What Responsibility Do Adult Children Have To Their Elderly Parents?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Where does the adult parent’s responsibility begin and end with elderly parents? Is there an end to the children’s responsibility of their adult or elderly parents?

Honor Your Parents

When God gave Israel the Ten Commandments, the first four commandments were directed toward God, or vertical, but the last six were horizontal. That is, they were about human relationships, and how to relate to one another, and I believe for good reason, the first horizontal command was, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Ex 20:12). It’s easy to overlook this, but this is the first commandment with a promise, that if you honor your father and mother, “your days may be long in the land.” It does say “may” because it’s no guarantee of a long life, but I do believe it’s a way to live a longer life for the majority of people. Why does God tie in a longer life to honoring our parents? If we honor our parents, we’ll be less likely to break the following five commandments, and that’s a good thing because those who live in disobedience to God’s law cannot have any assurance of living a longer life.

Ways of Honor

There are many ways to honor your parents, whether they’re living or not. In fact, even if they’re dead, you can still honor them by the way you speak about them to others. If we still hold grudges about our parents, even after they’re gone, we’re actually dishonoring them. I remember a funeral long ago where the son refused to show up for his own mother’s funeral. He was still angry at things that took place over 40 years ago in his childhood. To speak critically of the dead is evil to me. They are not around to defend themselves, and we’re only hearing one side of the story. This son was miserable to be around, spoke miserably about his dead parents, and I take it, he was miserable with himself. The commandment to honor our parents is not restricted to the childhood years, but for all of our years.   There are no expiration dates on honoring our father and mother. It isn’t a commandment to honor your father and mother unless they did a horrible job or if they didn’t’ give you all the things you wanted or needed, but simply, honor them. Jesus doesn’t tell us that whoever believes in Him shall never perish but has eternal life, unless they blow it, or unless they do this or that. God’s love is unconditional, however God will discipline us, in His love, when we stray from the path of righteous living. When Paul wrote, we are to “give honor to whom honor is due” (Rom 13:7), he wasn’t saying, “give honor to those who deserve it,” or “who are of honorable character.” There were no conditions attached to Paul’s statement. In fact, we should “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom 12:10), and all the more to whom God commands us to show (Ex 20:12).

Hard Decisions

When a couple had their mother living nearby, she began to have accidents and did things like, boil water in a pan, but with no water. Thankfully, they said their neighbor heard the smoke alarms going off and called 911. When the fire department arrived, the lady didn’t even know what was going on. It was time that their mother had supervisory care, so they had a decision to make. Could they afford to hire private care for their mother? They found that they could not. Could they care for her at home? No, both spouses worked. What were they left with? A decision no one should ever have to make and that was to place their mother in an assisted-living care center. Sadly, they didn’t have money for that either, so they had to sell their mother’s home, a home that the husband had grown up in. This couple had four children of their own and one starting college next year, so there was no way they could pay for the assisted-living so they had no choice but to sell their mother’s home and use that money to pay for her care. At least there she had skilled nursing available, there was, more or less, 24/7 care, they were not allowed to have any things in their rooms by which they could hurt themselves, and they were a lot safer there than living alone at home, where it was only a matter of time before something drastic happened.  Of course, they felt guilty about this. They had seen where other families allowed their elderly parents to live with them, but that wasn’t always the best of situations either as it caused constant stress on family relationships. Few in that family were happy about the strain it put on familial relationships, so even if the family cares for their parents, it’s not going to be easy at all. It gets more difficult when they cannot bathe themselves or they need protection from soiling themselves and then changing their adult diapers. I know this is not an easy subject to talk about, but every family should discuss what will happen when or if an elderly parent is unable to care for themselves. Concerning the first couple’s mother, she literally begged them not to place her in an assisted-living center, even though they explained to her that they just couldn’t afford private care because it would eventually bankrupt the entire family. They knew she’d be a lot safer where she was at than living alone, even it if grieved their mother at the time. I don’t envy anyone in this situation. I cannot tell you what to do, but I think some counseling would be in order. There are things you can do now before this situation comes up.


Life is always throwing curve balls at us, and we all swing and miss, so what must we do when we are faced with the dilemma of having to choose where an elderly parent is to live and under what conditions. Only the family can know if they can afford to take them in or hire someone to look after them. In some cases, the elderly parent has enough resources where they can pay for a caregiver. Whatever you decide, and I believe each case is different, bask it in prayer, in counseling, and in planning, because you can only do what you can do, and nothing more. We must honor our parents, while we’re young and when they’re old, and even after they’ve passed away. That is our chief responsibility to our parents. God reminds us of this parental priority: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Ex 20:12). That command is forever!

More reading for you: 10 Ways to Honor Your Parents

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible : English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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