It’s actually happening – I’ve started writing my first book! That Your Days May Be Long – nurturing a 5th Commandment meme & mindset for our modern world.
The question of what it means to honor our parents has blustered around in my brain since my tweens, maybe earlier. (I was precocious in an un-cute way ~ it freaked my 7th Grade teacher that my favorite book was MacBeth, which she considered way too … something for a kid.)
The message I heard even before grade school was that, per the 5th Commandment, I had to do what Mom & Dad said. That just didn’t set well with me.
It continued to not set right as I grew older & read in articles or even heard from friends terrible stories about parents being harmful to their children. There is no rider to the 5th Commandment stating, “Unless they have behaved atrociously toward you.” How could someone who was emotionally, physically or sexually abused by a parent ever honor him her them?
Several years ago, an answer came that checks all my boxes – to honor is to respect as human beings. To see them – even the foulest – as doing the best they could. If they are totally messed up in the head, and sadly many are, it doesn’t excuse or brush off or ignore what they did, it just acknowledges not knowing THEIR story, how they got to be such a hideously messed up person & abominable parent.
Our reality is that we don’t know & not knowing gives us the teensy sliver of space needed to see the possibility of something we don’t begin to understand & to stop looking for answers that might not even exist in a form we can fathom.
And that goes for people who idolize their parents, who put one or both on pedestals. Hey, they are human! Don’t try to duplicate their lives – realize that the greatest tribute we can give them is to be fully our self & if they aren’t okay with that, then they aren’t all that ab fab parents in the first place.
Not that ab fab parents don’t exist – I’ve been honored to know quite a few, where adult kids love to come for extended visits & they get along with each other & nurture one another’s dreams. Such parents & their families are blessings in my life, but they are the first to say that all is not as smooth as it looks from the outside. The BEST parents I know are the ones who let themselves be vulnerable.
Am shaking my head in disbelief at three sets of parents I know who were terrific, encouraging their children to be true to themselves, who gave their kids the basic life skills to do well on their own & the deep roots that let them know they always held an essential place within the family. And they each had a child who lashed out at them BECAUSE they did so well: one felt betrayed by parents who had disagreements & arguments, but never spoke in anger, which “caused” her first marriage to fail because she never learned how to FIGHT; one blamed his parents for his drug addiction because they never gave him anything to safely rebel against; the third slammed her father for being an emotionally generous person because she measured every guy against him & found them wanting. Definitely children who don’t respect their parents’ humanity!
When we see our parents as humans, when we respect that they have back stories & challenges that we don’t know, when we understand that some of our parental issues are rooted in things that we saw through the eyes of a child or adolescent, teen or clueless adult – when we get that our perception is intrinsically flawed, that we look at them through an inherently broken lens, we can come to realize that our perception of the rest of our family & of OUR SELF is similarly flawed.
I don’t think that the commandment to honor our father & our mother that our days may be long, aka prosper, means having to obey or love or even like them. We might not be able to tolerate being in their presence or feel repulsed at the thought of providing hands-on support to a parent who was so not there for us, but we are called to see them as human. We might think that our father & mother are the best people on the face of the earth & that they have the sort of relationship with themselves & others that makes it a lock they will be together forever, in this life & beyond. Or they might fall in-between. Whichever – we are commanded to neither damn nor glorify them, but to accept them as PEOPLE.
Here’s the divinely wondrous thing – when we are truly able to see our parents as fully human, in spite of their flaws or fabulous traits, we are freed to see our siblings in the same way, freed to see others who might had done us dirt in the same way, freed ultimately to see ourselves in the same honoring light that respects our humanity without discounting our history (another post in itself!).
When we can honor everyone’s humanity, we’re freed to acknowledge in our mind heart soul that there are stories we do not know, inner thoughts hidden from view, intentions we can’t perceive let alone judge – even when they are ours. When we can do that, when we can start out to honor our parents’ frailties & strengths in equal measure & spread that same god-sent dynamic to everyone around us & the soul within us, then the commandment is fulfilled & our days will be long – we will prosper & thrive – on the land, the life the Lord our God has given us.