This past year I’ve had one verse constantly popping in my head: “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life…” (Exo 20:12a) If you didn’t know, this is one of the 10 Commandments, which are given twice in the Old Testament because they’re that important. They’re usually something people value, at least some of the commandments anyway: “Don’t murder.” Yeah, I can be on board with that. “Don’t commit adultery.” Yeah, that’s easy… until it’s not. (I protect myself from this by being as unsexy as possible, which is another way of saying “I’m being me.”) “Don’t steal.” Yeah, for sure… unless it’s the government, but that doesn’t count. Politicians aren’t real people. These three commandments are appreciated by most people because they benefit us. Other commandments, (typical person) “Keep the Sabbath? Whoa, I don’t have time for that. It’d be nice to take a day off to rest every week, but I have too much to do, so I’ll keep pushing myself until one day I suffer severe burn out because that’s how we do it nowadays – we’re enlightened.” The 10 Commandments are not meant to be something we pick and choose from, but that’s how we treat them – like a menu: (person) “I’ll have that today.” They’re actually a summary of the most important rules God gives the Israelites to give them a better life (or because He’s a meanie pants; one of those is true). The first four commandments are about our relationship with God, and then we have the fifth commandment, which is to honor our parents. This is followed by commandments for how we should deal with people like the murder and stealing ones. The fifth commandment is actually a transition command: Honor your parents because we are meant to honor the Father just like we are to honor our biological father (and mother). Honoring our parents is the start of honoring God and other authority figures, which is why it says the second part, “then you will live a long, full life…” For instance, life will be better for you if you pay your taxes and don’t spit in a police officer’s face (I assume, I’m not a spitter). Honoring your parents is also the start of honoring yourself. If you can’t honor your protectors, how can you honor yourself?
Here’s an important take away: You are worthy of honor. As a grownup, you are worthy of honor. As a man or woman, you are worthy of honor. This is an important statement because it seems that a lot of good people don’t realize that; they’re too busy being mean to themselves. But as a grownup, you deserve honor, and you need to accept that or you’ll never be given it; you’ll be too busy serving trying to earn something like “love” from others.
Here are a couple interesting questions: When did you become a grownup? When did you become a man or woman? There is no clear answer for these questions. Are you a grownup when you turn 18 and can vote, 19 and buy booze, 21 and buy booze in the States, or is it when you can rent a car with normal fees and insurance at 25? I never cared about being a grownup (I was a Toys’r’us kid, so that makes sense). All I cared about was being a man, but that’s even more confusing. Girls get their periods symbolizing they can have a baby, but that’s more a step to being a woman just like being able to tie my own hockey skates was a step closer to being a man. At 22, I bought my first car for eleven thousand dollars with cash (that was a lot of work hours at $6.85), but that was just a thing I did. At 25, I worked at Dofasco for almost two years with a crew of 50 year olds, but I felt like a kid acting as an adult. At 36, I was married and living with my wife in our house, yet I still didn’t feel like a man. I didn’t actually achieve this until I was 38 and I finally made an annual salary that I thought was fitting for a real man. I don’t know why that was what I needed to do, but that’s when I finally realized I’m a man. Maybe you felt like you were a man or woman after living on your own or achieving some accomplishment like getting a grownup career. Maybe you needed someone you honored to affirm you that you are a man or woman. Maybe you still don’t feel like you’ve reached that title. Ultimately, whether you feel like a grownup, man, or woman, if you are a parent you deserve to be treated with honor just like you deserve not to be murdered… at least according to the 10 Commandments.
Here’s another important take away: As a parent you should act in a way that makes you worthy of honor. In the 10 Commandments, you’ll notice the rule isn’t, “Your kids need to like you.” No, we’re called for something higher, to have our kids honor us. This verse also isn’t saying that we’re obligated to honor terrible people: “My parent sold me on eBay to go on a Europe vacation; I really honor them.” At a certain point, we lose our right to call ourselves a parent if we’re that terrible to our kids. Being a parent is not simply a title; it’s a title with responsibility. You might be hired to be a police officier, but if you never go into work because you keep calling in sick, or you go to work, but don’t do your job, you’re not actually a real police officer. The title needs to be followed with action.
What does being honored look like? Let’s consider clichés because they’re there for a reason:
- No: Parents, and people in general, need to work on making their no be no. That’s it. Stop putting pressure on yourselves to explain why to your kids. The odds are they’re not listening anyway, so save your breath.
- Because I said so: The worst thing we can do is give an explanation when our kids are demanding one. Having a heartfelt moment when emotions are calm later is great, but giving into a demand in the moment like this gives the child power over you – keep your power.
- You’ll live: Wow, what a crazy concept. Teaching kids their strong enough to keep going. Could this be a way to reduce whininess, anxiety, and dependence in the future?
- It’s better to be seen and not heard: This can sound mean, but unruly kids in public become disrespectful of everyone else around you. Kids need to know their place, which includes when they can talk and when they should be silent because that’s part of healthy social skills.
- My house, my rules: This is probably the most important statement we can teach our kids. If your kids know they can be kicked out at 18, it helps them know their place – they are not in control. This is the same as having their own home in the future because owning a home still means you have to follow certain rules like cutting your grass and keeping the noise down.
What baffles me is parents who don’t think that kicking their kid out of the house at 18 is an option. (Actually what baffles me is a parent calling to book their 30 something year old son a therapy appointment who is confused when I tell them I’ll be happy to book an appointment if their son calls to book it themselves – stop enabling!) When you’re 18, it’s a privilege to be able to live at home. I lived at home until I was 36 (I’m that cool). My parents had a firm rule: No alcohol in the house. Even at 36, even with friends who were in their 40s, no one ever brought alcohol into my mom’s house. That’s not being controlled; that’s honoring. “Your house, your rules, Mom. If I want total independence, I’ll pay for it by living somewhere else, but under your roof, what you say goes.” There’s a reason my mom let me stay at home as long as she did – I made her life better by being there. Was I special? No. I did exactly what I should be doing in my position. I showed her the honor she deserved.
Even now, in my forties with my own kids and my own house; I still have a healthy honor for my mom. She raised me to honor her. She also earned it with her years of sacrifice and love. She balanced discipline with affection, and strict rules with baked goods to show she cares. As a child, my mom was gentle, but gentleness is different than weakness. She was gentle, but she made sure her no was no; there was nothing wishy-washy. She even spanked me a couple times, which was just the equivalent of a clap using her hand on my bum. My dad had a parenting rule: 3 strikes and you get punished. My mom happily followed it. It was very effective. (You can either discipline your child in love or let the world discipline them without it.) Did my parents enjoy punishing me? Absolutely not. They hated it like normal parents, but they did it because they loved me that much (and they made me do chores despite some whining because it was good for me). A parent who doesn’t discipline their child can tell themselves it’s because they don’t believe in it, but it’s because it’s easier not being the bad guy. As a parent you have to be ready to out stubborn the most stubborn of children. The truth is what’s easy in the moment (i.e. not disciplining your kids) makes things worse in the future while doing what’s hard now, makes things better in the future.
I’m a firm believer that if you want to be close to your child when they’re grown up, help them honor you when they’re a child (i.e. be worthy of honor, which includes making them do some things they don’t want to do when it’s good for them). The simple truth is you can either help your child honor you or you can try to be their buddy and let your resentment grow as they never listen to you and they treat you with increasing dishonor as they get older.
Your child is your child. Be the parent they deserve.
This week may you consider what it means to honor your parents.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, Learning to love dumb people (like me)