The fourth Commandment (Honor thy father and mother) seems simple enough. Children are taught early on that God expects them to honor, respect, and obey their parents.
Today, however, we unfortunately read and hear about abusive fathers or mothers, or deadbeat dads and moms who abandon their kids. When a father or mother uses physical abuse, how does this Commandment apply?
Again, the Natural Moral Law tells us that immoral or sinful commands (or orders), be they from a parent, teacher, coach, priest or minister, employer, police, or military superior, must not be obeyed whatsoever. Likewise, if someone in authority is immorally inflicting pain and punishment on us or abusing anyone, the victim, if possible, is to resist and either defend themselves or flee for safety.
Victims of abuse can and ought to testify to the truth when questioned by the police or in a court of law. They are not being disrespectful, nor are they dishonoring their mother or father or the person in authority merely by telling the truth.
It may take a long time for such victims to forgive their abusers, but it is something every Christian is asked to try to do no matter how long it takes or how difficult it may be. The first stage is to not hate the perpetrator and not wish him or her evil. Justice is not revenge, so wanting and seeking justice—that the guilty be convicted and imprisoned—is an honorable objective. Wanting to see the accused suffer, however, is not a Christian perspective. Jesus commanded us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. He showed us how to forgive those who hurt and offend us. At the same time, God does not want us to neglect prudence and common sense. Serial abusers cannot be cured, so they must be stopped and avoided.
What about when mom and dad get older and the adult child or children must become caretaker(s) of the one who cared for them when they were little? Sadly, even in families where there are several sons and daughters, often only one or two will arise and offer their services.
A husband or wife’s first duty and obligation is to their spouse and to their own children, and then to their own parents. If someone has a spouse who is disabled or ill or has a child with special needs, then the ability to devote the time and energy necessary to care for a parent may be limited. Usually, however, the adult children do not have equivalent or surpassing responsibilities at home, so they ought to do what they can to help their (or their spouse’s) mom and dad.
Inconvenience is something Christians should never see as an obstacle to doing good or practicing the corporal works of mercy. Only when it becomes painfully burdensome should someone refrain from giving assistance to an elderly or infirm parent. Sometimes the care that is needed cannot be provided adequately by the adult child, and either a visiting nurse or a nursing/convalescent home may be the only possible solution.
That said, the duty and responsibility of maintaining regular and frequent contact, communication, dialogue, and whatever support can be offered, is expected as a matter of justice.