Son, honor thy father(s) and mother(s).

“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 KJV

How do children with divorced parents keep the fifth commandment? The holidays give special cause for reflection, and I have a broken heart for the kids forced into this season and situation. It is not a simple matter.

John Calvin stated that God “explicitly commands us to revere our parents who have begotten us in this life. Nature itself teaches us this. For everyone who, through contempt or rebellion, violates parental authority is a monster, not a man.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 1541, trans. Robert White (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2014), 146.

A good son obeys his father and mother. When we’re young, we get by on the most basic level of obedience. Don’t talk back. Don’t hit your sister. Share your toys. Let Dan be “Player One” this time. It is enough for the young child to not disrupt the family dinner. It is another matter altogether for the child to prepare a feast for his parents. Much more is required of grown children.

“The fifth commandment requireth the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to every one in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors or equals.”  Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 64.

A good son is loyal to his father and mother. Loyalty flows from honor and duty. A good son defends his father and mother. The lowest circle of hell is reserved for Brutus and Judas.

Loyalty is a tricky thing, however, in our Modern Family milieu. The fifth commandment assumes that one’s father and mother are united in body and interest, i.e., that there is no conflict between the two. Children with divorced parents have a divided constitution. As we know, a house divided against itself cannot stand.  Honor, duty, and loyalty are owed to both mom and dad, even as they take on the roles of plaintiff and defendant, respectively.

For the son with divorced parents, expressions of loyalty are zero sum. To show loyalty to one parent is to be disloyal to the other. A +1 for one parent is always met with a -1 for the other. Additionally, stepparents are often added to the mix further complicating a son’s natural instinct to be loyal to his parents. A +1 for stepdad is like a -2,000 for dad.

If obedience is necessary but not sufficient and if loyalty is self-defeating, what does it mean to be a good son to both father and mother? Is the obedient and loyal son engaged in an endless cycle of honor and dishonor?

A good son loves his father and mother. This love demands that he proceed cautiously with his expressions of loyalty and duty. He can’t blindly follow or obey either parent. He must love both parents and fulfill as many duties as he can while balancing the scales of honor. There is a stoic measurement to his words and deeds.

In gratitude to God for his abundant grace, Christians strive to live according to God’s law as revealed in his Word. As long as sin plagues the earth, we will face difficulties in this task. The fifth commandment is especially challenging for children with divorced parents. These kids can’t put the house back together or simply follow one set of footsteps. Their heavenly father is the only object of their unreserved expressions of duty, honor, and loyalty.

Father(s), mother(s), and (step)child(ren) must accept this result.

Did you like this post? If so, check out “Husband, love your wife.”


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