1. What debts do we owe our parents, and therefore how should we feel and act toward them?
“LISTEN to your father who caused your birth, and do not despise your mother just because she has grown old,” counseled the wise man of long ago. (Proverbs 23:22) ‘I would never do that!’ you may say. Instead of despising our mothers—or our fathers—most of us feel a deep love for them. We recognize that we owe them a great deal. First of all, our parents gave us life. While Jehovah is the Source of life, without our parents we simply would not exist. Nothing we can give our parents is as precious as life itself. Then, just think of the self-sacrifice, anxious care, expense, and loving attention involved in helping a child along the path from infancy to adulthood. How reasonable it is, therefore, that God’s Word counsels: “Honor your father and your mother . . . that it may go well with you and you may endure a long time on the earth”!—Ephesians 6:2, 3.
RECOGNIZING EMOTIONAL NEEDS
2. How can grown children pay “due compensation” to their parents?
2 The apostle Paul wrote to Christians: “Let [children or grandchildren] learn first to practice godly devotion in their own household and to keep paying a due compensation to their parents and grandparents, for this is acceptable in God’s sight.” (1 Timothy 5:4) Grown children offer this “due compensation” by showing appreciation for the years of love, work, and care that their parents and grandparents spent on them. One way children can do this is by recognizing that like everyone else, older ones need love and reassurance—often desperately so. Like all of us, they need to feel valued. They need to feel that their lives are worthwhile.
3. How can we honor parents and grandparents?
3 So we can honor our parents and grandparents by letting them know that we love them. (1 Corinthians 16:14) If our parents are not living with us, we should remember that hearing from us can mean a great deal to them. A cheerful letter, a phone call, or a visit can greatly contribute to their joy. Miyo, who lives in Japan, wrote when she was 82 years of age: “My daughter [whose husband is a traveling minister] tells me: ‘Mother, please “travel” with us.’ She sends me their scheduled route and telephone number for each week. I can open my map and say: ‘Ah. Now they are here!’ I always thank Jehovah for the blessing of having such a child.”
ASSISTING WITH MATERIAL NEEDS
4. How did Jewish religious tradition encourage callousness toward elderly parents?
4 Might honoring one’s parents also involve caring for their material needs? Yes. It often does. In Jesus’ day the Jewish religious leaders upheld the tradition that if a person declared that his money or property was “a gift dedicated to God,” he was freed from the responsibility to use it to care for his parents. (Matthew 15:3-6) How callous! In effect, those religious leaders were encouraging people not to honor their parents but to treat them with contempt by selfishly denying their needs. Never do we want to do that!—Deuteronomy 27:16.
5. Despite provisions made by the governments of some lands, why does honoring one’s parents sometimes include giving financial help?
5 In many lands today, government-supported social programs provide for some of the material needs of the elderly, such as food, clothing, and shelter. In addition to that, the elderly themselves may have been able to make some provision for their old age. But if these provisions run out or prove inadequate, children honor their parents by doing what they can to meet parental needs. In fact, caring for aged parents is an evidence of godly devotion, that is, one’s devotion to Jehovah God, the Originator of the family arrangement.
LOVE AND SELF-SACRIFICE
6. What living arrangements have some made in order to care for the needs of their parents?
6 Many adult children have responded to the needs of their infirm parents with love and self-sacrifice. Some have taken their parents into their own homes or have moved to be near them. Others have moved in with their parents. Frequently, such arrangements have proved to be a blessing to both parents and children.
7. Why is it good not to act hastily in making decisions regarding elderly parents?
7 Sometimes, though, such moves do not turn out well. Why? Perhaps because decisions are made too hastily or are based solely on emotion. “The shrewd one considers his steps,” the Bible wisely cautions. (Proverbs 14:15) For example, suppose that your elderly mother is having difficulty living alone and you think she might benefit by moving in with you. In shrewdly considering your steps, you might consider the following: What are her actual needs? Are there private or state-sponsored support services that offer an acceptable alternative solution? Does she want to move? If she does, in what ways will her life be affected? Will she have to leave friends behind? How might this affect her emotionally? Have you talked these things over with her? How might such a move affect you, your mate, your own children? If your mother needs care, who will provide it? Can the responsibility be shared? Have you discussed the matter with all those directly involved?
8. Whom may you be able to consult when deciding how to help your elderly parents?
8 Since the responsibility for care rests with all children in a family, it may be wise to hold a family conference so that all may share in making decisions. Talking to the elders in the Christian congregation or to friends who have faced a similar situation may also be helpful. “There is a frustrating of plans where there is no confidential talk,” warns the Bible, “but in the multitude of counselors there is accomplishment.”—Proverbs 15:22.
BE EMPATHETIC AND UNDERSTANDING
9, 10. (a) Despite their advancing age, what consideration should be given to elderly ones? (b) Whatever steps a grown child takes in behalf of his parents, what should he always give them?
9 Honoring our elderly parents requires empathy and understanding. As the years take their toll, older ones may find it increasingly difficult to walk, eat, and remember. They may need help. Often the children become protective and try to provide guidance. But the elderly are adults with a lifetime of accumulated wisdom and experience, a lifetime of caring for themselves and making their own decisions. Their identity and self-respect may center on their role as parents and adults. Parents who feel they must hand over control of their lives to their children may become depressed or angry. Some resent and resist what they may see as efforts to rob them of their independence.
