As extended families disappear, giving way to teeming homes for the elderly, so many things are reassessed and new insights gained, though these are not always comforting. No judgement intended, because our modern lifestyle is intricate: paying home loans whilst raising a family – a progressively imposed social order really, glitzing at times but not necessary desirable, yet difficult to avoid.
Besides, parents often find themselves supporting their children well beyond the magical number ‘eighteen’: minding their grandchildren, sometimes plucking hard earned old age securities to help out financially, and often sacrificing their time to ensure their children’s wellbeing. Roles conglomerate into a greater complex reality as old perceptions of family life are at best transformed: so what does honouring mum and dad entails?
The Qur’an might offer us one insight: “Thy Lord has decreed… that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your lifetime, do not say to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say, “My Lord! Bestow on them Thy mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.” (Qur’an 17,23).
Being kind to parents involves an elemental respect: avoiding contemptuous words is one good start, especially as one modestly realises that he (she) is only reciprocating the love received. No soppiness intended, because this realisation embraces a learning experience enhancing one’s personal growth as one’s grasp of life deepens.
Honouring mum and dad does not mean putting them on a pedestal. However, it might entail realizing that they too need their own breathing space to actually live-out their lives even if we don’t always approve of their choices. Repeatedly life spins around the children’s busy schedules – their needs and goals, while not infrequently the parents’ own aspirations are ignored.
It’s not that difficult to repel mum and dad, because loving them entails encountering veiled hurts and disappointments: after all, there is no magic baton to being a good parent, itself a learned experience. Being human it’s not unusual that they too carry their own unresolved issues with regards their own fathers and mothers. So gentleness is indeed necessary when dealing with them as it is when dealing with oneself, because fragility too often accompanies human growth.
While it’s easier to judge rather than understand, honouring one’s parents entails an understanding of what it means to grow old and weary, sick and dependent. This is far more complex than it first appears, because we are constantly stressed to be successful and useful, young and beautiful. Ghetto-like, the homes for the elderly might offer a respite, but they can also degenerate into places shrouded by invisibility – an idea that can easily be extended to elderly parents living up the road.
Journeying on one tries to learn, committing many mistakes along the way: a humbling experience that hopefully enables the person to comprehend better what it means to be human. Honouring father and mum forms part of this journey, recalling us to a deeper understanding of what it means to love and be loved even when this entails a personal cost.