Is one of your parents facing an upcoming surgery?
Or, can no longer see well enough to drive to doctors’ visits?
Maybe you have a parent who is widowed and living alone for the first time ever.
Like most people, at some point in your life, you will realize you have a parent (or parents) requiring assistance. And, as with most Christians, you have probably heard the Bible verses about honoring your parents (see Exodus 20:12). But, what can you do? Exactly how do you honor your parents when they need help?
1. Always remember to treat your parents with respect
To honor your parents, you first have to treat them with respect.
What does respect mean? Respect means to “have due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights or traditions of” another person, according to Google.
Google also says the English word respect comes from the Latin word respicere, which means “to look back at, regard.”
They loved you, fed you, bathed you, dressed you, provided for you, and took care of you when you were a child.
So, you honor your parents when you see them as people made in the image of God AND look back at the fact that they changed your diapers. They loved you, fed you, bathed you, dressed you, provided for you, and took care of you when you were a child.
As an adult, your job is to notice what your parents are going through and offer your assistance–with respect.
For example, two years ago when my mom (in her 80s) decided to have a knee replacement, I asked her if she would like me to stay overnight with her in the hospital after surgery, then stay at her home for the next few days. Since my dad died several years ago, my mom has lived alone.
The orthopedist told Mom she would need a wheelchair, a walker, support hose, and someone to stay with her when she arrived home from the hospital. She would definitely need help, the doctor said. Mom chose to take me up on my offer.
Mom asked me to pick up a loaner wheelchair from a family member and buy support hose from a medical supply business near me, both of which I did.
Mom’s friends also helped her by bringing meals, loaning her a walker, sitting with her, taking her trash out, etc.
In addition, Mom lined up some paid caregivers to stay overnight for a few nights after I left.
My very independent Mom ran her own show. She was in charge of her schedule. I had to respect her enough to help her as much as possible but not try to take over.
2. Just do what needs to be done
God’s command to honor your parents may include taking meals, going to doctor’s visits, sleeping on an uncomfortable pullout chair in a hospital, running errands, helping around the house, going shopping, and more.
My husband’s cousin, Laura, is really good at doing what needs to be done.
Several years ago, Laura realized her stepmom had dementia and could no longer do normal tasks around the house. Laura knew she needed to help any way she could. So, when cooking dinner for she and her husband, Laura began cooking extra food to take to her dad and stepmom several times a week.
Laura also began letting her dad know which stores she would be going to each week so she could buy anything her dad and stepmom would need.
Other women I know help their parents by: cleaning house, walking the dog, getting the mail, emptying the dishwasher, doing laundry, going to doctor’s appointments to be an extra set of ears, and more.
So, in a time of need or illness or surgery, look for practical, everyday ways to help your parents.
3. Consider the other person’s point of view
If you are reading this, your parents obviously kept you safe enough to survive being a toddler who tried to do crazy things like eating houseplants and sticking your fingers in the electrical outlets.
No telling how many times your parents bandaged your skinned knees, sat up nights with you when when you were sick, told you to do your homework, cooked your dinner, washed your dirty clothes, and cheered you on when you succeeded at something.
Your parents have always been the ones to take care of you. And now they need your help? Such role reversal can be hard to accept for many parents.
Laura’s dad and stepmom seemed reluctant at first to accept Laura’s help.
“From their point of view,” Laura explains compassionately, “they didn’t want to admit that they needed help.”
Laura could see the needs and knew she could meet them. So, she persevered respectfully, with love.
Over time, her dad and stepmom looked forward to the meals and the household help she offered. They realized they could trust Laura because she had their best interests at heart.
4. You must want nothing in return
Whether you help your parents just for a brief time during an illness or recovery from an accident or you realize you must help for the long-term like Laura has had to do, make Jesus your role model. Do everything out of love.
“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
But what if you have a difficult relationship with your parents? Doesn’t matter. You are still called to honor your parents. You are still called to help them.
An obvious exception is if your parents are dangerous to be around because of mental illness, addiction or criminal activity. If you deal with any of these, seek professional Christian counseling.
When your parents need help, show up and serve with love because that is what God is calling you to do.
Surely other challenging situations can exclude you from having to help your parents, right?
