My parents got divorced when I was young, and each of them began a new life. But my mother became very materialistic and authoritarian with her children, to the extent that if we don’t give her money or work to take care of her, she gets angry with us and treats us with contempt. It makes me very sad because I have my own home to take care of and I am unemployed at the moment. That’s why she’s pushed me out of her life, because I can do nothing for her financially.

I know that the Bible says that we are to honor our parents, and sometimes I feel guilty for not being able to help my mom financially…. She’s only interested in money; she doesn’t care about her grandchildren or her children’s lives…. What should I do? Am I failing God? What can I do about a mother who acts like that? She doesn’t understand that we as her children are not her slaves.

Dear Friend,

The answers to your questions depend on many details that you did not tell us. For example, does your mother have an adequate place to live? Does she have food to eat? Is she healthy enough to work? Do your siblings feel the same way that you do?

You referred to the commandment that says we are to honor our fathers and mothers.(1) To honor our parents is to respect them and to acknowledge the sacrifices that they have made for us as their children. But it does not necessarily include a financial commitment.

The apostle Paul, however, makes it very clear that people who are unable to provide for themselves should be cared for by the people of their own churches, and that children should care for their needy parents and grandparents. In fact, he says, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”(2) This statement leaves no doubt that all family members are responsible for the needs of their own extended families.

So, since you don’t have a job, you might be more needy than your mother right now. If that is the case, then she is just as responsible to help your family as you are responsible to help her. And other family members are also responsible for each other.

But Paul also makes it clear that people who are able to work should work and not expect their family members to care for them. “The one who is unwilling to work,” he says, “shall not eat.”(3) So family members are not responsible to care for their relatives who could work but don’t.

It is tragic that your mother has allowed her financial situation to affect her love and care for her children and grandchildren. I suggest that you have a family meeting with your siblings and discuss how to take care of your mother’s legitimate needs and how to handle her spiteful behavior. If all of you make a plan and stick to it, your mother may eventually realize that you love her and want the best for her.

I wish you well,

1 Ex 20:12; Dt 5:16
2 1Ti 5:4,8
3 2Th 3:10