I pray that God gives me wisdom especially as I write this post…
I’m very fortunate to have a dad who has my back, is fun to be around, and with whom I can talk about anything. Having a relationship with him as an adult has been a lot of fun. If/when he gets upset about something, he says what he says, and it’s over. He doesn’t hold grudges, and generally forgets he was ever upset. He doesn’t hold my emotions hostage. He doesn’t guilt me into anything. I do often feel badly that I can’t spend more time doing things away from home, due to the dysautonomia, but he understands that I will do things when I can- and we enjoy those times. Even when I was a kid, he never did anything that wasn’t in my best interest. I didn’t always like discipline, but it was swift, to the point, and never left a feeling of shame.
My mom wasn’t so pleasant when I was growing up. She wasn’t really ‘mean’, but she was broken. There were some things that were done that were most decidedly unpleasant, and if I had kids, I would not have repeated them. But mostly she was broken. She had some intense losses (two newborn sons, two years apart, just three years before adopting me). She was terrified of doing something wrong, and of losing me, so some of her ability to ‘attach’ or bond was damaged. It wasn’t personal, though as a child, it felt that way.
It wasn’t until my mid 30s that I figured out that all of that was her ‘stuff’. It wasn’t about me- even though it had a huge impact on me. Her mom was orphaned at the age of six, and had her own issues with attachment (she discussed this with me several times), and she deliberately didn’t allow for much closeness, so I wonder if my mom had any frame of reference for how to parent. No kid comes with instructions, and not all parents have much insight into their own ‘stuff’. I do know my mom loved me, and she did many things with and for me… but verbally, there wasn’t much clue that she liked me. Basically, she did the best she could, with her own ‘stuff’ coloring her emotions and interactions. I gained a lot of compassion and love for her, by understanding that whatever was going on wasn’t about me.
Being a Christian, it can be very frustrating and confusing to deal with abusive/neglectful/hurtful parents when so much is said about honoring one’s parents. But does that include overtly abusive parents? From what I’ve found, the answer is both yes and no… We aren’t expected to obey demands that go against what God’s Will is for us (He doesn’t want us to be continuously damaged and tormented). But there is a difference between our expectations as children and that of the adult child/parent relationship. If a parent is acting within God’s expectations of a solid, loving parent, there probably isn’t an issue about honor, respect, and love. But for the parent who isn’t able to understand that demeaning, demanding, and destroying their children’s emotions, and the relationship in general, I don’t believe things are so clear. That abusiveness isn’t from God’s instructions on how to parent (Ephesians 6:2).
Here are links that help with Bible verses, regarding abusive parents, and adult children (remember, that these apply to the abusers as well as anyone who is a parent):
Looking at the word ‘honor’, here is what Merriam-Webster has to say :
1. respect that is given to someone who is admired
2. good reputation; good quality or character as judged by other people.
3. high moral standards of behavior
There’s nothing about throwing ourselves under the toxic family bus.
When there is a toxic relationship, we can’t control what the other person does. We can only manage our own responses and behaviors, and decide how honorable we want to be. God will take care of the ultimate judgement on hurtful parents. I don’t think we’re expected to put ourselves in harms way with abusive parents. I do think we can protect ourselves, even via distance and refusing to participate in an abusive parents’ tirades and ongoing unrealistic demands, and outright lies. Illness and stress are not excuses for abuse. Even those with dementia are given boundaries. Those with sound minds are entirely accountable. If they have such severe reactions to something, they need a professional to help them- not unload in unhealthy ways on their family.
But what CAN we do? We can focus on our own relationship with Christ. It’s hard to have a full-on relationship with our Lord when we are being torn down by an earthy parent. We need to give that relationship to God. We can forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning someone’s behavior- but it is an act of obedience to God. It’s a freeing up of mental space for more positive content. It relates to our relationship with God… much more so than with humans (Matthew 7 is good for this). We can show compassion without being subjected to continued and repeated abuse. Sometimes people have to be loved from a distance. Sometimes we have to just do what we can, and let the abuser stew in their own anger.
If a parent is not showing the love of God to their own kids, there is something wrong with the parent (intentional or otherwise). I’m not saying they have to be perfect, that’s impossible- but (if they claim to be a Christian) they should be compassionate, loving, forgiving, not demanding, not haughty, etc (I Corinthians 13). LOVE isn’t rude, not self-seeking, isn’t easily angered, keeps no records of wrongs, isn’t proud, is kind, and is patient… Parents are supposed to show their children those qualities. And adult children can demonstrate these TO an abusive parent, but still not be subjected to 24/7 abuse. Interactions can be brief, but still show love as God describes it (sometimes less is more). Sometimes the honorable part has to be how we interact- not how we hope they interact with us. My mom ended up with dementia before I was able to see her as someone who needed compassion; there was no reciprocation- but that was OK; I’d fixed my own perspective when I figured out it wasn’t really about me. Not all abusive parents fit into that category, but we can decide how we want to be viewed in how we interact… we decide OUR legacy- not that of the parent. The parent will have to answer to God one day, as will we- and He knows our hearts. He knows about the hurt and damage done to the tender hearts we had as kids… and He can give us strength and wisdom to do what’s right as adults.
The ones who abuse are the ones with the problem, and in my opinion, it’s more of a spiritual and unresolved emotional issues that can’t be fixed until the person has some reason to change, and make amends. It’s not about the kids (adult or otherwise). It causes damage in the relationship, but it’s not ‘personal’. All anyone can do in an adult child/parent relationship is show the parent some healthy boundaries, pray for them, and be kind without being a victim again. Sometimes distance is needed because the situation is so toxic. I don’t think that goes against the Bible. I don’t think we’re supposed to be slaves or sacrifices for the abuser. We’re to be ambassadors for Christ- with unbroken spirits. And I don’t think that guilt and shame are ever part of a healthy relationship.
Our ultimate responsibility is to God, and following what He wants for us (Jeremiah 29:11)…. if an earthly parent isn’t following that same concept, they are not honor-able.