Whether you've already realized it or whether it's still on the horizon, everyone eventually comes face to the face with the fact that their parents are imperfect people. Parents, for all that they do right, have their own baggage to carry, and their own flaws that in many cases they are still working through.
Sometimes this can feel like a betrayal. It's disappointing when the people we are supposed to look up to the most don't "measure up" to what they should be. Sometimes it's easy to wonder if you can trust them after a serious disappointment, or if you can trust the things they taught you.
But this isn't something unique to parents. We are all flawed human beings, and often enough the same flaws and weaknesses we find in our own parents manifest in ourselves too. This doesn't mean that everything a parent does wrong can be justified, but it does mean that in many cases, children do happen to find themselves sympathizing with their parents, the older they both get. Life is full of difficult decisions and complicated situations. The more of those we face, the more it becomes understandable why someone might make the wrong move.
This question of "Parent Problems" leaves room for both children and parents to reflect. For those who are parents or who are about to become parents, it's worth asking this: "What are some issues I have faced in my life, insecurities I haven't confronted yet, or traumas I haven't fully processed? How can I confront those things so that I can avoid repeating them, or be there for my child when they face something similar?"
On the flip side, sometimes kids - even grown up kids - will have to ask themselves things like "What might my parents have faced that I don't fully know about? What kind of habits, attitudes, emotional responses, and beliefs have I received as a result of how one or both of my parents experiences the world? Where can I cut my parents some slack? Where might I need to confront them on something?"
This struggle between generations is actually a very old one. Every generation has to work on its relationship to the previous one.
The Bible itself has many stories of parents setting bad examples for their children, of generational cycles of dysfunction, and repetitions of failure. This is especially true with fathers and sons. Take Solomon, for example. His father was David, one of the most important kings of Israel. But David’s relationship with Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, was anything but great. The story of David and Bathsheba was full of manipulation, abuse, and even murder. Worst of all - but not very surprising - Solomon ultimately ended up reflecting some of his father's worst qualities.
But despite of all that dysfunction, Solomon still respected both of his parents: he attempted to carry on the good parts of his father’s legacy (1 Kings 3:1-16), and he honored his mother by giving her a place of power beside his throne when he became king (1 Kings 2:19).
(Read more about the theme of wisdom being passed on from Fathers and Mothers to their children in the book of Proverbs here.)
The point is, most of us will have some kind of issue with our parents at one time or another. Some situations are more serious than others. But outside of abusive situations - in which case, anyone should do what is necessary to get to safety and find help - we should typically try to be patient and understanding with our parents. Many times, the very areas where they struggle the most may also be places where they can offer us deep wisdom through their experiences.
Ask yourself what you can learn from it when the people you look up to disappoint you. You parents and other role models are also still growing and learning as people. Sometimes there will be differences to work on and talk through, but even these situations can be opportunities for growth for both of you, assuming everyone approaches the situation with a willingness to truly listen.
In Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16, the fifth of the famous Ten Commandments instructs people to remember and care for their parents in their old age. (Oddly enough, many people treat this commandment like it's the only one meant exclusively for young children, but that seems strange in a list commands about murder, theft, and adultery.) The culture of ancient Israel assumed that families would continue to take care of each other inter-generationally, and that the children who were raised and cared for by their parents would one day turn around and return the favor by caring for their parents in their old age. As a result, God promised that people who did not abandon their elderly parents would also receive the blessing of living into their old age.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, we see Solomon presented as a figure who is reckoning with a life full of mistakes and wrong decisions. In the second last section of the book, Ecclesiastes 11:7 - 12:6 advises young people to enjoy their youth and take in the fullness of youthful experience, but also to remember that this part of their life is still subject to God's judgment. He also reminds to live with old age in mind, and to remember that old people are still facing the fears and uncertainties of life, perhaps in ways that many young people haven't even conceived of yet.
Remember, parents are fallible, fragile people just like any of us, and one day will become dependent on their children to care for them. We can always choose to become better, even when our circumstances are hard. Whatever you learn from your parents strengths and weaknesses today will one day be something you can pass back to them.
- Read Exodus 20:12 & Deuteronomy 5:16. Some people think this is a commandment for little kids, but who is this really directed to? Why does this commandment reward people with long life? Compare the wording of this commandment with the discussion in Matthew 15 and Mark 7. What does Jesus seem to think the fifth commandment applies to?
- In a recent blog post, we highlighted the way Ruth was loyal to her mother-in-law Naomi. Do you think counts as someone following the commandment to honor father & mother? Why or why not?
- Read Ecclesiastes 11:7 - 12:6. What contrasts does this passage present between youth and old age? What practical advice do you find in this passage for your own lifestyle?
- Read Proverbs 1:1-19. What kind of advice is explicitly given from parents to children in this passage? How much of it sounds like stereotypical warnings that parents tend to give their children?
- Do you ever find that you perceive older generations as being excessively worried, or hyper-vigilant about morality? Do you think that reflects more on who they are, who you are, or both?
- What does the first part of this section, verses 1-7, say about the nature of wisdom? What is the benefit of studying this wisdom?