What Do Children Owe Their Parents?
EVERY child is in debt from the moment that he takes his first breath. The debt is to his parents who are responsible for his being alive, and that debt grows with each passing year as they feed, clothe, educate and care for him. Some children show appreciation by giving their parents what they owe them, but a great many do not.
In the Bible, at Proverbs 30:11, a truth is stated that fits a great many children of our time. It says: “There is a generation that calls down evil even upon its father and that does not bless even its mother.” In another place the Bible foretold that in the “last days” youths would be disobedient to their parents and would be without natural affection. (2 Tim. 3:1-4) We see today what was foretold. There are youths who curse their parents in fits of anger. Some have even killed them. More generally, however, there is a rebellious attitude toward parents that is manifested in disobedience, lack of consideration, unkindness and disrespect. Is such conduct the way to express gratitude for the love and care their parents have given them from the time they were born? Obviously not!
When young folks are passing through the adolescent stage they tend to come to the conclusion that their parents do not understand them because their personal wishes seem invariably to run counter to those of their parents. Their parents, for example, may require them to be home at a certain hour at night, but the youths are likely to regard this as an unreasonable curb on them. Parents may insist that their daughter dress in clothing that is less revealing than that worn by many other girls or they may forbid their son to associate with a particular group of neighborhood boys. To such young persons who tend to be overly concerned about conforming to popular fads or being accepted by others of their age-group, such restrictions seem to show lack of understanding. But is that really so? Remember, their parents were teen-agers once too. It is because their parents understand them and the world in which both live that they put such restrictions on them.
Parents know that late hours mean loss of sleep, which can affect a young person’s health and efficiency at school. They know better than the children do the moral breakdown of the world and how it can have a bad influence on immature young people. They also are well aware of the possible trouble youths can get into when keeping late hours with other youthful companions. So it is not from lack of understanding that parents place restrictions on their children but from a clear understanding of what is in their best interest. What the children owe their parents, therefore, is a recognition that parental judgment is better than their own.
RESPECT FOR PARENTS
In any organization, the one who exercises authority is entitled to receive respect from the others in the organization. The family, which is actually a small organization of several persons, is no exception. The parents, and especially the father, hold the position of authority in it by virtue of the fact that they were the founders of their particular family, having given birth to the children. Since the children are the inferiors in this family organization, is it not reasonable that they should respect the authority of their parents?
That children owe their parents respect was made clear in God’s law to the nation of Israel. The fifth of the Ten Commandments was: “Honor your father and your mother.” (Ex. 20:12) One of the meanings of the word “honor” is the manifestation of respect. Does it manifest respect when a son argues with his parents because they require him to be home at a certain hour or because they instruct him to stay away from companions that his parents regard as likely to exert a bad influence? Would it not be more in keeping with honoring them to accept their wishes without dispute?
Honoring one’s parents includes the manner in which one speaks about them in the presence of friends. Cursing one’s parents or using unkind expressions about them might bring a laugh from a group of young people who have low regard for adults, but it is being disloyal to one’s father and mother. Would it not be more in keeping with the love one’s parents have shown him for him loyally to speak respectfully of them?
Having respect for parents was such a serious matter in the nation of Israel that a son or daughter who struck or cursed his father or mother was to be put to death. The divine law stated: “One who strikes his father and his mother is to be put to death without fail. And one who calls down evil upon his father and his mother is to be put to death without fail.” (Ex. 21:15, 17) Such disloyalty to family headship and such disrespect was a serious matter. Although Christians are not under the law covenant, this commandment does establish a principle for them, a principle of always having respect for their parents.
Wisely the Bible counsels children: “You children, be obedient to your parents in everything, for this is well-pleasing in the Lord.” (Col. 3:20) This is something they owe their parents. Their obedience shows respect for the authority of their parents and for the headship that the father Scripturally exercises in the family organization. Since it contributes to the peace and unity of the whole family, they personally benefit from it.
Children need direction from an adult as to what is right and what is wrong, and their parents are the natural ones to whom they can look for such direction. When they obey their Christian parents by refraining from doing forbidden things, they learn to avoid what is bad, and when they cooperate by doing what their parents tell them to do, they learn to do good. When parents base their judgment of what is good and what is bad upon the righteous laws and principles of God’s written Word, their children learn by obedience the best way to live and thus benefit to the full from adult direction.
When parents tell children to do something a certain way, obedience is shown not only by doing it, but by doing it the way they were told to do it. A failing that is not uncommon among children, and even among adults, is to think that their own way of doing something is better than the way they were told to do it. Whether their way is better or not is immaterial. Their superior told them to do it a certain way, and that is the way the principle of obedience obligates them to do it. If they do not, it will have to be done over according to the way they were told. So if a boy goes to the store to buy some groceries that his mother listed for him, he will not be showing obedience if he decides to get something different. His mother had a reason for wanting what was listed, and it was not for him to decide to buy something else. By being obedient in small things as well as big things children can show appreciation for what their parents have done for them and respect for their authority.
It is the course of wisdom for children to heed the discipline given them by their parents. The word “discipline” includes the thought of giving training that molds and corrects. At times a child who does something that his parents consider to be wrong has to be corrected by physical punishment, and at other times verbal correction is all that is necessary. (Prov. 13:24; 29:15) In either case discipline is part of the training that molds the personality of the children. It prepares them to cope with the problems and situations that they will encounter in their contacts with the world. It guides their immature minds by giving them a basis for making the right decisions regarding their conduct. So it is with good reason that the Bible counsels children: “Listen, my son, to the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother.”—Prov. 1:8.
It is not uncommon for youths to object to such discipline as doing chores about the home or helping their parents operate a business. Yet such work is an essential part of the discipline from their parents. It teaches them how to be industrious and how to bear responsibility as well as helping them to gain valuable skills. A certain amount of work does more good for young folks than would permission for them to spend all their free time doing whatever they pleased. Although young persons may not realize the value of the work, love and respect for parental authority will prompt them to do whatever work their parents tell them to do. Is it not only right that they should use their youthful strength to help their parents? This, too, they owe them.
Young adults can show love for their parents by being considerate of their parents’ health and feelings. One of the ways they can do this is to avoid bad actions that would cause their parents to suffer worry and mental anguish. That is showing love. So also is kindness when speaking to them. Being gruff, sarcastic, curt and loud with one’s parents is actually being disrespectful and unloving. How much better it is for the temperament of all and the peace of the family for youths to speak to their parents in a kind, mild and respectful manner.
The debt children owe their parents can never be paid in full. They will always owe them love, kindness and respect, even when they become older and are free from parental control.