Obey Your Parents… Always?

God asks us to obey your parents. But does that give them the right to domineer over every aspect of your life, selecting your interests, deciding your future, or even choosing your future spouse? Certainly not.

And yet, when the words, “That’s so unfair!” splutter out of your mouth, there is probably no “domineering” going on, regardless of what you may be experiencing. How do I know if my parents are really being unjust or if I am just being a ridiculous, moody teenager?

If you’re looking for an excuse to disobey your parents, this isn’t it. If you want this article to help you, you have to (1) sincerely love and respect your parents and (2) want to be good. If you don’t love and respect your parents, you should probably stop here and go ask God to give you a grateful heart, because however difficult your relationship may be, they have given you a beautiful gift: life. And if you don’t really want to be good, or if you just want to be a little bit good, you should stop here and go ask God to show you where you will end up if you follow that path to the end. It won’t look pretty. If St. Paul himself firmly desired the good and somehow found himself choosing evil (Rom. 7:19) your mediocrity will be the end of you. Then meditate the beauty of a life of love for God, full of vibrant joy, profound peace, authentic happiness…

Normally you can take for granted that your parents are right. Why? Because God has entrusted you to them. They love you and seek your good. They have more experience than you and want to spare you the mistakes they made. And if it’s hard for you understand why they are so “strict,” think about what the other extreme would be like. I’ll never forget when I told one of my friends I couldn’t go out that weekend because my parents wouldn’t let me. At first she looked upset, but then she lowered her eyes and an air of sadness took over her entire being. “My parents let me do whatever the hell I want,” she murmured. They just didn’t care, or at least that’s what she experienced.

So… Your parents have the right to give you a curfew, and you should obey it even if it seems ridiculous to you. Your parents can ask you to stop hanging out with a certain group of friends, and if you are honest you will probably realize they’re right. Your parents can forbid you to go to certain places, and oblige you to go to others. Your parents can make you study or punish you for bad grades. All of this may upset you and make you want to wail and lament and accuse them of injustice, but it is not unjust. And even if a punishment, for example, is exaggerated, that does not give you the right to rebel. Certain injustices should be suffered with patience, out of love for God because it is what He is asking of us.

But there are exceptions. I’ll start with the clearest one. If your parents command you to sin, you should disobey. That is, if they refuse to let you go to Mass on Sunday, or ask you to skip Mass to attend some family event, which is essentially the same thing, not only may you disobey: you must disobey. And this is the case for any direct sin.

Isn’t this relativizing God’s commandments? No. There is an order in God’s commandments, and the first is more important than the fourth. We must never disobey God in order to obey men (Acts 5:29), even if they have legitimate authority over us.

There is another exception to the rule: “Wherefore servants are not bound to obey their masters, nor children their parents, in the question of contracting marriage or of remaining in the state of virginity or the like” (Summa Theologiae II-II q. 104 a. 5). Your parents can “help” you make decisions for your future, but they can’t make them for you. They can’t give you your vocation. Even good Catholic parents sometimes end up being the greatest obstacle in the life of a young person who wants to pursue his or her vocation to a total consecration to God. If they forbid you from entering, you can legitimately disobey.

Conclusion: Obey your parents, yes. Always? No… but almost always. And if you think one of the exceptions to the rule is your case, before making a decision, talk to your spiritual director about it!