Many aging and retired people express deep unhappiness in their relationships with children and grandchildren.
Cries of Anguish
The depth of that unhappiness was recently expressed in a pair of articles by the conservative pundit Dennis Prager. In the first, Mr. Prager describes a nightmare situation.
“Parent after parent calls my radio show, often close to tears, sometimes actually sobbing, pouring their heart out to me about being alone on holidays despite having children and grandchildren. In virtually every case, the parent is conservative, and the child is on the left.”
Mr. Prager speculates that there are three reasons for such heartlessness. The first is that committed leftists are unlikely to acknowledge any absolute moral code, such as that imposed by the Fourth Commandment—“Honor thy father and mother, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee, that thou mayst live a long time, and it may be well with thee in the land, which the Lord thy God will give thee.” (Deuteronomy 5:16)
Political Ideologies Override Family Obligations
The second reason is related to the first. One product of lives dedicated to secular concerns is the lack of conscience. The leftist’s dedication to “social justice” overrides any internal voice warning that keeping children from grandparents is deeply unjust to both.
Finally, Mr. Prager thinks that college has a significant adverse effect on the parent-child relationship. He argues that four years of leftist indoctrination drives a wedge that is difficult, perhaps impossible, for the parent to dislodge.
The last line is poignant. “On the left, it is a grave sin to abuse the Earth. Not one’s parents.”
Eternal and Natural Law: The Foundation of Morals and Law
A sequel to this article discusses reactions to the original piece. Some came from conservative parents, who largely concurred with Mr. Prager’s contentions. However, several vitriolic responses appeared on leftist sites, including the two below.
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“There is not an ounce of tolerance in conservative circles. Tolerate the intolerance is what you’re asking, and we won’t.”
“Why invite people with dangerous views into your home voluntarily? That’s especially true if you have kids. Parents want to protect their children, and that may mean protecting them from their grandparents’ cuckoo bananas beliefs.”
No one should be surprised at the intolerance of the supposedly tolerant. Those most likely to demand respect for their views are often the least apt to display such consideration in return.
A Part of the Natural Law
The relationship between parents and children is—after the relationship with God and amongst spouses—the most basic. As with all relationships in this sinful and decadent world, many parent-child relationships are broken. Sometimes, the fault lies with the parents and other times with the children. Often, these broken relationships manifest themselves in rebellion. The “woke” vocabulary of “repression” and “social justice” are merely new weapons.
Both filial and parental love are functions of natural law, valid for all times and all people, even those who have never been exposed to Christian doctrine.
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Before going further, though, it makes sense to describe the obligations that Holy Mother Church lays upon adult children.
What Does it Mean to Honor Your Parents?
The Catechism of the Council of Trent lays out the level of respect children owe their parents.1
“[Fathers] are, so to say, images of the immortal God. In them we behold a picture of our own origin; from them we have received existence, God made use of them to infuse into us a soul and reason, by them, we were led to the Sacraments, instructed in our religion, schooled in right conduct and holiness, and trained in civil and human knowledge.”
“[T]he name mother is mentioned in this Commandment, in order to remind us of her benefits and claims in our regard, of the care and solicitude with which she bore us, and of the pain and labor with which she gave us birth and brought us up.”
“The honor which children are commanded to pay to their parents should be the spontaneous offering of sincere and dutiful love. This is nothing more than their due, since for love of us, they shrink from no labor, no exertion, no danger.”
Of course, there are obligations for the parents as well.
“As the law of God commands children to honor, obey, and respect their parents so are there reciprocal duties which parents owe to their children. Parents are obliged to bring up their children in the knowledge and practice of religion, and to give them the best rules for the regulation of their lives; so that, instructed and trained in religion, they may serve God holily and constantly.”
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The Catechism does not mention living with grandparents, which was uncommon in 1566. The average life expectancy at the time was less than forty-five years.
So, how can this current lack of respect for one’s parents be explained?
Indeed, Mr. Prager’s three reasons are a good starting point, but such an unnatural situation must have roots that go far deeper than college influences. It lies in a form of reciprocal selfishness.
Unfortunately, many modern parents have, or had, stunted (sometimes non-existent) relationships with their own grandparents. Since the sixties, many people retired about the time that their grandchildren were born. Many such retirees sacrificed family to seek “sun and fun” lifestyles in retirement communities in Florida or Arizona. These decisions limited their interactions with their grandchildren to short visits.
Many young parents treated their own parents’ visits as nuisances—obligations that intruded on regular life. They forced their children to display affection for a pair of older adults that the children barely knew. Between generations, increasingly common divorces and realignments with new partners further complicated the situation. Holidays often became tests of loyalty.
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Even children with marginally satisfying relationships with their grandparents saw complex and ridiculous intergenerational conflicts in movies or television programs.
Coming from such experiences, these children, now grown to adulthood with children of their own, see little reason to perpetuate these uncomfortable situations. The political differences only make these situations worse.
As with most familial ties, the solution is in sacrifice. The precise forms that these selfless acts take will vary according to circumstances. They are neither novel nor unusual. They all lie in protecting one of God’s most fortunate and essential gifts to humanity—the family.