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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