Creating Respectful Families

Posted: January 23, 2008 in family
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The 5th Commandment: Has It Been Forgotten?

 Suddenly Laurel jumped up from the school lunch table.  With her lipsticked, fashion-clad girlfriends watching, she ran down the corridor past the bathrooms, caught up with me, and threw her arms around me.  “Daddy, I love you!” she gushed, eyes sparkling.  The she punctuated her enthusiasm by landing an unusual public kiss on my head.

I reeled all the way to the car, a huge smile taking over my entire face.  On the elementary school campus in front of her peers, the daughter who had lately asked me not to walk her “all the way” to school had charmingly fulfilled the Fifth Commandment. With affection and appreciation, she had publicly done just that.

Honor your father and your mother,” reads the fifth of the Bible’s Ten Commandments.  And in those few words, lie one scripture’s greatest pearls of relational wisdom.  It’ a great goal, but today many families struggle to decorate their relationships with respect.

This doesn’t have to be so. There are ways to gain the respect and affection of our children.  Children who honor their parents can be the norm.  From inside out, children can learn to prize their parents highly and offer their warm affection. And the exciting thing is that parents can do a lot to help their children with this.

Be Honorable


First, we must be honorable parents. Parents who live honorably influence their children to live honorably too.  Thomas Watson, the popular 17th century London preacher, captured the essence of this truth when he wrote, “The father is the looking glass which the child dresses herself by.”

My wife, Linda, works a few hours a week at the public library.  One morning, our younger, Laurel, plopped down on the couch beside her mom.  “Mom,” she said, putting her hand on Linda, “I like your skirt.  I like your boots.  I like your sweater.  When I grow up, I’m going to work at the library.”

Laurel wanted to be like Linda.  What an honor – to be your daughter’s looking glass!  Linda’s self-respect, her strength, her ability to do many things well – these things caught Laurel’s attention.  When parents are honorable people, then it is most natural for our children to honor them. 

But when parents are not honorable, it is difficult for their children to honor them.  A friend of mine recently shared her traumatic childhood with me.  She didn’t find an accurate looking glass in her parents.  When she was 9, her mom lost her temper and hit her in the head with a screw driver, causing her to require stitches.  Not long after that, her biological father came to her house at night, shattered a window, and kidnapped her.  Most terribly, when her mom remarried, her stepfather molested her!  As she told me her story, she cried.   I asked her, “How do you honor that?”

 “I can honor only as much as I can forgive,” she said.  “Sometimes, honoring means letting go of the hating.”  Parents can reduce honor that much.  Parents have everything to do with how difficult or how easy it is for our children honor us. The parental goal is to live so honorably that respect comes naturally to their children.

Teach Children to Honor


While living honorable lives is important, it is not enough.  We must also teach children to honor. In the Bible we find several disastrous family situations that were the result of parental indulgence and passivity.  Eli, a priest, had sons who broke his heart with their greed and corruption. Part of the problem? Eli was too tolerant.  He waited too long to correct his sons. King David’s son, Absalom, crushed his father with rebellion; and yet David, morally weakened by his own adultery, didn’t question or correct Absalom.  As difficult as it may be, parents must accept responsibility for their own failures so that they can also hold their children responsible if their children disrespect them.

Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul,” advises Proverbs 29:17. True, but too often we understand discipline as standing outside of the problem and bringing correction to it. Real, loving parental discipline does more than that.  Discipline that brings peace in the relationship involves intentionally entering into children’s problems, empathizing with them, problem solving with them.

Sandra, a young mother, recently told me of her struggle with her fifth-grade daughter’s disrespect.  Her strong-willed daughter constantly pushed the limits and was extremely uncooperative and disobedient.  One day, unable to stand any more disrespect, Sandra broke down.  She lay face down on the bed and cried deep tears of frustration and disappointment.  Hearing her mother’s anguish, the daughter was drawn to her mother’s room.

“She saw my pain,” said Sandra.  “Then she, too, began to cry.  She came and hugged me.  It was a very special moment for us.  I told her that she would always have a strong personality, but that she must learn to control it.  We prayed together.  It was a life-changing experience for both of us.”

Make Honor the Norm


Honor is a team sport.  Every relationship in the family must be honored.  As parents, we must honor our parents in front of our children.  We must honor our spouses in front of our children.  We must honor each child equally in front of the others.

This is a challenge, but we can do it.  In one home, a wife struggles with her husband’s lack of warmth or sensitivity,  but she always supports his role as father in front of the children.  In another home, a husband finds it tough not to critique his wife’s “strong reactions,” but he always backs her up by requiring the children to respect her requests.  In yet another family, one child excels above the others, but the parents do not make this child the “redemption” for the other children’s failures.  In these ways, families subtly, yet powerfully, establish a climate of team honor.

Recently at the end of a game with my older daughter, Rosalind, I realized that she had let me win!  She had noticed over the years that I had often let her win.  This is the way life should be in our families – taking turns letting each other “win.”

Seek the Honor Promise


We should seek the promise that comes with honor. “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you,” says Exodus 20:12. This is the only one of the Commandments with a promise, the promise of long life.  How interesting.  In what way does honor promote life?

I once attended a memorial service for a young mom who died of cancer.  At the service, everyone felt the terribly empty spot left by her death, and yet the impact she had made on all of us was so present. When her children talked, we saw again how she was  beautifully present in the strength she had given them.  She was there in the “mom” and “friend” stories we told. We all laughed about how often she would remind us to get our “tails” down to the gym and exercise. We joked about how she used to stop by our houses and talk too long. People commented on how even in the face of the unthinkable she constantly choose not to give up. 

When parents live honorably, no matter how long they live, their children inherit the promise of “life” in the form of their values, attitudes, and character.

The Fifth Commandment is wise instruction we should not forget.  Honor is a behavior we parents can motivate, and it is worth our time to do so.  The next creative move we make toward gaining our children’s respect may win the sparkling reward of their honor.

The day Laurel ran me down on the school campus and honored me with a hug and a kiss and an “I love you, Daddy,” I had simply brought her a “cool” lunch from a favorite restaurant.  Honor was a great deal that day!  But when isn’t it?

A Code of Honor


To help your children honor you, teach them these things:

  • To show you respect whenever you are present
  • To respect your values even when you are not present
  • To accept your requests without complaining
  • To know how to disagree with you without showing disrespect
  • To come to you with their struggles
  • To care for your when you struggle
  • To do things the first time they are asked
  • To pitch in and help even if they are not asked
  • To ask God for help whenever it seems difficult to be respectful

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