“No, no, no ….” I groaned, as I watched a Korean drama on TV the other night. A man in his early 30’s with a modernized bowl-cut rubbed his palms together, begging his mother to let him date the love of his life. His love was a lady in her mid 20’s. Pretty, kind, intelligent, and predictably, from a poor family. The man’s mother not only refused her son’s request, but also threatened to inflict damage upon the woman’s family if her son did not break up.
The man yields to his mother, goes for a drive with his girlfriend, pulls over abruptly to the curb without looking over his shoulder for blind spots, and tells her they must break up. She says his name, and nothing else. He apologizes and cries. She cries too, and apologizes for being such a burden to him and his family. (Cue very sad theme song).
Is this scene familiar to you? Not only from a TV perspective, but also from a personal pressure to obey your parents in various forms? Many equate the biblical command of honoring one’s parents with the call to obey one’s parents, even into adulthood.
I am sure people of all cultures can relate to this pressure, but I think that Western society promotes a message of adulthood that differs greatly from traditional Asian culture. A Westerner shows they are an adult when they demonstrate an ability to blaze their own trail. An Asian, though, is often seen as rebellious when they want to strike out on their own.
I grew up in a white neighborhood, and when I went over to friends’ homes as a kid, I would often hear my friends’ parents saying things like, “Once [my friend] is 18, he’s on his own.” Movies like Wayne’s World and Failure to Launch lampoon the concept of adults resisting independence from parents. In contrast, if you watch Korean dramas enough (like me), you will see many a parent losing consciousness when their adult children want to leave the nest.
I’d like to shed light on the problems I witness from the therapist’s chair when adults feel the need to honor parents by obeying them. I would then like to start a dialogue about changes that can be made in this generation, to honor parents in ways that are hopefully culturally and biblically appropriate.
Contributing Factors to the Dilemma
There are at least two contributing factors to this difficult issue of honor and obedience. The first is the Confucian role ethic which most Asian cultures have based their societies upon. Briefly stated, Confucius set forth a societal system in which people have roles to fill, such as father, mother, son, daughter, first son, youngest daughter, etc. One is honorable when they fulfill their role well.
Included in the role of children is the concept of filial piety, that is, obedience to one’s parents. This role does not change when one becomes an adult. In fact, even when one’s parents are deceased, filial piety can live on in honor of their memory. Korean dramas reflect this role ethic, yet more recently reflect the growing protest against this tradition.
The second factor that comes to mind is the biblical command to honor one’s parents. Christians who hold fast to the Confucian role ethic will make an easy hermeneutical jump to link honoring parents with obeying parents. It makes for quite a package deal. You get all the goodies that come with obeying parents, such as avoidance of conflict, praise from your parents, the feelings of being a good child, and to top it all off, you feel obedient to God!
But what problems arise?
- I see paralysis and emotional stress when faced with the prospect of going against parents’ wishes. This stress manifests itself in physical symptoms, as well as acting out through addictions to self-soothe.
- I see adults describing their frustration of feeling like a small child when in the presence of their parents.
- I see adults lying to their parents to keep up the charade that they are obeying them, so as not to upset them.
- I see women enraged and losing respect for their man when they feel the man is married to his mom. When this conflict plays out long enough, divorce gets placed on the discussion table.
These are but a few examples, and these are no small problems. The cost of obeying parents as an adult is taking a toll. What can be done?
The question is not shall we honor. The better question is, in what way shall we honor?
One starting suggestion is directed towards Christians. Base your understanding of biblical honor towards parents on the whole canon of Scripture, not just on one verse. Consider these ideas:
- Study the teachings of leaving and cleaving.
- Observe how the patriarchs honored their elders.
- Read about Jesus’ interactions with his mother.
- Read Paul’s instructions for spousal duties to one another.
By doing so, you will gain wisdom with which to determine whether your behavior and decisions are firstly honoring to God. Chances are that if you are truly God honoring, you are honoring to parents, honoring to spouse and children, and yes, honoring to yourself. A culture in which the canon of Scripture is ignored for the sake of keeping alive the culture is, in my opinion, a culture to be re-evaluated.
Another suggestion is inspired by the thoughts shared by Reverend Harold Kim of Christ Central Southern California in an interview with Christianity Daily on May 27, 2015. In the interview, Pastor Harold described how his church initiated and fostered relationship with the first generation, showing appreciation and openness. I believe this same approach can do wonders on a personal level with one’s family.
Parents desire to be and feel honored. Obedience may be the one way they know how to achieve this. Sometimes simply expressing your dilemma can be eye-opening for parents. I wonder how dynamics might change if adult children would be more pro-active in fostering relationship with their parents, in showing appreciation and communicating at a heart level.
Parents are not just parents. They are people who experienced much in life, including war in their homeland. They are filled with deep thoughts, needs, fears and dreams. Being genuinely interested in them may be one of the most honoring things we do. Other ideas include figuring out their love language and speaking it often, giving them spending money, setting up a special occasion for tribute with family and friends.
Coming up with ideas to honor parents on both sides can be a family affair. When parents feel honor at a deep emotional level, their need for respect via obedience often dissipates.
Feel free to comment, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Blessings to you, and happy honoring! (Cue very happy and honorable theme song).