I often get emails from adult daughters of narcissistic mothers who ask the same question: “The Bible says to honor my mother & father. How do I do this?” This is a very good question & on the minds of many people. My free ebook “How To Honor A Difficult Parent” is my most popular.
To start with, I believe people need to know both sides of what the Bible says about the parent/child relationship. Here are some Scriptures for your consideration..
Exodus 20:12, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” (KJV)
Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not irritate and provoke your children to anger [do not exasperate them to resentment], but rear them [tenderly] in the training and discipline and the counsel and admonition of the Lord.” (AMP)
Colossians 3:21, “Fathers, do not provoke or irritate or fret your children [do not be hard on them or harass them], lest they become discouraged and sullen and morose and feel inferior and frustrated. [Do not break their spirit.]” (AMP)
While yes, children should honor their parents, parents also need to be aware that they are being disobedient to God if they abuse their children. I find it quite interesting that so many parents who are quick to tell their child Exodus 20:12 never seem to remember Ephesians 6:4 & Colossians 3:21…
Also, we need to consider what the word “honor” truly means. Merriam-webster.com defines honor this way: “1 b: a showing of usually merited respect : recognition <pay honor to our founder> ” I take this to mean that to honor your parents means you speak respectfully to them (you don’t cuss them out if you’re angry with them for example), & you respect the fact that they are your parents.
Nowhere in this definition does honor mean that one should be a doormat or a punching bag for another. Tolerating abuse is not honorable. Having no boundaries is not honorable. Catering to your parents’ every whim is most definitely not honorable nor is it loving the way God loves. God’s kind of love wants what is best for people, & sometimes what is best isn’t necessarily what they might like to have at the moment. Giving into people’s whims creates spoiled, ungrateful people, not good, compassionate, generous people.
Below are some ways to honorably treat your abusive parents..
Set & enforce healthy boundaries. Boundaries are not only for your protection, but they encourage others to either accept your boundaries & change their hurtful behavior, or to leave you alone.
Say no. No is a complete sentence sometimes, & often a very beneficial one. You needn’t explain your no if you don’t want to.
Always remember the truth. Narcissistic mothers love to reinvent things to make them more palatable. They cannot handle the guilt or shame of what they have done to their children, & many create stories about their adventures as a wonderful mother to cover up the fact they were NOT good mothers. My mother does this on a constant basis. This is a natural coping skill for many narcissists, as sad as that fact is. While it is her right to use that skill, you do NOT have to reinforce your narcissistic mother’s delusions. When this happens to me with my mother, I listen to her stories, but never say anything that says I agree with her version of events. If she asks if I remember something, I truthfully tell her I don’t. I also don’t tell her the truth about what really happened. As dysfunctional as this behavior is, it’s her choice to employ it. I don’t feel it’s my right to shatter her delusion. I came about this decision through prayer. If you pray about your similar situation, God may tell you to handle it differently, but in any case, I strongly urge you to pray about how to handle it!
Distance is your friend. While I’m not necessarily saying sever all ties with your narcissistic mother (only you can decide if that is the right step for you to take or not), I am saying sometimes distance can be good for both of you. If your mother has said or done something especially hurtful, you may not want to be around her for a while, & there is nothing wrong with that. Take a little time off for yourself before you deal with her again. Besides, believe it or not, the narcissistic mother will think about it, & she is aware of what she’s done to upset you so. I wrote about this in more detail in the following post: Do Narcissists Really Know What They’re Doing?
Don’t always be available. Narcissistic parents seem to think their adult children are sitting by the phone with baited breath, waiting for the parents to call. Obviously, this makes no sense. Unfortunately, in this age of cell phones, most people can be reached at any time of day. If you are available 24/7 though, your narcissistic parents will expect you to be available 24/7 no matter what, & there will be hell to pay if you suddenly aren’t available. If you normally always answer your parents’ calls, stop right now! Skip answering the phone sometimes. If you feel unable to handle their drama, then don’t take the call. Later, your narcissistic mother may attempt to make you feel guilty, but don’t let her! You are an adult. You pay for your phone. It’s up to you when & for whom you answer your own phone! And, don’t offer any explainations as to why you didn’t pick up the phone. “I was busy” is a sufficient answer. Your parents aren’t entitled to know every detail of your life.
Keep conversations superficial. Narcissists are extremely judgmental, so make your life easier on yourself by keeping the topics of conversation superficial. Don’t discuss personal details of your life with your narcissistic mother because that just gives her ammunition for her criticisms of you later. If she asks “How are you?” say “Fine.” “How is work going?” “Fine.” “What have you been up to lately?” “Nothing much.” See the pattern? In fact, to make your life easier yet, turn the conversation back to her & off of you. She’ll be more than happy to talk about herself instead of you anyway! You can discuss your life with people who genuinely care how you’re doing instead.
Putting these skills into practice can be very helpful for you not only to cope with your narcissistic mother, but also to honor her God’s way. And honoring her I believe is very important. Not because your narcissistic mother deserves honor, because frankly, she doesn’t. No narcissist does. It’s important because God wants us to honor our parents, & doing it shows Him how much you love Him.