How to honor a dishonorable parent

Some of us are blessed with saintly parents—ones who sacrificed for us, taught us right from wrong, showered us with affection and encouragement. When it comes to the fourth commandment—Honor your father and your mother—that’s a fairly easy task. Then there are those of us with parents who abused, neglected, or manipulated us, or perhaps were absent altogether. How can we honor a person who hurt us on such a deep level?

Marshall asked Father Richard Simon how he could honor his mother who he described as abusive and narcissistic. He said that he really wanted to honor her but any contact with her was painful and held a lot of resentment for the way that she has treated him.

“What do you like most about your mother?” asked Fr. Simon, host of Father Simon SaysTM on Relevant Radio®.

“Her sense of humor. I really appreciate that,” Marshall responded.

“There you go. Say, ‘Lord, my mother makes me crazy but she sure can tell a joke. Thank you.’ You look at what’s honorable,” said Fr. Simon.

He advised Marshall to call his mother if he could and to pray for her. “When you pray for her in front of the Blessed Sacrament, just remember she does tell a good joke. Or, she really can make an apple pie and boy, is that honorable—that kind of thing. Saint Paul says if there’s anything good or decent, dwell on these things.”

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8

“Be a good son and call your mom,” said Fr. Simon. But if things start to get quarrelsome, “you be the one to take the higher ground and say, ‘Ma, maybe I should hang up; I don’t want to go there. I love you. Goodbye!’”

For someone who was abused by their parent, this can be even more difficult. Honoring your parent doesn’t mean that you must put yourself in harm’s way to visit them. Rather, do your best to forgive the offenses they’ve committed against you and pray for them. Perhaps the only honorable thing you can think about your parent is that they gave you life. Thank God for that gift.

Lindsey is a wife, mother, and contributing author at Relevant Radio. She holds a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lindsey enjoys writing, baking, and liturgical living with her young family.