Supporting Parents

I have an important question for you concerning honoring our parents. I was reading your book and you mentioned the sacrifices our parents make for us. This therefore increases their love for us, and often we have no idea to what extent they sacrifice.

My parents struggle with money. They are in the process of losing their third home and my siblings and I found out they have nothing for retirement. They are in their early 50’s. My brother asked my father what his plan was. My dad responded, “I don’t have the luxury to plan.” To which my brother responded, “We don’t have the luxury to not plan.” My dad told him we will work until he dies. Or he will work until he can’t anymore, he will not expect us to help. However my brother and I feel the gravity of the situation. As we are breaking out of poverty.

What is our responsibility as children to take care of our parents who will not take care of themselves?

I have considered investing a small amount each month to cushion when the day comes when my mom and dad will need help. Is this wise? Is there more I should do?


Steve P.

Dear Steve,

We admire you for several reasons; the first is that you start off by identifying this question as an important one. You are so correct on this.

For human society to function, God specified the 5th Commandment, Honor your father and mother. If children do not have and nurture a relationship with their parents, society falls apart. Parts of the underbelly of America and the United Kingdom today demonstrate this beyond doubt.

Ancient Jewish wisdom reserves thousands of words to define explicitly what honoring parents means. For example, it means not contradicting them in public and not humiliating them. It means speaking to them with respect and honor. And it means that they are early in line for your charitable dollars. That’s right, we are obligated to distribute our charitable contributions with a priority for proximity, both geographically and family-wise. Helping support your parents in their hours of need is a central aspect of honoring your father and your mother.

We are happy that you and your brother are on the same page and that you both appear to be far more fiscally responsible than the way you were raised. It sounds as if you are both generating revenue, and from that revenue, you probably already deduct 10% of your after tax net income for charitable purposes. We recommend that you take all or a portion of that charitable amount each month for use if and when the time comes that your parents need help to avert destitution. Perhaps invite your other siblings, if there are more of you, to also participate.

Some of the first round of money that you and your brother assign to your parents’ future should be used to engage a qualified financial advisor. (Yes, that is an entirely appropriate use of your charitable funds.) There are many complexities to figuring out their best social security strategies, like employing what is known as catch-up-contributions to a qualified retirement plan for people over 50, and many other details only an experienced financial professional will completely understand.

We recommend that you do not discuss this with your parents but that you and your brother initially proceed as independently as possible. The reason we recommend this is because there is no way this discussion can be anything but profoundly humiliating for your father. You can tell from the answer he gave your brother just how embarrassing this is for him. Once you and your brother are more knowledgeable, you can see if your parents are open to recommendations, but even if not, you will have guidance on how best to be ready to help them.

In passing, we recommend that when the time is right, you let your own children know about the love and respect you lavished upon their grandparents.

We close with further admiration for your filial goodness and with our blessings to you and your siblings for a long and productive life. Why do we bestow particularly this blessing upon you? Because there are only two commandments in the Five Books of Moses that are followed by the blessing of long life. The first is the Fifth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother so that your days will be long…” (Exodus 20:12 & Deut. 5:16). The second is the commandment to show mercy to a mother bird by preventing her from observing you taking an egg or a fledgling from her nest so that your days will be long. (Deut. 22:6-7).

Both these commandments pay tribute to the role of a parent whether human or avian. And both link our consideration for parents with the blessing of long life. You and your siblings will amply have deserved your blessing.

May your children treat you as well as you are treating your parents.

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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