I mean, you can’t be expected to show up to help them if you are a vegan but your parents cook sausage for breakfast every day.
Or, if you have everything organized in your household, including your underwear drawer, but your parents live with every table top in their home covered with piles of stuff.
Having different ways of doing things doesn’t exempt you. Neither does holding different political beliefs. Nor whether you agree with everything your parents did or said when they were raising you.
When your parents need help, show up and serve with love because that is what God is calling you to do. It’s not your job to try to change them. Don’t expect recognition. And, absolutely don’t assume you will inherit anything. Simply serve.
Philippians 2:5 offers helpful advice: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…”
5. Pick your battles very deliberately
Some battles don’t need to be fought. Some do.
What if your parent needs hearing aids but refuses to buy them? Maybe that’s worth several, um, discussions. Discussions loud enough for your parent to hear what you are saying, of course. And if your parent is unwilling to spend the money (often several thousand dollars) to buy hearing aids? Do you keep pestering your parent to make the purchase?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Health and safety matter. Personal preferences do not.
If you have a parent who is doing something unsafe like, say, not seeking medical attention with something serious, you probably need to–respectfully–insist on a trip to the doctor (or to the emergency room, if needed.)
For example, while spending the night with my in-laws after my father-in-law was released from the hospital, I quickly realized we needed to head back to the hospital. My father-in-law had double pneumonia and was having difficulty breathing. He did NOT want to go back to the hospital, but I knew the situation was serious. I managed to convince him. That was a battle worth fighting.
How do you decide what battle is worth fighting and what isn’t? Health and safety matter. Personal preferences do not.
If you see a health or safety matter that you believe you need to address with a parent, be sure to pray first, asking God to guide the discussion and give you the words to say and the way to say them with respect.
6. Pray diligently for your parents
Whether you have wonderful, godly parents or parents who are angry atheists, you can pray every day for them. Thank God for anything good you see in them. Lift up to God their needs and struggles. Pray over their health, finances, relationships, and for a close walk with God. Pray for God to meet specific needs. Pray for them to be saved if they are not.
Think it’s too late for your parents to know God? My mom got saved recently–at age 87.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7.
So, you pray for your parents and God gives you peace. That’s a really good deal.
7. Be willing to get help when you need it
You may find yourself in a situation in which God shows you that you can’t physically care for your parent and you need to pay for care. If that’s the case, don’t feel guilty. Don’t beat yourself up in an already stressful situation. Focus on finding the best, most competent, most compassionate caregivers you can find. Ask God to help you.
Several years ago, when my mother-in-law was going through the dying process, after consulting with her doctor, we took her home from the hospital to die in her own bed. That’s what we knew she wanted.
She had slipped into unconsciousness but still needed certain medications. She also needed to be dressed, regularly changed, and kept comfortable. We called a local Hospice chapter for help. We also called a nursing service and lined up nurses to do the jobs we didn’t know how to do.
A few days later, she died peacefully. At home. In her own bed. The paid caregivers helped us give that to her.
8. Commit to not give up when you feel like it
Helping your parents can be trying, exhausting, frustrating, uplifting, encouraging, difficult, wonderful, and more–often in the same day. But you cannot quit. As your parents go through tough stuff, you need to be there. Sometimes you won’t feel like it. You will feel like quitting. Don’t.
If your mom and/or dad thank you profusely for showing up to help, that’s great. But, what if they don’t? What if your efforts are met with criticism? With a lack of appreciation? Are you off the hook? No. You are not.
Bible Study author and teacher Beth Moore says that sometimes we need to ask God to bring our feelings in line with our calling. God says in His Word that you are to honor your parents. If you don’t feel like it–if it is hard for you–pray for God to bring your feelings in line with your calling.
Does this work? It has for me and for many other women I know.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9.
9. Live so you will have no regrets in the future
One day, your mom and dad will no longer walk the earth.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 says: “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die…”
Will you obey God? If you do, you will be glad you did.
So, when you see that your mom or dad needs help, will you offer your assistance? Will you show up to help? Even if it is hard? Or inconvenient? Or you don’t have a perfect relationship?
Will you obey God? If you do, you will be glad you did.
1 John 3:18: “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
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