Everyone knows that the Fifth of the Ten Commandments declares the injunction to honor your father and mother. While the Bible speaks of various difficult children, especially sons, there is little precedent for labeling parents as difficult. So, I have often challenged myself with the questions, “Is CODOP (Children Of Difficult Older Parents) an ageist concept? Is it inherently disrespectful or impudent to label a parent’s behavior as unacceptable or inappropriate?” Repeatedly, the answer I reach is, “Absolutely not.”
Today’s older parents span two remarkable cohorts. The oldest are the “greatest generation” (born 1910-1925) who survived childhood in the Great Depression and went on to sacrifice their youth to save the world from fascism. The younger are the boomer generation (born 1946-1964) who parlayed post-war prosperity into greater freedom and individuality, amazing artistic and commercial creativity, and extensive revision of unhealthy social norms. The vast majority of individuals in both cohorts are honorable, productive, pleasant, and constructive people. No one respects these age groups and older adults in general more than I do.
For me, my work with CODOPs is not about age at all. It is about the pattern of unpleasant behavior shown by certain adults toward their closest relatives. CODOP is not “granny bashing;” it is an effort to minimize the psychological damage caused by bad behavior.
How can an adult CODOP reject their parent’s bad behavior while still honoring the parent? The Fifth Commandment gives a clue. The division and structure of the biblical phrases incorporating the Ten Commandments have been open to interpretation throughout history, but a popular model divides them into two sets of five, and suggests that the first five address man’s relationship to God, and the second five address man’s relationship to people. Interestingly, honoring parents is in the first set. This implies that affording even unearned honor to our parents, who gave us life, honors our relationship with God, who gave mankind life.
According to many biblical interpreters, the commandment requires that the adult child see to the parent’s basic physical needs (food, clothing, shelter, etc.), but it does not require that the adult child love or like the parent, obey every wish of the parent, nor submit to abuse of any kind. The parent’s safety and dignity are key, not their happiness. The parent must be addressed and treated civilly, but the adult child is not required to endanger his or her own emotional or physical health for the parent. Interactions with the parent, when possible at all, should be civil and designed to fulfill at least the minimum requirements of “honoring.”
The bottom line is that the CODOP can both use common sense to realistically protect themselves from the toxic aspects of the difficult parent, and honor the parent.
“My passion is ensuring that every adult is mentally ready to succeed in all transitions that comprise the adult years. The meaning in my life comes from helping my patients see themselves, their situation, their future, and the entire world with new eyes and a newly courageous attitude.