Someone asked me about how to resolve the biblical command to “Honor thy father and mother” (Ex. 20:12) with the fact that these people may have had huge and damaging flaws. I suggested googling the phrase “honoring your parents” for some insight. Below are some links I found helpful.
But as I told her, one aspect of honoring flawed parents is to understand that the best (or even only) way you might be able to honor them is from a distance, emotionally and physically. You can give yourself permission to do that.
To give them honor means showing (not necessarily feeling) respect, letting them know you are listening and considering what they say. (And it does not necessarily mean following through!) To give them honor means being civil and kind in your dealings with them. It does not mean trusting them. It does not mean placing yourself in harm’s way. It means forgiving them, so that you are not carrying and paying for the emotional baggage of their treatment of you. And please remember that forgiveness is given, but trust is earned, so it’s entirely possible that you can release the woundings you sustained from them without ever, ever trusting them with your heart, because they don’t deserve your trust.
Honoring flawed parents means you have healthy boundaries so that you know where you end and they begin. It means you learn how to protect yourself so that they can’t steamroll over you; it also means you have realistic expectations about what they can and cannot give you or do for/to you. (You may need some help adjusting your expectations.) For instance, in our family there is a family member who has never, ever said the words “thank you.” I mean, not even if you pass the salt, or do something they specifically asked! (I think this qualifies as “flawed,” don’t you?) It is unrealistic to expect that to change. It is an exercise in futility to expect anything different than a lifelong pattern of non-communication. Honoring this person means letting go of the futile hope to ever hear something as simple as “thank you,” much less the more profound “I’m proud of you” or even “I love you”! Honoring this person means letting go of unrealistic expectations so we don’t set ourselves up for continued disappointment and heartache. (An excellent book is Boundaries by Drs. John Townsend and Henry Cloud, and I taught a 7-week study on this book which is available here on Bible.org.)
Finally, let me share with you the insight of Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy:
“To honor our parents means to be thankful for for their existence and to respect their actual role as givers of life in the sequence of human existence. Of course in order to honor them in this way we need to be thankful for our own existence too. But we also will usually need to have pity on them. For, even if they are good people, it is almost always true that they have been quite wrong in many respects, and possibly still are.
“Commonly those who have experienced great antagonism with their parents are only able to be thankful for their existence and honor them, as they deeply need to, after the parents have grown old. Then it is possible to pity them, to have mercy on them. And that opens the door to honoring them. With a certain sadness, perhaps, but also with joy and peace at least. One of the greatest gifts of The Kingdom Among Us is the healing of the parent-child relation, ‘turning the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers’ (Mal. 4:6).”
Honor My Mother And Father? How Should I Treat My Abusive Parents?
What Does It Mean to Honor Your Parents? (in this case, when a parent has dementia)