18 January 2006

I'll take Commandment #5 for 500, Alex

Here's a thought I had recently that was inspired by something I was reading about Kibud Av v'Em. (honour our father and mother). We are commanded to honour our parents for all sorts of reasons - they give us life, they (ideally) nurture us, they become a unit with G-d for the moment of conception, and of course, the ever-popular reason: G-d tells us to. Even if we have parents who were bad parents - emotionally or physically abusive, who have disowned us, refuse to accept our religious beliefs, etc., etc., we are told to at least honour them for having given us life.

We are meant to hold our parents in awe just as we hold G-d in awe. If you are a child of infertile parents, is there an awareness of how much pain, suffering, soul-searching, depression, hope and despair, and expense has gone into creating you? How much more gratitude and awe should should be afforded the infertile parents for all they've been through to bring a life into the world? Does this not bring infertile parents closer to G-d?

Kibud Av v'Em is a mitzvah I've long struggled with. I don't have the greatest relationship with my parents, although we try. Would I expect more from my child, if I were finally so blessed? Would I think my son or daughter should be much more honouring of me than I to my parents (even if I had the best relationship in the world with them)? If I did receive more, would I be comfortable with it? Would I want it? Would I deserve it? Isn't that oh-so-Jewish-motherly, to expect such honour because, "I suffered SO much for you, you'd better appreciate me!"?

Or is it simply, you have parents, find a way to honour them according to your relationship? Whatever that relationship might be.


At 18/1/06 3:40 a.m., Blogger Just another Jenny said...

hmmm, thought provoking. I am not jewish but I know the concept on honoring parents. I love mine, although I am not sure I honor them.
I will be honest, I would be disappointed if my child did not respect/admire what I did to bring him/her into the world.

At 18/1/06 3:50 a.m., Anonymous Erin said...

I am Jewish, though not Orthodox, so I can't claim to have done as much studying and soul-searching on this one as you have. I do love and honor my parents. I am, however, a little more frustrated with them as I get older and they seem to have so little compassion for some of the things that go on in my life, while I try to be the best daughter I can. (Incidentally, this is easier from 1000 miles away.)

I think that I will expect my children to appreciate what I go through to bring them here, whether through ART or adoption. But I don't think I would expect them to honor me in any special way for it. I am the one choosing to go through this journey, and I'm doing it only for the reason that I want to be a mama to more children.

Try flipping it around: should a woman who gets pregnant easily be honored less than one who struggles and requires medical help?

That said, a little extra honor would still be nice. It's not an easy journey.

At 18/1/06 10:00 p.m., Anonymous wessel said...

I'm sure you know more about the halacha than I do on this subject, but my understanding is that the mitzvah has nothing to do with what you should feel for your parents, and everything to do with what you should do for your parents. The Talmud is pretty specific in its recommendations: show honor by bringing your parent a glass of water if they ask, by not sitting in their seat, and by providing assistance to them in their final years. It also doesn't really say anything about "extra special" parents, and I don't know where the rabbis get their information that allows them to poskin on the "extra bad" parents.

I came from a negligent/abusive parenting situation, and I struggle with this commandment. I believe a rabbi told my husband that in such situations, a child is not required to visit the parent. Therefore, I asked myself, in what practical way would I observe this mitzvah? Refrain from talking to others about how awful they were? Do I really have to pay for my father to go to a nursing home when he never paid child support for me nor helped me through college?

I don't believe it is psychologically healthy to honor parents who were negligent and abusive, but that is aside from halacha, I realize. As for myself, yes, I would hope that any children I have would appreciate how much effort I have expended in order to bring them life. But, no guarantees!

At 19/1/06 12:55 a.m., Blogger projgen said...

erin, I knew someone would bring that up! ;) I thought about including something about "easy" conception vs IF, but figured that was more than I could chew. It's not strangers or the general public we're talking about, just offspring.

wessel, I highly doubt I know the halacha better than you! I tend to internalize things into feelings, but I do know the halacha refers to things we do, as opposed to how we feel. I have spoken at length with my rabbi about how to deal with my abusive parents - part of my actions include being as agreeable as possible on the phone (we rarely see each other) without compromising my morals and values.

I have the same question about a nursing home for my parents. I recently read something regarding this subject where the author pointed out that even criminals are afforded a roof and meals. Okayyyy, but their children aren't paying for it (not directly, anyway - we all pay indirectly through our taxes. But I digress).

Gee, I could turn this response into another post. I guess that's why there are volumes of responsa on this subject!

At 19/1/06 4:59 p.m., Anonymous LC said...

The halacha DOES also say that the expenses for caring for a parent - food, housing, etc. - fall on the parent if s/he can afford it, and on the child only if the parent can't.

And that sometimes, the best way to honor parents is to do so from a distance, as being "close" (emotionally and physically) is not healthy.

On another note, I would agree with erin - that you chose this journey is not something a child should be explicitly "burdened" with. I have heard of children whose parents were overprotective to the point of stifling their growth, because the pregnancies were difficult, or the process of getting there was, etc. That doesn't make a good parent. Like anything else, it's a balancing act.

At 19/1/06 10:34 p.m., Blogger projgen said...

Well, I agree with you to a certain extent, except I would wager not a single one of us "chose" this journey. It was thrust upon us. If I want to have children, this is the journey I must take. My choice would have been to have children without medical intervention.


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