What does "honoring" parents really mean?


I have a hard time understanding what is really meant by the commandment to honor parents. So many other commandments are much more clear-cut, but this one has a lot of room for interpretation, determining what is “honoring” can be very “subjective” .

I went back and read many many threads on this subject, and so many of them dealt with parents who were abusive, alcoholic, etc. What about parents who are not? What about parents who are nice people, who are not abusive, but are instead supportive and kind? And then consider a son or daughter of such a parent who is neglectful, indifferent, or, even worse, offensive, mean, rude or otherwise mistreats their father or mother. Is this son or daughter committing a mortal sin?

I once listened to a television program on the 10 commandments. It wasn’t a Catholic program, just a general interest program that included interviews with various knowledgeable individuals. When it came to this commandment, a Rabbi said that honoring your father and mother meant that children should do everything they could to make their parents’ life as good as they possibly could, with the provision that the child should not go so overboard that taking care of their parents somehow makes it impossible to care for their own children/family.

On one hand, I see that the “ideal” may be a child who goes out of their way to make their parents’ life pleasant. Well, that sounds very nice, but I don’t know how realistic it is in the world today. So I am looking at the alternative. What about parents who have done everything they could for their children, prepared them for successful lives, took care of them, educated them, etc. And now those children are adults in their 20’s or 30’s or even older. Shouldn’t these adult children be respectful and kind to their parents? Shouldn’t the parents reasonably expect to be treated with dignity by such children? And if not, if the children are disrespectful, mean, cruel, etc. (there must be lots of different examples!) aren’t the children committing a mortal sin? Where do you draw the line?

I see so many examples of this these days, pampered children growing up and treating their parents terribly. There are lots to read about abusive parents, but what about abusive adult children? What are their obligations? This is a real conundrum for me.


I am honoring my 80-year-old mother by putting my life on hold to take care of her. I quit a good job, sold my house and moved in with her. She has first dibs on my time, I take care of her and her house which will someday be mine. All other time is mine to spend wisely, mostly church related activities, etc.

Not everybody is in a position to do this, but I am, therefore, I should. Since the death of her mother 30 years ago and 950 miles away, this arrangement has been an unspoken agreement between us.

Is this the type of example you’re looking for?


The CCC gives a good explanation of the commandment. I don’t find it to be vague at all:



Thank to everyone, that’s very helpful.



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