Honoring Your Elderly Father and Mother

The 4th Commandment tells us to ‘Honor thy father and mother.’ And when we are young this commandment is pretty easy to understand. But what if we are grown and no longer under our parents’ authority? What if we have kids of our own? What if we are the ones now taking care of our elderly parents? How do we keep this commandment?

Recently a listener called in to The Patrick Madrid Show to ask about the 4th commandment in relation to her elderly parents. Her mother suffers from dementia, her father is on oxygen due to COPD, and they all live under the same roof with her and her children. The caller confessed that she finds it easy to lose her patience with them, and asked Patrick how to balance honoring her father and mother while still caring for her own children’s needs. Patrick responded:

“The commandment has the letter and the spirit, as do all commandments. And the letter of the commandment is that you honor your father and mother. That doesn’t mean that you have to bow down and tell them they are so wonderful. That’s not what it refers to. It refers to honoring their place as your parents,  even, or especially, in their old age.

The Book of Proverbs has a lot to say about honoring your parents in their old age. The Book of Proverbs talks about when your father is old, maybe out of his mind, or not the fun dad you remember him being, and he’s difficult – to all the more be a good son or daughter to him.

It even talks about how if you honor your father and mother you will have a long life. It’s interesting how this commandment ties in with our own happiness in this life, and a lot of that is dependent on how we treat our parents.

So the spirit of the commandment is simply this: that in addition to your own duties as a mom and taking care of your kids, you’re right that there are some situations where you will have to say that your kids come first. Because that is your primary duty. You are no longer a child under their authority.

It’s not like when you were 10 or 15 years old, and you had a different way of honoring your parents by obeying them. Now, as a mother yourself, you have the primary responsibility of the welfare of your children. And at the same time, you’re trying to fit your parents into the picture.

So, the commandment obliges you to do a few things. One is to show them respect, to treat them with love and patience. Because at one time you were a crying baby who needed your diaper changed, and your parents took care of you. Think of the sleep that she didn’t get. Think of the things that she would rather have done, and didn’t because she was tending to you. And then take those realities and turn them into a kind of patience for her.

Think of your mom’s patience for you – hugging you, and encouraging you, and giving up things she wanted so that you would be happy and tended to – and see this as a real opportunity for purification for you, and also great merit in God’s eyes.

I know it’s easier said than done, and I get irritated as much as the next person does. But I really think that is the key to your own sanctification. Here and now, with this situation you are dealing with, the more love you can pour into it, and nurture her the way she nurtured you, it seems to me that would infuse the whole situation with love. If you infuse everything with love, I think that tension would diminish.”

Listen to the full conversation below:

The Patrick Madrid Show airs weekdays from 9:00 – noon Eastern/6:00 – 9:00 a.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.

Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at relevantradio.com and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.