There comes a time in every child’s life when they cross into adulthood. In some ways, the moment is culturally defined. For example, in the Jewish tradition, a boy is considered a man at 13. In America, the threshold of adulthood recognized by law is 18.
Age differs from society to society. And an individual’s level of maturity also impacts the journey. But the basic idea is the same: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11, ESV).
Normal changes in the parent-child relationship
Once a child becomes an adult, the parent-child relationship should change. You’re becoming your parents’ peer instead of a dependent minor. You’re moving toward a position of self-responsibility and becoming accountable to a higher authority — the authority of God Himself.
In God’s eyes and under His leadership, you transition into a separate and self-determining person. You have the right to leave home and make your own way in the world, whether or not you take immediate advantage of the chance.
At this point, your personal decisions must be based on something more than a matter of simple submission to Mom’s and Dad’s rules. You have to choose to act on the wisdom they’ve built in you over the years and out of an awareness of your personal responsibility toward your Creator. For example:
- If you go to church, it should be because you have a heartfelt desire to serve Christ and connect with His people — not because your parents “make” you go.
- If you stay away from drugs and alcohol, it should be because you understand the negative consequences of substance abuse and want to honor your body as the temple of the Holy Spirit.
- If you get to bed at a decent hour on weeknights, it should be because you want to be at your best for school or work the next morning — not because you’re sticking to an enforced curfew.
There’s a difference between obeying and honoring
Now, none of this means that you have the right to treat your parents dismissively or to criticize their values and opinions.
Christians know that there is no justification for treating another person with disrespect. And as your mother and father’s peer, you’re obligated to submit to them not as your parents but as fellow human beings and as your brother and sister in Christ (see Ephesians 5:21; Philippians 2:3; I Peter 5:5).
In addition, there’s no age limit to the biblical command to honor our parents. As Paul writes (quoting Exodus 20:12), “‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land'” (Ephesians 6:2-3, ESV).
Honor implies choosing to give respect and care to another person — not grudgingly, but out of love and a true desire to do what’s right in the sight of God. Genuine honor is placing the highest value on our loved ones regardless of whether we agree with them or not. It also means giving them the benefit of the doubt wherever possible. Conflict is inevitable, but in most cases, you can be pretty sure that your parents are looking out for your best interests.
On the other hand, “honoring” your parents after you’ve become an adult doesn’t mean you have to do whatever they want. A parent might wish that an adult child would accept every piece of advice they offer — but that’s unrealistic. Or a parent might ask the adult child to behave in ways that are unhealthy, unwise, or even harmful (for example, by requiring the child to have Sunday dinner at the parents’ house every week despite conflict with the child’s spouse). In these cases, it’s important to learn how to stand your ground firmly but lovingly.
We’re here to help
We don’t know the details of what led you to ask your question. However, it’s not uncommon to find this transitional phase in the parent-child relationship kind of rough. When there’s a struggle for control between parents and adult children, there usually are deeper concerns — often around respect and personal boundaries.
Would you like to talk more? Call us for a free over-the-phone consultation. Our licensed or pastoral counselors would be glad to help. They can also give you referrals to Christian family counselors in your area. In the meantime, dig into the resources listed here.
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