“Honour thy father and thy mother”
For my interfaith homework, I am reflecting on a chapter of the book, The Ten Challenges: Spiritual Lessons from the Ten Commandments, by Leonard Felder. So far I have got a lot out of reading this book. It has helped me to integrate the peace and contemplativeness of the Sabbath into my hectic life; it has helped me to challenge the childish version of God I had rebelled against and come up with a more mature version of the Divine that I can work with as an adult. I am up to chapter 5: how to honour a parent even if there is tension between you and the parent. Felder recommends the following steps:
- Decide whether or not to forgive
- Learn to create healthy and respectful boundaries
- Uncover the best ways to help your parents as they grow older or decline in health
Step 3 includes the following keys:
- Overcome the fear of asking for help and make sure you get as much information and guidance as your parent’s situation requires
- View yourself as a caregiving manager who is making sure to delegate most of the tasks to people you trust
- Overcome guilt feelings and find a way to stay healthy yourself
In this way, Felder suggests that managing the care of a parent may even become an opportunity for closeness and heartfelt connection, instead of being stressed out by the demands of care.
I found this chapter a little bit superficial, to be honest. A bit like a chapter written by someone who has never been abused by their parents 😉
I have had serious issues with my parents, but on a spectrum there are people with far worse experiences than I. Although my issues are comparatively minor, I have spent many, many years working through these issues, doing the hard work, and I have arrived at a position where I have boundaries, I have worked out how to move on and not be a victim any more. For me, this means living in a different state to my mother, visiting only for short periods (2.5 days max), and only a few times per year. I only call my mother every few weeks now – when it was once a week, she would start to take me for granted, whereas now she is pleased to hear from me and even sometimes asks me about myself and my own interests.
I have forgiven my father after many years of being angry. Interestingly, the process which allowed me to forgive my father actually made me more angry with my mother, whom I had thought I had forgiven. But the process allowed me to see just how awful she had been to me. So now, have I forgiven my mother? Not really; or perhaps I have forgiven but not forgotten, as Felder suggests. I am not angry with her, but I know what she has done, so I keep my distance. I used to be able to be more emotionally close to her, before I remembered how horrible she had been to me and how little I could trust her with emotional closeness. And also, it’s not really my job to love her. I mean, I do love her, but it’s not my responsibility to be there for her emotionally, I don’t think. I don’t owe her love. That’s the trick with the ‘honour your mother and father.’ I do – I send money, and I call and visit – but I do not put my heart out there any more.
It’s sad, but when I am too emotionally available she tends to take advantage. So I have made boundaries. Perhaps they are too strict, as she is getting ever older and changing perhaps? Is she changing? It’s hard to know for sure.
When I visit her, I sit and we watch TV together, and that’s a lovely feeling of closeness and cosiness. She likes it too. Perhaps next time I visit, I will stay overnight with her one night. She would like that. She is lonely. Then I start to think I need to do it more and so on, but really, the sad thing is that I know my boundaries and I know I can’t overstep them or it starts to take a toll on me. I grieve the relationship we will never have. What relationship can we have when I am always on my guard? Well, I suppose that is the relationship we can have: me on my guard, but still there. Still showing up. That’s not so bad.
Reference: Felder, Leonard. (1997). The Ten Challenges: Spiritual Lessons from the Ten Commandments. Three Rivers Press: New York.