Parents are gods.
At least that’s how it seems when we’re children.
Before I explain, let me provide some context. I’ve recently found myself in some conversations with people who struggle with aspects of their upbringing. For the purposes of this column, I’ll merge their stories into a character we’ll call Sam.
Sam is 25 and trying to figure life out. Over coffee, he tells me about his immediate plans and shares a few of his dreams. The longer we talk, the more I learn about his past. As the middle child, his parents always overlooked him. He didn’t have the same athletic ability as his older brother, and he wasn’t nearly as cute and sassy as his kid sister. The few times he did get noticed, it was for something he was doing wrong.
And talk about discipline! His parents were strict. He couldn’t get away with anything, and the punishment never fit the crime. Looking back, he really can’t think of a time that his parents showed grace. They talked about it and preached about it, but they were always right, and he was treated like an idiot whenever he dared to have an opinion.
And at 25, they still try to control his life. They constantly provide subtle—and not-so-subtle—suggestions about the decisions he should make. They hovered over him as a child, and they just won’t stop. They’ve been helping with his cellphone bill and have threatened to take that away if he doesn’t make some changes in his behavior.
As I listen to Sam, I start to reflect on my own upbringing. I remember experiencing so much resentment and anger. I never questioned whether my parents cared for me, but at times I was certain they weren’t acting on that affection. They were only thinking about themselves.
And then I tell Sam that parents are gods. At least, at first.
When you’re young (grade school and under), your view of your parents isn’t that dissimilar to your understanding of God.
Think about it: Your parents created you. They gave you life. They provided food and shelter for you. They created the rules and provided the discipline. It seemed like they knew everything. They could fix all of your problems.
In so many ways, they were so much bigger and better than you.
Most of us were raised in an environment where we naturally elevated our parents to a status they should have never had. The only place to go from this high standing is down—and usually a child’s view of their parents falls pretty fast.
They go from gods to demons almost overnight.
Somewhere in your teenage years, it seems that your parents can do nothing right. In fact, you are pretty sure they’re against you completely. They make up ridiculous rules and try to trap you. They dole out unfair consequences that humiliate you in front of your friends.
They are hypocrites. You realize that they keep telling you to do things, but they do the exact opposite themselves.
And they criticize everything you do. Your grades aren’t good enough. Your interests aren’t appropriate. Your choice of clothing is unacceptable. (But somehow Dad’s pleated khakis are OK?)
When we realize that our parents aren’t gods, we quickly believe that they are the opposite. And this is true for my friend Sam.
At 25, he has grown to resent his parents. He’s not even sure how important it is to have a relationship with them moving forward.
I listen to Sam and think about what my children will be like in a handful of years. All four of them are currently 10 or younger. I know how broken I am and how I hope that one day they won’t hold my brokenness against me. And I hope that I won’t hold theirs against them.
So, I tell Sam, “Your parents aren’t gods, and they’re not demons. They’re somewhere in between. They’re human.”
I continue, “Sam, at some point, you need to stop and look back with a different perspective. Your parents were never perfect, no matter how much you thought they were. And they were never out to destroy you, either. Your parents were just figuring out life one day at time, just like you are.”
It’s time for Sam to respectfully see that his parents are not that much different than him. He knows that he has character flaws and critical weaknesses that cause him to struggle daily. He needs to see that his parents are no different.
Every parent has moments, maybe even seasons, they wish they could go back and undo.
You may have never found yourself with the same feelings that my friends like Sam are dealing with, but if you have, you’re not alone. I carried around a fair amount of bitterness and probably even more blame.
Even today, as I struggle with my own humanity, I fight the urge to fault my upbringing. I want to go back and correct the mistakes that others made. But I can’t do that.
But there are things that Sam and I can do. And it starts with the commandment, “‘Honor your father and your mother’” (Exodus 20:12).
Notice that there is no expiration date. It doesn’t say, “When you are a toddler, honor your father and mother.” Notice also that there are no conditions. It doesn’t say, “When your parents are perfect, honor your father and mother.”
We can honor our parents by increasing our capacity to give grace. My parents didn’t make it their mission to destroy my life. Quite the opposite. My parents had an unwavering desire for my good.
I don’t need to wait for them to apologize for being imperfect. I can honor them by treating them with respect and by realizing that they aren’t gods.
They’re not demons. They’re human, just like me.
Steve Young is a Children’s Ministry associate at Southeast’s Blankenbaker Campus.