What Grown Children Owe Their Parents

taking-care-of-elderly-parents-thumbnail What do grown children owe their parents? Do adult children owe their parents for what they’ve done while growing up? What does honor thy father and honor thy mother really mean? What are the duties and responsibilities towards elderly parents by their children, and how do these responsibilities relate to the scriptural requirement to cleave in a marriage relationship?

The challenges of parenting parents in their advanced years can often cause personal and financial problems in marriages and families, but it’s a shame when grown children use the word “owe” when discussing how or IF they will provide care for their aging parents, as if what parents do for their children while raising them is somehow a debt that must be repaid in full.

Some children have grown up in abusive or neglectful homes, using those past experiences and memories as an excuse not to help or assist in providing needed care and attention to their elderly parents, with the selfish attitude of “I didn’t ask to be born” or, “I don’t have to take care of my parents because of x, y, z done to me while growing up”.

Caring For Elderly Parents

Getting along with aging parents can be a challenge, and you don’t have to be part of the Sandwich Generation to appreciate the difficulties and conflicts that sometimes arise in marriages and families while taking care of mom and/or dad. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. Throughout our own lives and the lives of parents, genuine forgiveness for past hurts and misdeeds is a sign of maturity and good character as opposed to holding onto a lifelong grudge that hurts no one but you.

Jane English, a philosophy professor at the University of North Carolina, was asked the question “What do grown children owe their parents?” English’s response was “nothing”, arguing that “grown children have no filial obligations to their parents, but that there are things that children ought to do for their parents, but they do not owe them things”.

Caring for aging or elderly parents is not so much a question of whether the aged generation should be taken care of, but more of a question of who should take care of them. Isn’t caring for elderly parents just the right and moral thing for their children and families to do?

Don’t we all hope that when we are old and needing help of some kind that our children would without question or a moments hesitation be willing to come to our aid, rather than having the attitude of “owing” such help? Or worse, completely ignore the parent’s plea for help or need of help, and simply decide to let the state or society handle their care.

Honor Thy Father and Mother

The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults says “children owe their parents respect, gratitude, just obedience and assistance” as part of the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament. The commandment says to “Honor thy father and mother…that thou mayest live long on the earth.” Nowhere in the text does it say “Honor thy father and mother” IF:

  1. If they are good parents…
  2. If they stay together in marriage until death do them part…or
  3. If they did everything right as parents or as individuals, etc.

Nor does it say that children owe their parents love, which is another common excuse used by adult children not wishing to provide care for their parents saying, “I don’t love my parents so I don’t need to do anything for them”. The scriptural text simply and clearly states that children are to honor their parents. To Honor means “to dignify; to raise to distinction or notice; to bestow honor upon; to elevate in rank or station; to ennoble; to exalt; to glorify; hence, to do something to honor; to treat in a complimentary manner or with civility”.

Taking care of elderly parents is primarily the responsibility and moral obligation of families and the individual needing care, and the state can assist as needed. There are state programs available that may be able to provide financial assistance by paying caregivers or family members that are having difficulty in dealing with elderly parents and the increasing need for care that can become quite costly.


The definition of cleave is “to adhere closely; to stick; to hold fast; to cling” and, “to unite or be united closely in interest or affection; to adhere with strong attachment”. So, how do you balance “leave and cleave” with honoring your parents at the same time? “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24)

The parent-child relationship is the temporary one…there will be a “leaving.” The husband-wife relationship is the permanent one (let not man put asunder-Matthew 19:6). When an adult child has gotten married and the parent/child relationship remains primary or the first priority, the newly formed marital union is seriously threatened.

Cleaving indicates such intimate closeness that there is to be no closer relationship than that between the two spouses, not with any former friend or with any parent. They are to become “one flesh”. When a parent deliberately or unknowingly violates the biblical principles found in Genesis 2:24, they should be respectfully disobeyed. It is necessary to distinguish real physical and emotional needs from the “felt needs” of an overbearing, meddling, controlling and demanding parent.

Whether or not there is good relationship between grown children and their parents, there is still the need to provide care for elderly parents in order to lead a truly peaceful, happy and contented life, but also because St. Peter may call your name one day as well as mine, and the choices we all make in life will determine if we’re on St. Peter’s list or not.

Related Posts:

Caring For Our Elderly Parents
One Flesh in Marriage
What Parents Owe Their Children
Taking Care of Aging Parents as a Family
Can I Get Paid to Care for a Family Member: Mother or Father?
What Does it Mean to Leave and Cleave in Traditional Wedding Vows?
Taking a Bite Out of the Sandwich Generation

Categories: Children, Death, Elderly, Family, Health, Marriage, Men, Parenting, Relationships, Religion, Teenagers, Women – Tags: caring for elderly parents, cleave, honor thy father, honor thy mother, parenting parents, taking care of elderly parents, what do grown children owe their parents, what grown children owe their parents

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