What Responsibility Do Adult Children Have To Their Elderly Parents?

How far must an adult child go to care for their elderly parents? Is it sin to place them in a nursing home?

Honoring Your Parents

When God gave the Ten Commandments, the first four are vertical and are directed toward Him, but the next six are horizontal, and they deal with how we relate to one another, and the very first horizontal commandment given to our relating to one another is the commandment to honor our father and mother (Ex 20:12). God has placed the sixth commandment to honor our parents first, perhaps meaning it is above all other horizontal commandments in importance to God. Think about this; a parent who teaches their child the principles of the Bible will have a child less likely to steal, covet, and murder because they know God forbids these. Biblical examples of others breaking these commandments give them ample evidence of the cause and effect of breaking them. It teaches children the consequences of breaking God’s law before they learn this the hard way. Teaching the Ten Commandments teaches the child what God is like because the character of God. God commands all young children, teens, young adults, and grown children to honor their mother and father, not because they necessarily deserve it, but because it is commanded. Honoring our parents is not conditioned upon their being good parents or not just as our salvation isn’t conditional upon how many good works we do. And, God ties in a longer life on this earth with honoring our parents, as the commandment precisely says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Ex 20:12). Since this commandment is true, we could look at how it would be if we’re not honoring our parents; that our days may not “be long in the land that the Lord [our] God is giving [us].”


Hard Decisions

When a parent is aging to the point that they might present a danger to themselves and others when living alone, then it is time to make a very hard and possibly painful decision about how to care for their parents. Not many families that I know of will have the time to be living with an elderly parent or have the ability to have an elderly parent live in their home, especially for those who are at risk of falling or other unpredictable behavior that could put themselves or others at risk, so how far must an adult child go to care for their elderly parents? Is it sin to place them in a nursing home? Does God command adult children to take their parents into their own home to care for them? What if they’re not able to do this? What if they can’t afford the intensive 24/7 care that may be required? Would God consider it sin if the adult child had to place their parent in a nursing home or assisted care facility, particularly if they couldn’t afford the cost? Does God require a child to care for their elder parent or parents to the point of spending all their savings? The last question should be obvious. If we bankrupt ourselves taking care of our elderly parents, then we cannot be much help to them afterwards. At that point, we’ll no longer be in a position to care for them, and in fact, we’ll hardly be in a position to care for ourselves. God does not expect the command, “Honor your father and mother,” to bring us to the point of selling all we have and spending all our savings to care for our parents. Honestly, it’s not good to overburden a family to the point that the family itself is suffering, and a family that’s in financial trouble cannot be much help to anybody, parents included!

Giving Honor

If we honor our father or mother, we should honor them even after death. It is certainly un-honorable to speak evil of one’s deceased parents, but to do so while they are living. I remember an old friend of mine who turned bitter over his parents shortcomings. He blamed them for his life. He was always the victim, but little did he realize that God commands us all to honor our father and mother, and it isn’t based upon their performance. When we speak evil about our parents, we’re rebelling against God. That’s because none of us deserved God’s good grace. Not one of us could boast about anything we have in life (1st Cor 4:7), so to dishonor our parents, whether living or dead, is not only breaking God’s law, it is breaking you or me. Many of the prisoners I speak with say they rebelled against their parents and got what they deserved, yet there is the mother (in most cases) still writing her son in prison, and sending him or her money when she can. Children who don’t honor their parents probably don’t honor a lot of other people, even though we’re told to “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1st Pet 2:17), and remember that the emperor was a very wicked man. The Apostle Paul writes, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom 12:10). Paul extends this honoring of others, even to the tax collector, writing, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Rom 13:7).  Our parents are certainly owed honor.


