First Steps to Honoring Difficult Parents

Our Nebraska hunting trip 2010. We still talk about how great a time we had.

The last couple posts were intense. If you are estranged from your living parents, or if you hold grudges toward them in any way, read Part 1 and Part 2 of this short series. I’m telling you now: reaching out to your folks will bring healing in your life. I dare say that honoring your parents is unlike much anything else you can do for yourself and your family.

You may have had difficult parents growing up, and perhaps they’re not all that great today either. Asking you to reconcile with your parents is like asking you to move a mountain. It just so happens that moving mountains in life is possible (Matthew 17:20). Here are some ideas.

1. Pray about it.

Go on, get on your knees and pray to God about your crummy relationship with your folks. You may think you’re all grown up now and you have kids of your own – you may even puff yourself up about how much better of a parent you are than your mom or dad. Get off that high horse, friend, and instead get on your knees. Try a prayer like this:

Dear God, you know I hold anger in my heart toward my living parents. I need your help to get over that. I like to think I’m all grown up and a better parent than them, but there are unresolved issues with my folks that need work. I’m not sure how to start working on that, so please show me the way.

This is a big deal. God will start working on you if you honestly open up to Him this way. Don’t wait for God to change your folks. Ask God to change you.

Pray with your spouse, too. The resentment toward your parents may be shared.

2. Think on the good things.

Start transforming your thinking toward your parents. Don’t give excuses for why you can’t. Love your parents like Christ loves you. He doesn’t focus first on your sins and your shortcomings. He first comes into your life, loves you for the sinner you are, and starts the relationship from there.

Wendy talked to a group of homeschool ladies about this recently. She was speaking toward the idea of loving the difficult child, but the same kind of love can be applied to difficult parents. Listen to this short clip about transforming our thinking:

  • Wendy on Affirmations of Love:

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    Read more on Wendy’s speaking.

Just like praying, this is a big deal. Especially if your parents are unstable or deranged. I challenge you to seek the good things. This is not impossible; stop telling yourself that. Think, if you must, of your parents as lost souls who need to be witnessed to. Some of the most profound relational healing happen in prisons, brutal third world countries, and inner cities. We’re inspired by stories of ministries that reach out to the lost. Without fail, these stories start from God-loving people who seek the good in the criminal, the destitute, and the delinquent.

Don’t your parents deserve the same kind of love? I’d argue that everyone deserves this chance. The results aren’t always perfect, but breakthroughs happen more often than the skeptic will admit. God’s love is powerful. You’ll discover (like so many ministers do) that your parents are beautiful people who can bring great joy to you and your family’s life.

3. Schedule time.

If you are a busy parent like me, you may think this is the toughest of the three ideas. “Fit in time with my folks? They live 800 miles away! I haven’t really talked with them for years! I can hardly relate to them anymore! I’ve got umpteen kids that need my attention, and you’re saying I should give my elderly parents my time? No way!”

Cast these thoughts aside and start making some plans. Here are some ideas:

  • Relive a childhood past-time. For my dad and me, we went hunting. We brought some of the kids, too. The heritage of hunting is a deep healing reality in our family.
  • Vacation. My sister has made this convenient for me: she owns a fishing resort in northern Minnesota. Not much compares to hanging around for a week doing little but catching northern.
  • Do a project together. I helped my mom build her own blog. She’s like a little kid discovering the depths of the Internet community. She Skypes me often to ask me questions about blogging.

You’ll be surprised at how easy this one is – and probably the most rewarding. When the time is scheduled, let the conversations roll. Here has been my experience:

  • In 2010, Dad got altitude sickness on one of our hunts. I had to take a 3-hour drive down the mountain to meet my mom to take him back home. It was disappointing that the hunt had to be cut short, but those three hours of “windshield” time was the best conversation I have ever had with my father.
  • My parents love the early mornings. The coffee pot is kept filled as we sit in the living room (perhaps in a cabin at my sister’s resort) talking about whatever. It doesn’t matter what. The topic can be the simplest topics on the face of the earth.
  • As mentioned, my mom Skypes me in the mornings for help with her blog. I rarely ignore the interruption. I can’t tell you how many times the talks lead to deeper conversations about this or that.

A key point here: don’t expect depths of your relationship to be resolved before the first cup of coffee is finished. It doesn’t matter. Just spend time together and let the Holy Spirit bring things up as needed. And don’t bring up issues that you know are points of contention (for me, I avoid politics like the plague). Just let the conversation – the love – flow.

These are all prompts to help rebuild the relationship with your folks. It’s worth a try. And really, do you have much to lose? I cannot emphasize enough: you have so much to gain.

Does this resonate with you? Our situations are all different, but I believe the ending of our stories should be the same. We should all enjoy our sunsetting parents while we’re in our parenting prime. It isn’t right for adults to be estranged from their parents. I’d appreciate your thoughts on your challenges to fix this. Please share them in the comment section below.

About Chris Jeub

Chris is the father of 16 children, busily running the family businesses and learning the depths of love along the way.

  • Janetkiessling

    Thank you…………there are times that I think I need reminding of this……then there are times that I don’t think that I do. One foot in front of the other sometime times – right? We are not estranged – my mom & I. She was abusive growing up to the 3 of us. I have forgiven her – but we are not close. I guess I just wanted her to apologize, too! But oh well, At family gatherings – I do “chit-chat”..but nothing much deeper than that!
    Thanks again……….Have a great Sunday!!! :)

  • Stephanie Neujahr

    Chris, your points are right on.  I so appreciated reading this, I don’t have contention with my parents it’s more my in laws and I feel that is just as important to resolve and forgive whether they deserve it or not.  Because it’s truly what the Lord asks us to do, do it with nothing in return.  Honor your parents, that also means in laws and there was a good reason God made that one of his ten commandments.  So thank you for taking the time to write this.

  • SamanthaF

    What would you do if it is your parent who wants nothing to do with you?  My father raised me as a single dad and ever since I was 18 he relished having the “burden” (me) taken away from him.  (And said as much)  He only pops in now once in a blue moon to ask for money and since the money stopped being given he now wants nothing to do with me or my family and his grandchildren.  I pray every day for God to take away my bitterness towards him, but that has only taken me to not hating him and praying for him(a big step in my case).  Not sure how to “honor” someone who makes it clear they don’t care about you in any way.

    • Chris Jeub

      Wow, your situation sounds awful. But it sounds like you have taken some significant steps. You pray for him and don’t hate him? That’s huge! And, I would argue, very honoring.

      I don’t know your details, but have you considered maybe you’re carrying some false guilt? “False” meaning that you think you are to blame. You’re not honoring your dad enough…if you honored him better then he would change his crummy behavior…if you somehow changed your behavior that God would intervene and change your dad.

      Sorry if I am encroaching on this, just a surface impression from your comment. Thank you so much for posting this!