Moral Briefs – Chapter LIX – Should We Help Our Parents?

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonThere are few things more evident to natural reason than the obligation children are under to assist their parents when necessity knocks at their door, and finding them unable to meet its harsh demands, presses them with the goad of misery and want. Old age is weak and has to lean on strength and youth for support; like childhood, it is helpless. Accidentally, misfortune may render a parent dependent and needy. In such contingencies, it is not for neighbors, friends or relatives to come in and lend a helping hand; this duty devolves on the offspring, on them first and on them alone.

Charity is not alone to prescribe this office of piety. A stronger law than charity has a claim in the matter, and that is the law of justice. Justice demands a “quid pro quo,” it exacts a just compensation for services rendered. Even though there be no agreement between parents and offspring, and the former gave without a thought of return, nature records a contract, by the terms of which parents in want are entitled to the same support from their children as the latter received from them in the days of their helplessness.

Those who do not live up to the terms of this natural contract stand amenable to the justice of Heaven. The obligation follows them during life, wherever they go; and they can no more shirk it than they can efface the characters that declare it, graven on their hearts. Nothing but sheer impossibility can dispense them.

So sacred and inviolable is this obligation that it passes before that of assisting wife and children, the necessity being equal; for filial obligations enjoy the distinction of priority. Not even engagements contracted before God hold against the duty of relieving parental distress and want, for vows are of counsel and must yield to the dictates of natural and divine law.

Of course, the gravity of this obligation is proportionate to the stress of necessity under which parents labor. To constitute a mortal sin of neglect, it is not necessary that a parent be in the extreme of privation and beggary. It is not easy to draw the line between slight and grievous offending in this matter, but if some young men and women examined their conscience as carefully as they do their new spring suits and hats, they would find material for confession the avowal of which might be necessary to confessional integrity.

It has become the fashion with certain of the rising generation, after draining the family exchequer for some sixteen or eighteen years, to emancipate themselves as soon as their wages cover the cost of living, with a little surplus. They pay their board, that is to say, they stand towards their parents as a stranger would, and forgetting the debt their younger years have piled up against them, they hand over a miserable pittance just enough to cover the expenses of bed and board. This might, and possibly does, make them “feel big,” but that feeling is a false one, and the “bigness” experienced is certainty not in their moral worth, in many cases such conduct is a prevarication against the law of God. This applies with equal force to young women whose vanity overrides the claims of charity and justice, and who are said to “put all their earnings on their backs,” while they eat the bread that another earns.

Frequently children leave home and leave all their obligations to their parents behind them at home. If their letters are rare, enclosed checks are still rarer. They like to keep the old folks informed of the fact that it costs a good deal to live away from home. They sometimes come home on a visit; but these are visits and visitors, even if they do stay quite a while, do not pay board.

But pecuniary assistance is not all; it is occasionally care and attention an aged parent requires, the presence of a daughter who prefers the gaiety of the city to the quiet of the old homestead that is imperiously demanded. If the parent be feeble or sick, the undutiful child is criminally negligent; the crime is still greater if there be danger through that absence of the parent’s dying without religious consolation.

I have said nothing of that unnatural specimen of humanity, sometimes called a “loafer,” and by still more ignoble names, who, to use a vulgar term, “grubs” on his parents, drinks what he earns and befouls the home he robs, with his loathsome presence and scandalous living. The least said of him the better. He exists: ’tis already too much said.