When I was five years old, honoring my father and mother meant obediently eating everything on my plate at dinner. Now I’m 23, and believe me, I no longer need any encouragement from my mom to finish my food. But I think it is safe to say that the commandment to honor my father and my mother didn’t expire when I turned 18; the ways I honor them just seem to be changing.
As I’ve transitioned into adulthood, I’ve found myself struggling with the question of what it means to honor my father and my mother as a young adult. President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency, offered this counsel: “Young people, if you honor your parents, you will love them, respect them, confide in them, be considerate of them, express appreciation for them, and demonstrate all of these things by following their counsel in righteousness and by obeying the commandments of God.”1
But for me, there are at least two factors that can make this commandment feel complicated. First, I have developed some opinions that, while in line with gospel standards, might differ from those of my parents. How I can honor and respect them when I disagree with them?
And second, as I’ve grown older and become more independent, I have wondered how much to involve my parents in my day-to-day decision making. I want them to know that I still value their input, but I don’t want to be closely monitored like a teenager learning how to drive.
Through studying this topic and talking with my young adult friends, I realized that there are many ways to honor our parents without sacrificing our opinions or independence. Here are nine ideas that may help you fulfill the commandment to “honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12).
Work together on setting clear boundaries. And that doesn’t mean putting up a wall between you and your parents. Clinical social worker Keri Ann Dyer explained that “boundaries are not just rules. They are expectations that exist to make our relationships healthy.”2 Be open with your parents about the levels of communication and involvement you expect from each other.
Take an interest in their lives and feelings. My friend Emily was surprised when her dad called to ask her opinion about a significant job change he was considering. While she hadn’t been totally unaware of her dad’s career earlier in life, Emily felt like this was the first time her dad had really sought out her opinion on a big decision. Emily was touched to be included and took it as a sign that their relationship was developing in healthy ways.
Tell them about your life. Your parents may not monitor your day-to-day activities anymore, but you can still keep them in the loop. For Grace, that means taking the initiative to call her parents. Grace said: “I have learned even more about my mom and have become a support to her instead of her supporting me all the time. I love knowing that I support her life with friendship after she has blessed my life with being an amazing mom.”
Learn from them. This can include asking about their past. When I had a boyfriend for the first time, I suddenly became much more interested in my parents’ dating history. I began asking questions that I never would have thought to ask as a kid: How did they know they wanted to marry each other? Was that a difficult decision? How many other people did they date first? Asking these questions helped me see my parents in a different light. And I feel like I now connect with them on a more personal level.
Express your appreciation for them. Everyone wants to know that their efforts are recognized and valued—even our parents! As you grow, you may become more aware of the sacrifices your parents have made in your behalf. And expressing your gratitude for them can strengthen your relationship. President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) said, “No gift purchased from a store can begin to match in value to parents some simple, sincere words of appreciation.”3
Ask for a father’s blessing. Matt had a special experience with this. Asking his dad for a blessing led him to date his now wife.
After a spiritually trying summer, Matt was eager for the fresh start that a new semester of school would bring. He asked his dad to give him a father’s blessing. In that blessing, Matt was specifically told to “listen to and counsel with” his mother. In the past, he hadn’t talked to his mom frequently while at school. That semester, however, he felt inspired to call his mom to talk about his dating life. He said that doing so helped him stay “focused on why I was dating and where I wanted my future to go.” His mom’s advice proved valuable: that semester Matt met a woman who became his wife. About this experience, he said, “I’m incredibly grateful for the worthiness and guidance of my father and the focus and direction from my mother that helped me through that time of meeting and courting my wonderful wife!”
Speak positively about them to others. No parent is perfect. But emphasizing their strengths can help us focus on the blessings we have received from our parents and help them feel our appreciation and respect. Nephi honored his parents in this way in the very first line of the Book of Mormon: “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father” (1 Nephi 1:1).
Pray for them. Aubrey prayed for her dad before he had an interview for a job promotion. She noticed that praying helped her feel personally invested in and curious about her dad’s career. That curiosity became a point of conversation between them. Aubrey said, “I don’t typically have a lot in common with my dad that we can talk about, so it’s been nice getting closer to him in this way.”
Let them make mistakes. At least for me, this one can be difficult. Recognizing your parents made a mistake in their personal lives or in how they raised you can be hard to swallow. But, in most cases, it isn’t grounds for losing respect for them. While there are hopefully some aspects of your parents’ lives that you want to emulate, your life is your own.
My friend Jess had an interesting experience with this. She said: “Growing up, my mom made a point to teach me standards of image and beauty that, unbeknownst to me at the time, left me feeling self-conscious, not pretty enough, and like I needed to cover my entire face in as much makeup as possible. It has been crucial for me to realize that my mom didn’t intend to give me these negative feelings; they were simply a byproduct of her teaching me her love for beauty and cosmetics. Our Heavenly Father fully acknowledges that His children are imperfect. He does not expect perfection in any role we find ourselves in while on earth, including the role of parenthood. Accepting that your parents have made mistakes, and that they will make mistakes, is a truly important part of honoring them as a young adult.”
It’s important to note that for some, a parent’s choices may make the commandment to honor them especially difficult. President Henry B. Eyring, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, spoke to this concern: “You may not feel that your parents are worthy of the honor and respect of their children. You may not even have ever known them. But you owe them life. And in every case, even if your life is not lengthened, its quality will be improved simply by remembering your parents with honor.”4
To my surprise, the process of exploring how to honor my earthly parents has helped me draw closer to my Heavenly Father. By deepening my relationship with my parents, I can better comprehend how much Heavenly Father loves me and wants me to return to live with Him. And that feeling of love motivates me to be obedient to the commandments—not because I have to but because I want to. I hope implementing some of these ideas will help you come to feel the same way.