Parents are pretty cool people. They spend untold amounts of time and money making sure that their children (hopefully) become responsible, productive adults that may in turn become parents themselves. But there’s one fatal flaw in almost every parent I’ve ever talked to: they’re getting older. I don’t mean like generationally, “people are having children later in life.” I just mean, quite simply, your parents aren’t as young as they once were. So what happens when they get to the point where their bodies and minds begin to fail? What if they can’t provide an income for themselves anymore, and maybe their retirement stash has run out quicker than expected, or there wasn’t much there to begin with? Is it our responsibility as children to provide financially for the people that raised us?
The bible seems to say that it is.
Honor Your Father and Mother
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
– Exodus 20:12 (ESV)
The fifth of the Ten Commandments is repeated over and over throughout Scripture in one form or another. It’s pretty obvious that there is a degree of respect owed to our parents simply because they’re our parents. I understand that some people feel their parents aren’t exactly worthy of respect for whatever reason, and maybe those reasons are even valid. But there are no qualifiers or loopholes in this command. Similar to how we can respect the office of President even if we don’t particularly like the man or woman who holds it, we can still show respect to parents in how we address them, talk about them to others (including our own children), and in our financial plans.
Listen to your father who gave you life,
and do not despise your mother when she is old.
– Proverbs 23:22 (ESV)
That’s pretty self-explanatory, right? Your parents gave you life, don’t ignore them in your adulthood. Begin building your future plans with the expectation that they may call on you for help some day.
Provide for Your Household (Even if They Don’t Live With You)
But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
– 1 Timothy 5:8 (ESV)
Some historical context here might help clarify this passage. When Paul wrote this to Timothy, multi-generational living was the norm. People didn’t go off to New York or LA in the hopes of becoming an Oscar-winning actor when they turned 18. Mostly, they stayed in the same house they grew up in, carried on the family business, and had their own kids, repeating the cycle. Meanwhile, their parents stayed with them until they died, making their care much easier from a logistics standpoint. The able-bodied men and women of the house were expected to keep it running and make sure everyone who lived there was taken care of. That’s a little out of the ordinary now, but the concept still stands: family takes care of family. The point is actually hammered home a little better just four verses before:
But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God.
– 1 Timothy 5:4 (ESV)
Paul was writing in this chapter about the church’s instructions regarding those in its membership. He told them that while a widow is certainly to be cared for, her primary source of that care should be her children if they’re able to do so. There’s a benefit wrapped up in this instruction for those children, too: “this is pleasing in the sight of God.” Don’t miss that! God is pleased when we care for our parents in their time of need.
Let’s Get Specific
Maybe you’ve read all this and thought, “Yeah, I’m good. I don’t really have to give the money I worked for away to my parents’ care, do I?” Well, let’s look at what Jesus Himself said about it:
For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.
– Matthew 15:4-6 (ESV)
Again, a little unpacking might be in order. Jesus is talking to the Pharisees (part of the religious and social authority of the time, somewhat like Senators in the US), who continuously tried to trip Him up on what He was teaching versus what the holy writings said. They asked Him about why His disciples were breaking their traditions, which were basically rules they had added to God’s commandments and claimed they were also from God, even though they weren’t. Jesus rebuked them pretty soundly by addressing how they selfishly got around the command to provide for their parents. The Pharisees thought they could get away with telling their ailing parents, “Sorry Mom and Dad, but I gave the money that should have been used for your healthcare to the church. Surely you agree that God is more important, right? I just can’t help at all because of how spiritual I am.” Jesus put them in their place by telling them that even giving to the church doesn’t take the place of providing for parents when they need it. I don’t know that you and I can come up with a better excuse, so we should probably just stick with God’s command rather than our interpretation of it.
What Does “Support” Mean?
I think that’s pretty clear: we’re to support our family as they age. But what does that look like? Are we supposed to become an open checkbook, allowing our parents to drain our bank accounts past dry? Do we need to sell all that we own and move across the country, giving up businesses and relationships in the process, to become live-in nurses? I don’t think so. I think the same principles telling us to provide the support can also be used in setting the boundaries of that support.
Honor Your Parents
If you begin to assume some of the financial burden for your parents, you also assume the role of director as far as choosing where those funds go. In a reversal from when you were living under their roof, that means you get to set some boundaries with the goal of promoting their well-being to the best it can possibly be. That means, if a parent has an issue with gambling, excessive drinking, or some other harmful activity, you don’t need to support that aspect of their finances. Only spend in ways that will honor your parents, and do your research before you start blindly handing out cash. Just because a care facility has a fountain in the lobby doesn’t mean it’s worth the extra thousand a month, but don’t go with the place handing out Groupons, either. You are still stewarding God’s money, even in the care of someone else, so make sure it’s being used wisely while accomplishing what needs to be accomplished.
Provide for Your Family
Don’t let any one situation so consume your attention that you neglect your other responsibilities. Even if your parents have extreme medical needs, don’t forget that your spouse and children are still counting on you as well. If you’ve got siblings, all of you pooling together should mitigate the impact on your personal finances somewhat. And hopefully, your parents were wise enough during their working years to have some sort of plan for aid when they couldn’t provide for themselves any longer. Government programs like Social Security and Medicare, while not to be relied on as a sole source of income, can help close the gap when necessary. There are also countless local charities across the nation that can provide help for seniors in different ways.
What do you think? Does this biblical instruction still make sense in our often disjointed culture? With our society’s emphasis on advancing your career and your wealth, seemingly at any cost, where should we draw the line in order to focus on our family?