How to Honor Your Parents as a Young Adult

Article by: Bridgehaven Team

In my counseling practice, I often see young adults who struggle in their relationship with their parents.  The majority of these clients are in college and in the transition period of leaving adolescence and entering adulthood. Relational struggles stem from the tension to “honor your parents” (whatever that means) while also voicing different thoughts and making independent decisions that may conflict with parents values or viewpoints.  Clients often ask me: So what does ”honor your parents” mean anyway?  What does it mean that I’m a young adult but they still treat me like a child? How do we “fight well” as two adults when conflict comes up, rather than like a parent and child?  I think Scripture gives guidance on this issue that can help navigate this tricky time.

An important clarification needs to be made here. This article speaks to young adults who grew up in safe environments with the common relational difficulties that exist within families.  This article does not speak to young adults who come from verbally, sexually or physically abusive backgrounds.  I believe honoring parents from those environments requires great skill, wisdom and discernment that this article does not address.

 Young adults are in a transition period of learning and embracing adulthood.   For many young adults, college is the time when they will explore all the implications of what it means to be an adult: making their own decisions, facing the consequences of those decisions, opening a checking account and being responsible to earn and spend their own money, making decisions about the jobs or careers they want to have, where they want to live, etc.  As they face these decisions, many young adults are eager and excited to begin their post college journeys.  Yet this transition period also means the relationship with their parents is transitioning as well.  Young adults are now no longer under their parents’ authority but what exactly does this new relationship look like?  What does “honor your parents” mean anyway?

 Honor Defined in Scripture

 Honor in Scripture means weighty or heavy.   Christians are to honor God by listening to His words and taking Him seriously.  We recognize and respect the authority He has over us, His creatures.  As Christians, not only do we show God honor but we also are to “Outdo one another in showing honor” to all men (Romans 12:10; 1 Peter 2:17).    That means that we have an internal attitude of respect and courtesy to one another as we recognize others are fellow image bearers of God and we treat them accordingly.

 God told his children though to specifically honor parents and included this command in the Ten Commandments that He gave to Israel in the wilderness. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12 ESV).  Later, God again emphasized the importance of this command by negatively restating the command, “that anyone who dishonors his father or mother shall be cursed” (Deuteronomy 27:16).  God desires children to obey their parents and recognize their authority over them.  God in fact promises that children who obey their parents will be rewarded.  Clearly, honoring all men, specifically your father and mother, is important to God. This command needs to be important to us as well.

 Parents As Neighbors

 As children grow up and become adults, though, the relationship between parents and children naturally changes. Parents no longer have authority over their children, rather, adult children now become, using the language of Scripture, “neighbors” to their parents.   God tells us what it means to love our neighbor:

  “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).

But what does that look like practically between parents and adult children?

            Listen and respect their opinion. Though parents no longer have authority over adult children, they should still be asked for advice. Most parents know their children pretty well and can give sound counsel. They know you best and love you, desiring what is best for you.  This doesn’t mean you have to follow their advice rather it means you should listen to them, respect their opinion, and seriously consider their advice.

            Communicate honestly with them.  Many adult children simply do not know how to talk with their parent as a peer.  These relationships can be emotionally charged which can make direct honest communication very difficult and tense.  It is important to recognize that the relationship dynamic has shifted, and new patterns of relating can occur.  Communicating directly and clearly about thoughts and feelings to a parent can be scary but creates a firm and healthy foundation for this new relationship dynamic to flourish.

            Realize it’s OK to disagree and make your own decisions.   As an adult your preferences over music, clothing and a host of other issues may be different from your parents and that is perfectly OK.  God created you to be your own unique person to worship and enjoy Him with your own personality, giftings, and beliefs.  Recognize you may feel internal pressure to please your parents but rejoice that God gave you freedom to make your own decisions (this includes where to spend holidays) that may be different from your parents views or beliefs.  So make your own decisions freely and wholeheartedly.

            Love them as your neighbor.  Remember Romans 13. “For the commandments…are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”  Seek your parents good by being patient, kind, helpful, challenging wrongdoing when needed, rejoicing with the truth and thus loving them–and honoring them–well (1 Corinthians 13).