Honor Thy Parents (as the Sandwich Generation)

Last week I had to take my mom to the ER at 9:00 at night. She is fine, and the specific details are hers to share. But, I was getting our son ready for bed, my husband was at work, and we were supposed to get up early and drive an hour for me to work at a homeschool event the next morning (and the kid was supposed to go with me).

I was not quite a joyful daughter.

I had every excuse, I thought, for feeling put out: my child was up way past his bedtime, he was upset that his grammy was in pain, he was confused by everything in the ER, I was exhausted from having already worked two days with twenty 3-5 year olds, it always falls on me to take care of my mother, my husband had to rearrange his work schedule and take an unscheduled day off…

In reality, though, I was scared and felt out of control.

Scripture commands in Exodus 20:12 “Honor your father and mother so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (NIV). The word “honor” is translated from the Hebrew word kabad, which means just that: honor. It is what is known as a piel imperative command; this means that when God commands us to honor our parents, He expects us to continue to honor them with no end – until we die.

That is a long time. And there are no exceptions to God’s commands. He doesn’t say to honor your parents unless you’re tired, or only when it’s convenient, or only if they’re being kind.


It sheds a whole new light on being part of “the sandwich generation.” I think the theological implications have already spoken for themselves, so what I want to do is share some practical things I’ve learned in the past year as I’ve begun navigating caring for my mom while still honoring her as her daughter.

  1. Realize you are still their child. When my mom called, and briefly explained what was happening, I knew that the local walk-in clinic was well equipped to handle us. I also knew we’d be in, out, and my kid would be in bed pronto. But my mom wanted to go the ER, and insisted she knew better. I am still her child, and in non-life threatening circumstances, even if it is utterly inconvenient, I need to submit to her out of honor for her. Realize that even if you are a grown adult, with children of your own, you are still a child in their eyes.
  2. Teach your children that family is important. As soon as I hung up the phone and explained we had to go, my kid sprang into action. He finished getting his pajamas on, found his shoes, and got into the car without complaining. He may only be six years old, but he has accompanied us countless times to assist various family members with all sorts of things. He knows the value of family, and that family is a high, high priority. Did he whine in the ER? Yes. Did he cry a little as I sang him to sleep on my lap? Yes. But he, too, was scared and felt out of control. But he knew we were doing the right thing. And he didn’t do those things in front of his grandmother, because he knew she was in pain and scared.
  3. Pray. I suppose this should have been first, but, hey. That’s how life sometimes works. We don’t think to pray until we’re already in the car halfway to where we need to be. Pray. Pray for your parents now, pray when they’re healthy, pray when they’re not, pray for your children, pray for your own heart in the issue, pray. Nothing is too silly to take to God. If you are worried or scared, pray about it. Pray with your parents, too, if they’re open to it.
  4. Be prepared. I’m a list girl; when we go somewhere, I have a list. Even my lists have lists, actually, and my husband teases me. But I have a “hospital” list: sweater, phone charger, cash (parking garages & vending machines), water bottle, and a book. I also always have a “car bag” packed for the kid: crayons, coloring books, sticker books, his leapfrog toy, headphones, PEZ (his favorite), and some action figures. When my mom called, I didn’t even think: I grabbed his car bag, my sweater, my book, my purse, and we were gone (I did forget my phone charger, but my phone held! Yay!).
  5. Be flexible, but firm. Honoring your parent when you have to be “the adult” is a fine line to walk. It’s hard to treat them like your child, if that’s necessary, while still helping them feel like your parent. Yet sometimes it is Filling prescriptions, calling for doctor’s appointments, buying intimate necessities, cleaning up after accidents, initializing conversations, knowing where things like insurance forms and wills are – these are hard things to think about when it comes to your mommy or daddy. You have to realize when to have conversations, when it’s appropriate to make a lighthearted remark or joke, and when you have to put your foot down, quite frankly.
  6. Develop a support system. Honestly? I am still working on this one. I seem to be the first of my friends who is walking this path, so I’m the trailblazer, of sorts. I’m not going to lie: it’s a bit of a lonely path. My brother is far away, my in-laws aren’t much interested in our lives, and I feel…guilty? afraid? like a burden?…if I call friends and ask them to take my kid, especially at 10:00 on a weeknight. But I did send out an SOS text, and a Tweet, and I know I had faithful friends praying for me. However, I need to work on finding people who I can call at 9:00 pm to come stay with my child, because my husband does work nights, and we have a unique situation. My mom’s recovery pain was compounded the next day when she realized Keith had taken the day off to stay home with our son, because he couldn’t come with me (five hours of sleep is sorta okay on me; it’s not okay at all on a six year old with a sleep disorder in a brand new chaotic environment).

exodus 20.12

I’m not a fan at all of the phrase “if God calls you to it, He’ll lead you through it,” but God does call us to honor our parents, period. I do believe that He doesn’t leave us alone – He did promise us His Holy Spirit, after all. If you are part of this sandwich generation that is rising up rapidly, and you have tips on honoring your parents, please feel free to share them! There’s not a lot out there about how to do this “the right way!”


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Rachel is the wife to a hard working truck driver, and a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom to one energetic seven-year old boy. She is a theology nerd who loves Jesus, reading, and sleep, in that order, so she relies on copious amounts of tea to get through her day! Visit her blog at danielthree18.com, or on Twitter @danielthree18.

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  1. says

    You are definitely NOT alone, Rachel. My situation, as I’m sure each and every one, is a bit different than yours. My children are all grown, so I don’t have to deal with needing childcare. My mom has dementia, which complicates things, though. My two siblings live close by (my brother closer to my mom than me.), but I rarely get any support from him. My sister works full-time, so her help is also limited. So, I am pretty much taking care of mom on almost a daily basis, usually by myself. There are some church friends who do actually offer to kick in now and then, but just like you said, I hate to bother them too much. No matter what the situation is, though, caring for an elderly parent is not easy. But, we are called to “honor” them every day. I really like each of your suggestions in learning how to balance it all!! Thanks for sharing.

  2. says

    What a great, honest post. Thanks for sharing it. I went through the same thing in Feb. when my mom called to say the paramedics were taking my dad to the hospital. My kids immediately sprang into action, packing a bag for me to take to the hospital. I also had to take over a lot of things because my mom wouldn’t do it, and for some reason, all the hospital staff addressed me first, rather than my parents. Lucky for me, I have a 20 year old and 17 year old who helped take care of their 9 year old brother; so I was able to be at the hospital all day and my husband was able to go to work. I had to balance letting my dad have control and taking over things when I needed to. This is a tough road to walk through, and you’re not alone. It’s nice to know I’m not alone either, even though I’m an only child. Thanks to your post, I know someone else in a similar situation.

  3. says

    It is so hard to take care of our parents. My mom lives with me. I moved her out of her house 7-year-ago when my dad’s abuse was taking a turn for the worse that I could identify. I don’t have a relationship with my dad. I felt I was supposed to break off the relationship and fought it with God for six months. He is now in a nursing home and my oldest brother is his guardian. My mom was mentally and emotionally abused her entire life, so she never developed her own self-confidence to decide what was important to her and fear runs her life. It is really hard to stay within that parent-child relationship when you are more in the parenting role. My dad is now in a nursing home, but I am honoring by cleaning out his house, which is a disaster area. God is the only one Who gives me the strength and guidance to make the right choices. He’ll definitely help you in the same way…it sounds like He already is.

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