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The Intergenerational Golden Rule For Parents and Children

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The Golden Rule is commonly stated as, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This precept is found in every major religion, and indeed, in most secular philosophies of life. The basic ideas underlying the well-known rule are empathy and reciprocity, the understanding that other people feel conscientiously as you do, and that they deserve the same treatment you would want for yourself.

Many parents teach their children the Golden Rule. But the fundamental moral lesson of the Golden Rule that parents earnestly seek to reinforce in their children is also an instruction that parents and prospective parents should take to heart for themselves. To wit, parents: Treat your own parents as you would have your children treat you later in life. We can call this extension of the Golden Rule the Intergenerational Golden Rule.

When thinking about parenting, parents naturally tend to consider how they're raising their children more than they consider how they're treating their own parents, but the latter factor figures highly into the former one. Children are keen observers and genius impersonators, and as they age, the examples they follow become encoded into natural habits. So as far as examples go, the example you set as a child of your own parents will strongly influence how your children will treat you.

Nobody’s perfect, and nobody has been a perfect parent. It’s very tempting for parents to pass along their parents’ link in the chain of blame without realizing that they’re preparing their children to continue in that tradition. If you complain about your parents, and your children witness your complaining, chances are that your children will complain about you. Our society is replete with examples of adults estranging from their parents for perceived injustices suffered as children.

Here are some points for parents looking for practical advice.

First and foremost, walk the walk. This must be more than a formulaic pretense: you must really honor and respect your parents if you want the same behavior from your children. This can be difficult, especially if your parents mistreated you, but breaking the chain of negativity must be done by someone. If for nothing else, break the chain of negativity for your children’s sake.

Stay in touch. Call your parents, and have your kids talk to their grandparents. If fences must be mended, mend those fences. In all but the most exceptionally tragic cases, unconditional forgiveness will result in unconditional love.

Include your parents in family activities. Arrange your travel around visits, or invite your parents along. Holidays provide excellent opportunities for intergenerational involvement, of course.

Care for your parents. Don't just arrange or pay for elder care for your parents, but participate in the caregiving process. “The realities of elder care such as loneliness and illness cause real hardships for aging people,” says Justin L. Scott, an attorney with Bratton Scott Estate & Elder Care Attorneys. “The active assistance of loving family members is a crucial element to ameliorating these hardships.”

If at all possible, live near your parents, or even in the same home as your parents. This option has become less popular in our modern American society, but it’s probably the most effective way to strengthen your family ties.

Avoid quarrels with your parents, or at least spare your children the experience of witnessing such quarrels. This goes for any arguing or disputes -- just keep your children out of it.

Seek your parents' wisdom and respect their advice. This is part of walking the walk of honoring your parents.

Explain to your children how you respect and honor your parents, even despite their faults. You don’t need to make up lies, but you may need to be generous and creative.

If your parents have passed away or are no longer in your lives for whatever reason, try to include their memory in the daily life of your family. Even if your upbringing was less than pleasant, tell positive stories about your parents to your kids and honor their memory.

The Golden Rule is a paraphrase of the Bible verses in Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12, but the fifth commandment also lends some wisdom to this discussion. The fifth commandment is to honor your father and mother, and it’s the first commandment that comes with a promise: that things may go well for you, and that you may live a long life. Given the influence your attitude toward your parents will have on your own children, it’s evident how this translates into benefits for yourself.

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