10 There are no easy solutions to such problems, but it is a kindness to allow elderly parents to look after themselves and make their own decisions to the extent possible. It is wise not to make decisions about what is best for your parents without talking to them first. They may have lost much. Allow them to keep what they still have. You may find that the less you try to control your parents’ lives, the better your relationship with them will be. They will be happier, and so will you. Even if it is necessary to insist on certain things for their good, honoring your parents requires that you afford them the dignity and respect they deserve. God’s Word counsels: “Before gray hair you should rise up, and you must show consideration for the person of an old man.”—Leviticus 19:32.
MAINTAINING THE RIGHT ATTITUDE
11-13. If an adult child’s relationship with his parents has not been good in the past, how can he still handle the challenge of caring for them in their advanced years?
11 Sometimes a problem that adult children face in honoring their aged parents involves the relationship they had with their parents in earlier times. Perhaps your father was cold and unloving, your mother domineering and harsh. You may still feel frustrated, angry, or hurt because they were not the parents you wanted them to be. Can you overcome such feelings?*
12 Basse, who grew up in Finland, relates: “My stepfather had been an SS officer in Nazi Germany. He easily lost his temper, and then he was dangerous. He beat up my mother many times in front of my eyes. Once when he was angry with me, he swung his belt and hit me in the face with the buckle. It hit me so hard that I tumbled over the bed.”
13 Yet, there was another side to the picture. Basse adds: “On the other hand, he worked very hard and did not spare himself in caring for the family materially. He never showed me fatherly affection, but I knew that he was emotionally scarred. His mother had thrown him out when he was a young boy. He grew up with his fists and entered the war as a young man. I could understand to some degree and did not blame him. When I grew older, I wanted to help him as much as I could up until his death. It was not easy, but I did what I could. I tried to be a good son to the end, and I think he accepted me as that.”
14. What scripture applies in all situations, including those that arise in caring for elderly parents?
14 In family situations, as in other matters, the Bible counsel applies: “Clothe yourselves with the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, and long-suffering. Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely if anyone has a cause for complaint against another. Even as Jehovah freely forgave you, so do you also.”—Colossians 3:12, 13.
CAREGIVERS NEED CARE TOO
15. Why is caring for parents sometimes distressing?
15 Caring for an infirm parent is hard work, involving many tasks, much responsibility, and long hours. But the most difficult part is often emotional. It is distressing to watch your parents lose their health, memory, and independence. Sandy, who comes from Puerto Rico, relates: “My mother was the nucleus of our family. It was very painful to care for her. First she started limping; then she needed a cane, then a walker, then a wheelchair. After that it was downhill until she passed away. She developed bone cancer and needed constant care—day and night. We bathed her and fed her and read to her. It was very difficult—especially emotionally. When I realized that my mother was dying, I cried because I loved her so much.”
16, 17. What advice may help a caregiver to keep a balanced view of things?
16 If you find yourself in a similar situation, what can you do to cope? Listening to Jehovah by Bible reading and speaking to him through prayer will help you greatly. (Philippians 4:6, 7) In a practical way, make sure that you eat balanced meals and try to get adequate sleep. By doing this, you will be in a better condition, both emotionally and physically, to take care of your loved one. Perhaps you can arrange an occasional break from the daily routine. Even if a vacation is not possible, it is still wise to schedule some time for relaxation. In order to get time away, you may be able to arrange for someone else to stay with your ailing parent.
17 It is not unusual for adult caregivers to have unreasonable expectations of themselves. But do not feel guilty for what you cannot do. In some circumstances you may need to entrust your loved one to the care of a nursing home. If you are a caregiver, set reasonable expectations for yourself. You must balance the needs not only of your parents but also of your children, your spouse, and yourself.
STRENGTH BEYOND WHAT IS NORMAL
18, 19. What promise of support has Jehovah made, and what experience shows that he keeps this promise?
18 Through his Word, the Bible, Jehovah lovingly provides guidance that can greatly aid a person in caring for aging parents, but that is not the only help he provides. “Jehovah is near to all those calling upon him,” wrote the psalmist under inspiration. “Their cry for help he will hear, and he will save them.” Jehovah will save, or preserve, his faithful ones through even the most difficult situations.—Psalm 145:18, 19.
19 Myrna, in the Philippines, learned this when caring for her mother, who was made helpless by a stroke. “There is nothing more depressing than to see your loved one suffer, unable to tell you where it hurts,” writes Myrna. “It was just like seeing her drown little by little, and there was nothing I could do. Many times I would bend my knees and talk to Jehovah about how tired I was. I cried out like David, who beseeched Jehovah to place his tears in a bottle and remember him. [Psalm 56:8] And as Jehovah promised, he gave me the strength I needed. ‘Jehovah came to be as a support for me.’”—Psalm 18:18.
20. What Bible promises help caregivers to keep optimistic, even if the one they are looking after dies?
20 It has been said that caring for aging parents is a “story without a happy ending.” Despite even the best efforts at caregiving, older ones may die, as did Myrna’s mother. But those who trust in Jehovah know that death is not the end of the story. The apostle Paul said: “I have hope toward God . . . that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Acts 24:15) Those who have lost elderly parents in death take comfort in the resurrection hope along with the promise of a delightful new world of God’s making in which “death will be no more.”—Revelation 21:4.
21. What good results come from honoring elderly parents?
21 Servants of God have deep regard for their parents, even though these may have grown old. (Proverbs 23:22-24) They honor them. In doing so, they experience what the inspired proverb says: “Your father and your mother will rejoice, and she that gave birth to you will be joyful.” (Proverbs 23:25) And most of all, those who honor their elderly parents also please and honor Jehovah God.
We are not here discussing situations in which parents were guilty of extreme abuse of their power and trust, to what may be viewed as a criminal degree.