2"Honor your father and mother"—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3"that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth."
Hopefully you recognize that phrase—“honor your father and mother”—as one of the Ten Commandments. It’s a tough one, sometimes for children of divorce, this notion of honor. What does it mean? What does it look like? Are we really bound by it?
The last question is the easiest. The answer is, yes. They’re called the “Ten Commandments,” not the “Ten Suggestions,” or the “Ten Things You Should Think About Doing If Everyone Else Lives Up to Their End of the Bargain.” Commandments. Period. No wiggle room.
Okay, fine, so we have to honor our parents. Um, who is that again? That’s kind of a tricky question for us children of divorce. I mean, the word “parents” isn’t so simple for us to define, is it? How do you answer when someone asks you, “Where do your parents live?” If you’re like most children of divorce, you go through a split second evaluation before answering: Who do they really want to know about? Mom or Dad? Or both? So, a simple question suddenly becomes a lot more complicated. Just who are our parents? You might have to wrestle with this question a little as it applies to your family, but I’m going to suggest that “parents” includes your biological mother and father, as well as any stepfathers or stepmothers who have had an active role in your upbringing.
Now that we know who they are, what does it mean to honor them? Merriam-Webster Online defines honor (the verb) as regarding or treating someone with honor or respect, or conferring honor on. We have an obligation before God to treat our parents with honor and respect. You know, most of us can manage this and do so quite nicely. We have learned, through long years of practice how to be diplomatic and not rock the boat. We can treat our parents with respect. But can you regard them with honor or respect? Ugh, that’s a little harder. But it matters. Proverbs 11:16 says, "A kindhearted woman gains respect." How you treat others is only part of the equation; how you think and feel about them is every bit as important in God's eyes, the eyes that see your heart.
So what does this look like? Obviously the answers will be as varied as the individuals and situations that they involve, but here are a couple of suggestions.
1. Make the extra effort. I know, you've been doing this your whole life, and it's tempting sometimes to want to sit back and let your relationship with your parents thrive or die based on the amount of effort they put forth. But that's an attitude of resentment and retaliation, not one of honor.
2. Be honest with them. Wow, that's a hard one! We grew up feeling protective of our parents, shielding them from outside judgment and often from our own feelings of stress or sadness. But part of being in close relationship with someone is trusting them enough to be open and honest.
3. Find their good qualities and celebrate them. Everyone has at least one. Maybe your dad has a great sense of humor, or your mom has a taste for adventure. Our parents aren't perfect. They have quirks and sometimes serious shortcomings. But, hey, they made you, and you're pretty terrific, so there must be something good there to celebrate. Find it and remember it.
4. Tell your parents you love them. Say it everytime you talk to them on the phone, everytime you say goodbye when you're leaving after a visit. Even if no one in your family ever says it--especially if no one in your family ever says it! Be a trendsetter...maybe it will catch on!
The best part about this is that this "is the first commandment with a promise." Do this, and God promises that it will go well with you. It's quite a deal.
May we all live long and prosper!