"Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old" Proverbs 23:22
It disturbs me to hear a child yell at his parents, call them names, tell them to "shut up," and even slap them. But I do see and hear these things on occasion.
Parents who tolerate this kind of disrespectful behavior from their children are not only hurting the children, they are unraveling the fabric of their family and all of society. Churches, schools, the work place and even society at large must practice respect for one another and for the leaders within these communities if they are going to function in a way that is healthy and beneficial for the members. Training for that kind of respect begins at home, and where it is taught by the parents and appropriated by the children. Children must be taught to honor mom and dad.
Why should children be respectful toward their parents? I can think of at least three reasons. One, the parents have earned it. The Sage says, "Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old" (Proverbs 23:22). This verse has a parallel structure where the second part builds on the first. Part one emphasizes listening to your father who gave you life, and part two emphasizes loving your mother when she is old. The second part builds upon the first, meaning that mom deserves respect because she, too, gave you life. You wouldn’t have a life if it wasn’t for the love of your mother and father who birthed you.
The phrase "do not despise your mother" has an interesting parallel to Genesis 25:34 where it says that "Esau despised his birthright." That doesn’t necessarily man that he hated it, but that he didn’t regard it with proper honor. Because he didn’t honor his birthright he traded it for a measly bowl of beans. What a tragic loss. The injunction to not despise our mother doesn’t mean we are showing her proper honor if we don’t hate her; it means we should not ignore her needs or treat lightly her position as the exalted matriarch of the family.
Mothers and fathers spend years investing their time, energy and love into the lives of their children. The Bible honors that great work and says the children should as well. The command to respect parents is one of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:12; Lev. 19:3).
Secondly, children need to honor their parents because it is right. Respect is like the concrete in a wall. Concrete is hard and firm so it can uphold the building. Remove the firmness from the concrete and the walls will collapse, crushing everyone inside the structure.
In the same way, remove respect from a child’s relationship with his parents and the walls of the family will collapse. Children will not listen to and obey their parents if they don’t respect them. If they don’t listen to their parents then their leading counsel becomes the immature reasoning of their own minds or that of their friends. It is only through giving their ears and hearts to their parents that children learn wisdom and proper behavior and can hope for a meaningful and prosperous life (Prov. 3:1-2).
Finally, children need to honor their parents because it is biblical. "Honor your father and your mother" (Ex. 20:12). God emphasizes the importance of respecting parents when he ties it to his own personality. After saying in Lev. 19:3 that "Each of you must respect his mother and father" he adds "I am the Lord your God." There shouldn’t be any doubt about how seriously God regards this command! In fact, in ancient Israel a son who showed flagrant disrespect for his parents could be stoned.
Parents, our children will not naturally or automatically show us respect. They will not show politeness in speech nor decorum in behavior unless we teach them to. Their natural inclination will be to do their own thing, disobey us, talk back, yell and scream, throw a temper tantrum, even slap us. Many parents laugh when their children do these things. Perhaps they are embarrassed when it is done in front of others. Or, the parents may even think it is cute when coming from a tiny child. "Do you see how mad he is?" and then they laugh. But I tell you, if we tolerate that behavior, we are teaching our own little kids that they do not need to respect us. We are teaching them that our ideas, our values and our rules as the parents do not matter, and they can do whatever they want to. That might mean jumping on the sofa and making a face at mom at age 4; and it might mean shoplifting, drinking, and robbing from the neighbors when they are 14. Remember the stern warning from Proverbs that "a child left to himself (that is, untrained and undisciplined) disgraces his mother" (Prov. 29:15).
Do your children an immense favor! Teach them to respect you. Respecting you means they listen to and obey you in everything. It also means they don’t talk back to you or speak in fresh tones. Further, practice corrective discipline when they disobey, even when they are very young. If they are old enough to break the rules, they are old enough to have obedience enforced.
Respect will continue to be an issue in families even as children grow up and leave home. But if we can at least build a healthy base when they are 18 months to 3 years old, it makes the teenage years a whole lot more enjoyable!