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Elderly Parents Walking TogetherIf you’re an Anglophile, you are probably aware of the Thomas Markle / royal family drama. If you’re not familiar, Markle and his daughter, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, have not spoken since the May 2018 Royal Wedding after Thomas caused a headache for the royal family by staging paparazzi photographs in exchange for cash. Following the incident, Thomas Markle did not attend his daughter’s wedding and he has received the silent treatment from his daughter since. The royal family has been silent on the issue, but Mr. Markle has not. In a recent interview, he said, “It’s just incomprehensible for Meghan to treat me this way.”

Unfortunately for the Duchess of Sussex, this family drama has been regular tabloid fixture since before the wedding. But let’s not pretend this is a problem exclusive to the Markles. The reality is that parent-child drama occurs in almost every family- we just have the benefit of not having our dirty laundry aired to the entire world.

What Does Scripture Say?

Is it incomprehensible for the Duchess to remove toxic family members from her life? Biblically, Christians and Jews are told to “Honor thy father and mother.” This scripture is found in the Old Testament, in Exodus 20, when Moses receives the 10 Commandments. Jesus reiterates the importance of honor to parents multiple times in the gospels. Paul quotes Exodus in Ephesians 6 1-2:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honour your father and mother" (this is the first commandment with a promise), "that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land."

These scriptures often get tossed around rather casually when parents want to remind children that God requires obedience. But how far should honoring parents go? What if parents don’t respect an adult child’s career or relationship decisions, and demand they change? Are children honor-bound to obey parents no matter what?

What if the parent is abusive?

Jewish law codifies the commandment by allowing children to disobey parents when asked to break a law of the Torah. A person cannot disregard God to honor their parent. Additionally, a parent doesn’t have the right to make a child marry or not marry someone. It’s reasonable to say that God doesn’t expect children to be bound to their parent for the rest of their life.

A Biblical Debate

When troubled by events in their life, many adults turn to their church leaders for advice- and that might be a problem. How many pastors have counseled adults to continue contact with a parent, even though the relationship is traumatic? Parents who are inflicting emotional pain, whether it’s verbal abuse, blackmail or bullying, keep re-victimizing their children. Scripture is often touted to convince children to endure abuse at the hands of their parents.

And even the most prominent of religious leaders can give faulty advice. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary leader Paige Patterson was forced to step down from his prominent leadership position after it was discovered he gave advice to a battered woman that ignited a firestorm: He encouraged her to stay with her abusive spouse.

No matter what their holy books say, people seeking counseling should never be encouraged to continue contact with their abusers, be they spouses or parents. But the seeming disconnect between Biblical thought and modern values can cause some pretty bad advice to be dispensed to people when they are at their most vulnerable.

Enabling Abusers

Adult children who are dealing with parents who want obedience often need more help asserting their boundaries because they are raised with such high expectations to honor their parents and to be submissive. The next time someone asks for help dealing with their parents, carefully consider how you counsel them. Look to the Duchess of Sussex as a role model. She removed her father from her life- And she may allow him back in someday, but until then she has made her boundaries clear.

And everyone is entitled to set their own boundaries. 

Category: Society

culture self care relationships family

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