All my life, I have been taught that God wants us to care for our parents in their old age. We are commanded to honor our father and mother in the 10 commandments. The Bible says that it is good and acceptable before God to requite our parents, and if you fail to do this, you have denied the faith and are worse than an infidel (1 Tim 5:3-4, 8).
I want to honor God by being obedient and doing what he has asked me to do. I also love my parents very much. I have always been a daddy’s girl. But my dad is a selfish man.
He is choosing to use his retirement funds to make pleasure purchases, and then when the funds run out and there is not enough money left to cover basic needs, like shelter and medicine, he expects me to make up the difference. This puts a great burden on my family finances, as well as on my marriage relationship.
My husband and I are currently raising a family of our own. We don’t have extra money to make large pleasure purchases. But I don’t resent that I chose to have a family. I love my children, and I want to bless their lives to the best of my ability by providing for their needs and teaching them to work hard for their own dreams.
We are also planning for our own retirement so that we will not be a burden to our children in our old age. We are doing fine financially, but we don’t have a lot of extra money.
I want to honor my father. I want to honor God. But I feel taken advantage of, and I don’t know where to draw the line. And if I set boundaries, how do I cope with the backlash I will receive?
Your love for God, your desire to care for your father, and your responsibility to care for your children don’t have to be at odds with each other. I believe you can live a congruent life as you work to meet what appear to be competing needs.
First, let’s talk about what “honoring your father and mother” does NOT mean. It does not mean that you do whatever they tell you to do. It does not mean you agree with everything they say or do. It does not mean that you ignore your own conscience.
It does not mean that you become diminished as a person to carry out their preferences. It does not mean that you allow or enable destructive or abusive behavior to you or others. It does not mean that they always come first. Honoring a parent also does not mean you’re required to have a close relationship with them.
Unfortunately, many well-intentioned individuals have stayed in harm’s way out of a desire to honor their parents. Likewise, I’ve also witnessed unhealthy parents shame their children into silence in the name of honoring them. In these cases, the idea of honoring is used to keep everyone from facing the reality of harmful patterns. Honoring a parent should never involve controlling another person through coercion or shame.
Honoring our parents is about acknowledging any sacrifices and good they have done for us. We can show appreciation for giving us life. We can show gratitude for any efforts they have made to bless our lives. We can honor them for going before us and learn from the consequences of their mistakes and challenges. We can also honor them as we make healthy choices and build a good life.
Your responsibility to care for your dependent children is more important than caring for your irresponsible father. He has a choice about how he’ll use his money while your children are completely dependent on you to meet their needs. If you decide to honor him by financially supporting him, it’s wise to seek counsel to know the best way to use your money.
Even though our own children are dependents and count on us to provide for their physical needs, we instinctively know there are limits to what we’ll give them. We know that complete indulgence would undermine our responsibility to care for their overall well-being. You can still love your children and set boundaries with them.
Likewise, you can still love and honor your father and set boundaries with him. If he’s going to depend on you, then you’re allowed to have expectations. You get to decide what you can give. If you have a surplus, you can determine how you want to distribute the money in the most responsible way. And you can only give to him if you have it to give.
If you desire to help your father financially, then it can be helpful to decide now how much you can support him and give him that number so he can decide how he wants to manage his money going forward. You can honor him by honoring his independence and allowing him the dignity and respect of directing his own life.
If you know right now that you won’t be able to financially support him in the future, then share that with him now while he still has money so he has adequate time to make decisions for his future. Of course, if your father is disabled or impaired and you believe he needs a legal fiduciary to oversee his finances, then work closely with an attorney to make sure his money is going toward his direct care.
You also may consider having him in your home and caring for him, which would give you more influence in his long-term care. If he wants you involved in his long-term care, you’ll be able to have more of a say about the best way to support him.
Either way, now is the time to be clear with him about what you can and can’t do for him financially. You can’t direct what he does with his money, but you can be in charge of your own finances. When you have a clear understanding of what it means to honor him, you won’t feel guilted or pressured into abandoning your own duty to care for yourself and your children.