Showing Respect to a Disagreeable Elder

Can you tell me what it means to "honor" (Exodus 20:12) a parent who has become increasingly cranky, feisty, disagreeable, and demanding as a result of Alzheimer's disease and the aging process? My mom was once a sweet, caring, and soft-spoken woman, but all that has changed dramatically over the past few years. I can hardly stand to be around her anymore! How does one "honor" a person like that?

There’s no doubt about it – caring for an aging loved one involves sacrifice and self-discipline, especially when he or she is grumpy, irritable or ungrateful. With all the challenges you’re facing, how can you stay motivated to keep on caring when you feel slighted and unappreciated? What will help you to persevere when you’re weary? Love goes a long way toward energizing and motivating you to care for your mother, but the key word is honor. In fact, honor is genuine love in action. It proves the sincerity of your love.

We should begin, then, by defining “honor.” Honor implies choosing to give great respect and care to our elders – not grudgingly, but from a principle of love and out of genuine concern for their needs. True honor is placing the highest value on our loved ones regardless of whether they deserve it or not. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit empowers our efforts when we make a decision to follow His will. Once we have made the decision to honor our elders, feelings of affection often follow.

Once you’ve made this choice, the key issue is knowing how to fulfill the biblical mandate to honor elderly loved ones. The fifth commandment – “Honor your father and mother” – doesn’t mention specifics. It has nothing to say about nursing homes, pensions or Medicare. There is no verse in Scripture that obligates you to take aging parents into your home or cancel your vacation plans to pay for their prescriptions. Instead, the art of honoring a cranky elder is based on intuitive knowledge. That knowledge, in turn, is rooted in your own personal commitment to God. Out of that commitment and your day-to-day interactions with your mother will grow an awareness of practical ways you can serve her and care for her immediate needs. This might mean sharing your home and offering financial support. It could also involve seeking support services, filling out endless health insurance forms, providing transportation and communicating with doctors.

Here’s a list of eight simple, down-to-earth suggestions of ways you can express honor for an aging parent:

  • Visit her several times a week in order to assist her with personal grooming needs – for example, bathing, hair care and manicure.
  • Get friends and relatives to write encouraging notes to your mom on various cards, postcards, stickers, and stationery. Put these notes in a big basket trimmed with roses and present it to her on her birthday. She’ll love reading the cards over and over again.
  • Show respect for your mother’s ideas, biblical knowledge, and relationship with the Lord by asking her to advise you on spiritual matters. Say something like, “What does the Bible say about this? What do you think I should do in this situation?”
  • Ask your siblings to help you put together an album of photos and keepsakes, including a personal letter from each member of the family telling your mom what she has meant to them over the years.
  • Celebrate the special moments in your mother’s life, and be sure to include your children in the party. You can always count on teenagers to make a big deal of things!
  • Make an “ABC Book” of adjectives describing your mother’s virtues and positive attributes – for instance, C for “caring” and G for “generous.” When the book is finished, take her out to dinner and present it to her at the conclusion of the meal.
  • If possible, include your mother in family games. Divide yourself up into teams and play Scrabble or Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit . When necessary, be sure to alter the rules of the game in order to accommodate her needs.
  • Listen to your mom when she talks. It’s amazing how much respect and honor you can express for someone simply by lending them an attentive ear and expressing genuine interest in their thoughts.

Finally, remember that it’s never too late – or too soon – to love and honor your elders. As you seek to honor your mother, your love for her will grow and your relationship with her will be enriched. If you feel a need to discuss any of these concepts with a member of our staff, feel free to call Focus on the Family’s Counseling department.


Caring for Aging Parents


Caregiver Action Network

National Association of Area Agencies on Aging

Caring for Ill or Aging Parents

Elderly Care

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