To be a parent is to begin to emulate God. When we recognize parenthood for what it really is, we can see that it is a most sacred responsibility, a divine appointment given to us from our Father in Heaven. Parents whose children are sealed to them and who honor the temple covenants that bind them together are eternally blessed.
For many other reasons, ever since the finger of the Lord etched the Ten Commandments on the tablets of stone on Mt. Sinai, mankind has been instructed to honor father and mother. The Savior himself set a perfect example of honoring parents. (See Matt. 26:39; Luke 2:49; John 6:38.)
Honoring parents is a law that has two vital dimensions. In the first, we give honor to our earthly and heavenly parents, and in the second, we receive honor as parents ourselves.
To honor and respect our parents means that we have a high regard for them. We love and appreciate them and are concerned about their happiness and well-being. We treat them with courtesy and thoughtful consideration. We seek to understand their point of view. Certainly, obedience to parents’ righteous wishes and desires is a part of honoring.
In 1878 Elder Erastus Snow spoke of the beautifully continuous nature of this commandment when he said, “Honor your father and your mother, and let your father and mother honor their father and mother, and this is the chain of the Priesthood, and power let down from the eternities to man on earth. And may God enable us to grow in this chain, and climb higher and higher, onward and upward.” (Journal of Discourses, 2:278.) To love and honor our parents is to love and honor God.
Furthermore, our parents deserve our honor and respect for giving us life itself. Beyond this, they made countless sacrifices as they cared for and nurtured us through our infancy and childhood. Our parents provided us with the necessities of life. They nursed us through physical illnesses and through the emotional stresses of growing up. In many instances they provided us with the opportunity to receive an education, and in a measure, they educated us. Much of what we know and do, we learned from their example.
In most cases, our parents did the best job of raising us that they knew how to do. Because parents are imperfect people who make mistakes, children may sometimes question whether their parents deserve to be honored. Parents may be irritable and impatient, make poor judgments, or practice habits that are annoying or offensive to their children. However, no matter how difficult it may be, neither we nor our children are exempt from honoring our parents.
In an article about learning to forgive our parents in order to better honor them, Sherrie Johnson wrote:
“At some point most of us … need to forgive our parents for some aspects of our upbringing. Unless we do, we feel unnecessary pain and suffering. …
“Forgiving those close to us for faults in our relationships is possibly the most difficult kind of forgiveness. But it is an important key to a happy life and is absolutely essential to eternal progression.” (Ensign, Jan. 1985, p. 58.)
As parents ourselves, we should do all we can to deserve the honor our children are commanded to give us. But we cannot demand it ourselves; it can only be given.
Like all righteous desires, our desire to enjoy the honor of our children depends largely upon our own efforts and attitudes. Elder Royden G. Derrick offered a good formula for honoring parents when he said, “Respect for those that preceded us begets respect from those that follow.” If our children see us showing concern, appreciation, and regard for our parents, they will be inclined to treat us the same way.
This is also true of how we treat our spouse and immediate family. When a husband is sincerely grateful for his wife’s efforts, children will learn to be grateful also. If he frequently expresses appreciation to her for a satisfying meal, an orderly home, and clean clothes, the children will learn to express appreciation. If father takes these services for granted, so will the children.
Giving love, freely and completely, is the surest way for parents to enjoy the closest possible relationships with their children. In giving such love, we become most like God.
A loving example brings honor as nothing else can. We must cultivate and exemplify this correct principle and then allow our children the freedom to receive it as they will. One of the most common ways parents fail is by withholding love from children whose choices differ from their own. There is no honor or love in force or domination. No matter what else is right or wrong in the home or in the family, we honor our parenthood most when we have a loving spirit about us.
Apart from the love and honor parents give each other, a parent can help children plan specific activities to honor his or her partner. One father, for example, encouraged each child to surprise Mother by doing one of her routine jobs on a special day set aside to show appreciation to her. That night at family home evening, the children expressed their love for Mother and each told something special Mother had done for them.
In another home, a father challenged his children to discover their mother’s special gifts and talents. For a week they compiled the list. The mother was truly touched when the family acknowledged her gifts and expressed their appreciation for her.
Every family should be encouraged to initiate some sort of special effort to acknowledge their mother’s special gifts, talents, and efforts.
Mothers can similarly help children plan numerous ways to honor their father. They may plan a special dinner where each child helps prepare Dad’s favorite food. Or on a selected Saturday, the children could clean the garage, wash the car, or shine his shoes. Perhaps a program could be planned, dramatizing highlights from Father’s past or displaying the family’s musical talents as a way of showing appreciation for the music lessons Father makes possible.
In one family, each child wrote a special letter to their father on his birthday. One wrote: “Dear Dad, Happy Birthday! You’re the greatest man I know and you deserve the best. Sometimes I hear friends saying unkind things about their parents. I’m so glad that I have someone like you as a dad whom I never feel a need to criticize. I love you so much. Thanks for the many things you do for me and, most of all, for your great example. I hope that I can become as you are!”
The possibilities are endless. And once a family begins to make special efforts to express appreciation for parents and one another, they become pleasant memories that are fun to repeat, building solid family unity.
When we honor our parents, we bring happiness to them and we become better, happier people ourselves. And as we sincerely and consistently honor and respect our children, we will have the joy and blessing of being loved, honored, and respected by them.
The following questions may help us take personal inventory of our worthiness to be honored:
Are our lives righteous examples for our children to follow?
Are we honest?
Are we law-abiding?
Are our thoughts, speech, and actions pure and chaste?
Do we frequently express our love and appreciation to our children?
Do we show love for them even when they least deserve it?
Do we listen to them with genuine interest?
Are we supportive of their interests and activities?
Are we fair and consistent with discipline?
Are we firm in setting reasonable limits?
Do we avoid scolding or ridiculing a child in the presence of others?
Do we show respect for a child’s feelings even when we cannot accept his behavior?
Do we show trust and confidence in our children?
Do we give children opportunities to make their own decisions and choices?
Do we encourage children to fulfill their own dreams, goals, and ambitions?