If we’re told to honor those to whom it is due in society, then how much more should we honor our own parents, and honor the elderly as far as that goes. Honoring parents is speaking well of them publically and to their face; it is helping them whenever you can and with the resources you have; it is speaking honorably about them while they’re living and after they’ve passed away; it is providing for elderly parents in as far as it is possible financially; but you cannot care for your parents if you are forced into bankruptcy or financial ruin, and it is not sin to have them live in an assisted care facility or nursing home if a family can’t afford to care for them or is unable to attend to them 24/7, however, once they’re there, we must make sure to honor them on their birthdays, anniversaries, and such, so that you can honor them and bring them pleasure and please God. That’s why James wrote, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is host of Spiritual Fitness and also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Dave Zanderson

    Some people (like me) are doing just fine living alone but they do want to be missed should a problem arise. See http://www.sayokay365.com for a solution to that that…

  • pud

    There is no such thing as “sin”…demonstrate that “sin” exists.

    “Gods” do not NEED to be “pleased”…”gods” by definition do not require anything let alone your pitiful actions.

    Parents should be honored if they deserve it and earned it

  • pud

    One of your greatest problems jack (there are many) is your totally dysfunctional sense of scale. You think that bringing grandma a posy at the nursing home “pleases god” Leaving aside the fact that no “god” exists and your particular moral monster of a “god” cannot exist…this imagery is infinitely out of scale. In your delusional version of reality this “being” just sits “up there” watching everything as if it was a series on Netfilx, smiling at the little good deeds and frowning at all the mischief his little creatures do around the clock. Forgetting your nonsense of this “being” being the creator of universes who has existed for eternity you have mentally ill visions of the almighty spending every day being entertained by the antics of the inhabitants of this little speck in space. You see giraffes heads poking out the window of the ark, invisible demons sitting on shoulders speaking temptations into peoples ears and you fantasize a reality no different than a Lord of the Rings sequel with YOU at the center of all things. How infantile can a grown man be? You do have an infantile mind. You close your ears and eyes to actual truth to maintain your imaginary reality. You “believe” in a BOOK not what we can show, prove, demonstrate or logically assume. You put the full measure of your trust in ancient documents written by religious lunatics you know nothing about and shun the actual history of the evolution of your particular cult. Just like a willful child….no proportion, no scale, no evidence required, no logic or reason applied…just like a child. Your cult has prevented you from growing up and here you are passing along the same infantile delusions to actual children to earn your living….how disgusting. By and large all of you cult members are children. You refer to your deity as “father” which makes you the dependent child as you await instruction as to what to do, think and say. Infantile jack….you are a man/child who mentally has never grown up and likely never will. Pitiful.

  • Maltnothops

    Some states have final responsibility laws, although mostly they are not enforced. PA has enforced its law, however, by suing children who fail to support their indigent parents. Typically the parents have been in long term care and the costs were covered by Medicaid.

    ETA: that should have been ‘filial” responsibility laws

  • Voice-from-the-womb

    The idea of “speaking evil” of one’s parents is interesting. But this could not include honestly speaking of evil deeds done by a parent – that is, if your parent molested you or beat you or spoke evil untruths about you (“you are worthless,” etc.), it could not be sinful to honestly state that your parent did this and that it was wrong.

    Why? Because our God is a God of truth. Because if you say anyone other than God has no sin, you lie and the truth is not in you. Because bearing false witness is in the Ten Commandments, too. Proverbs has a lot to say about the offense to God in denouncing the innocent and clearing the guilty.

    “The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them.” [1 Timothy 5:24]

    I am curious how you would characterize wise, respectful response as an adult child in this sort of scenario.

    • Jack Wellman

      I like how you separated the acts from the role of parent. I could see great difficulty in honoring someone who has physically abused and sexaully abused so it would take an act of God, or the very power of God to enable one to respond in a godly way. Since Jesus prayed for forgiveness for those who were nailing Him to the cross, and to pray for our enemies and bless them that curse us, I would imagine what Jesus would do in such a case….and then think that God died for us while still ungodly, wicked sinners who were His enemies (Rom 5:6-10),. Otherwise my friend, you are asking for something I can give you…it must come from God.

      • Evermyrtle

        There is nothing on earth lower, than any parent who will sexually abuse his/her child!!! Remember, makes no difference if you believe or not “GOD is looking, He sees all things and will judge all things!”