitude that got me to question one of the Ten Commandments. Can you cherry-pick out of the Commandments? Probably not. So, I’ll leave you with a comedy routine by George Carlin on the Ten Commandments.


One thought on “Reflection on the commandment to honor your parents

  1. I agree with much of what you say, and can relate. I submit that “honor” is broader than simple obedience, especially as we grow older. Relationships evolve, at least they should.

    Good post!


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