Okay. Full disclosure: I have not always been good at loving my parents. Sometimes I've been positively stupid-bad at it. Praise God, I'm getting better. I'm getting better because I'm trying more. Turns out, love isn't something you do naturally. It takes trying. And a lot of Jesus.
If you're anything like me, loving your parents got much more complicated the day you turned 18. Before 18 love looked like obedience and small acts of service. It looked like making curfew and doing your homework and not doing drugs. It looked like doing the dishes even when you didn't have to. It looked like asking if they needed you to grab something on your way home from a shift at the grocery store.
I'm not saying I was good at it back then. Just that it was easier to figure out.
Now, as an adult, I don't obey my parents. Too, I don't live with them. I don't even live close to them. That means the old ways of showing love don't work anymore.
Adults love adults differently than kids love adults. It isn't as simple. It's sometimes messy. And it's often hard. If you're looking for help, here are six ways (all drawn from I Corinthians 13) to love your parents now that you're a grown-up:
1. Remember your parents are human. Be patient and FORGIVE them.
When you were a kid your parents may have seemed super-heroic. Now that you're an adult you see more clearly. And more critically. You'll begin to notice your parents' flaws more often. You'll find yourself hurt by their forgetfulness or unkind words of advice. You'll get a glimpse of jealousy in their eyes or greed in their hearts. Don't be shocked. They're humans acting like humans. They need your love when they're misbehaving even more than they need it when they're doing well. Love is patient.
Maybe your parents didn't seem like superheroes when you were a kid. Maybe you hated your parents. What's beautiful about adulthood is that in it God offers you the strength and courage to finally change things. It doesn't matter how long your list of offenses is--but he did this and this and this... Love keeps no record of wrongs.
So whether your parents are drug dealers, gossips or hoarders, you can love them well. Be patient. Forgive. Take a look in the mirror and remember you haven't been so easy to love yourself.
2. Believe the best about their intentions.
Here's the thing, when you move out of someone's house, when you don't see each other day, when you stop having long, heart-bearing conversations it gets easier and easier to make assumptions about, well, everything.
Your Mom doesn't answer your text warmly and you start reading her mind--She never likes the guys I date. She just doesn't understand how jobs work now-a-days. She thinks I'm incompetent. Or your Dad makes an off-hand joke and your mind starts racing--He thinks my brother's more successful than I am. He's embarrassed of me. He's so naive. And after a while you're furious at your parents for thoughts they didn't actually have. That's not love.
Love always hopes. Some translate that phrase like this: Love believes the best. In other words, when you love someone you assume the best about them. You assume they love you. You assume they're trying. You assume they're rooting for you to succeed. You assume they're devoted to God's will.
Too, you assume they know things you don't know. They've been alive for a long time. They have thoughts that are better your thoughts. Don't assume they're stupid. Don't assume they're backward.
Believe in your parents. Expect them to be wise. Expect them to be kind. Expect them to love you better than you love them.
They may not live up to your expectations. You can forgive them for that. But if you assume they'll fail, they will. Or, at the very least, you'll think they did.
3. Tell them the truth.
Right now I have a friend who went through something terribly difficult right before Christmas. She went home for the holidays, was with her parents for two weeks, and never told them. Now she's trying to figure out how long she can hide her bad news before they find out.
See, we don't like our parents to know when we fail--they'll be disappointed. We don't like them to know when we're hurting--they'll worry. We don't like them to know when we're in a new relationship--they'll get too invested, they'll be judgmental, they'll ask too many questions... We don't like them to know when we've stopped attending church or when we're attending church but "they'd have a heart attack if they saw the name on the sign."
Adult children are remarkably skilled at not telling their parents the truth. And that's not love. Love rejoices in the truth.
Telling the truth acknowledges that your parents are adults capable of dealing with reality. Telling the truth allows for genuine relationship instead of a fake connection built on superficial points of agreement. Yes, truth can get messy, but lies are deceptively clean. Eventually they pile up and spill out. Or explode.
You don't hide the most important parts of your life from the people you love. You tell the truth and trust them with it.
4. Make sacrifices to take care of them.
Just like you might expect your parents to take care of you--to babysit the grandkids, to host Christmas dinner, to fly out to visit, to help you make job connections--your parents need to be taken care of, too. Because they've been parents for at least 18 years, your parents are likely much better at making sacrifices than you are. They've spent much of their life prioritizing your needs. Now, you need to prioritize theirs.
For a long time my husband and I only took vacations with my parents when they paid. It wasn't intentional. My parents would offer and we would agree. Then, later in the year, we'd take a vacation by ourselves and pay for it ourselves. We never offered to pay for my parents to go and we never asked my parents to go on vacation with us, us paying our own way. We always waited for the free-vacation offer. And it was selfish.
Even this week, my parents in town, I found myself sitting on the couch a lot, letting my mom make dinner and clean up. It's like I'd reverted to a childhood when my mom was my personal servant. Eventually I woke up to what I was doing and did the dishes.
Love isn't self-seeking. But in our relationships with our parents we can easily find ourselves firmly planted in the center of the circle of importance. That's not okay. Love your parents. Make plans to serve them. Go to their doctor appointments. Call every week. Send flowers or gifts on their birthdays. Ask them to take a trip with you. Help them out when they have needs. Seek their good above your own.
5. Be respectful (even when they're not around).
It's not okay to say mean, hurtful or disparaging things about our parents. Not ever. Not even when they deserve it. Not even when it's true.
Sometimes, when you're struggling with how to love a difficult parent it makes sense to get wise counsel. Sometimes it helps to sit down with a friend and explain your history with your parents. Never does it make sense to list every single wrong your parent has ever perpetrated, hoisting accusations and making blanket statements about their character.
People do that. A lot of us do that. Don't do that.
Love does not dishonor others.
"Honor your mother and father" is a command. And it's not just written to children. In its primary context it's spoken to adults, adults entrusted with the care of elderly parents, adults encouraged to uphold the legacy of their parents, adults urged to show daily, continued respect to their parents.
Honor your parents with your words--to their face, behind their back, with your siblings, even to your counselor.
6. Don't give up on them.
Not everyone has great parents. Some of you are struggling to love your parents well as they persist in loving you poorly. Some of you have a lot to forgive. Some of you have every reason in the world to expect the worst or be disrespectful. Thing is, we're not just called to love the people who love us. We're called to love everybody--parents included.
Love never fails. No matter what.
So if today you're feeling like loving your parents is too hard, remember, God will equip you to do it. He'll be there to love you while you love them. He'll be there if they disappoint you. He'll be there if they ignore your sacrifices. He'll be there if they trample on your patience.
AND remember, the word is "if," not "when." Believe, believe, believe that when you love like God calls you to love, amazing, impossible things DO happen.