SHOULD WE HELP OUR PARENTS?
THERE 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
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 certainly 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
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
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