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What Does the Bible Say About Caregiving for Elderly Parents?

The Bible’s answer

Adult children have the important responsibility of making sure that their elderly parents are cared for. The Bible says that adult children should “put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents . . . , for this is pleasing to God.” (1 Timothy 5:4, New International Version) When adult children see to it that their elderly parents are taken care of, they also obey the Bible’s command to honor their parents.—Ephesians 6:2, 3.

The Bible does not contain specific instructions on caring for aging parents. However, it provides examples of men and women of faith who did so. It also offers practical advice that can help caregivers.

 How did some family members care for elderly parents in Bible times?

They did so in a variety of ways, depending on the circumstances.

  • Joseph lived far from his aging father, Jacob. When Joseph was able to, he arranged for Jacob to move closer to him. Joseph then housed, fed, and protected his father.—Genesis 45:9-11; 47:11, 12.

  • Ruth migrated to her mother-in-law’s country and worked tirelessly to care for her.—Ruth 1:16; 2:2, 17, 18, 23.

  • Jesus, shortly before he died, designated a caregiver for his mother, Mary, who was apparently then a widow.—John 19:26, 27. *

 What practical advice from the Bible can help caregivers?

The Bible contains principles that can help caregivers deal with the sometimes physically and emotionally exhausting challenge of caring for elderly parents.

  • Honor your parents.

    What the Bible says: “Honor your father and your mother.”—Exodus 20:12.

    How can the principle be applied? Show your parents honor by allowing them to maintain as much independence as their limitations permit. To the extent possible, let them make their own decisions about their care. At the same time, show them honor by doing what you reasonably can to assist them.

  • Be understanding and forgiving.

    What the Bible says: “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger, and it is beauty on his part to overlook an offense.”—Proverbs 19:11.

    How can the principle be applied? If an elderly parent says something unkind or seems unappreciative of your care, ask yourself, ‘How would I feel if I faced similar limitations and frustrations?’ When you try to be understanding and forgiving, you may avoid making a bad situation worse.

  • Consult others.

    What the Bible says: “Plans fail when there is no consultation, but there is accomplishment through many advisers.”—Proverbs 15:22.

    How can the principle be applied? Do research on how to manage the health problems your parents may have. Find out what resources are available in your community to help with their care. Talk with others who have cared for elderly parents. If you have siblings, consider having a family meeting to discuss your parents’ needs, how to care for them, and how to share the load.

    Consider having a family meeting to discuss the care of elderly parents

  • Be modest.

    What the Bible says: “Wisdom is with the modest ones.”—Proverbs 11:2.

    How can the principle be applied? Recognize your limitations. For example, everyone has limited time and energy. These limitations can affect how much you are realistically able to do for your parents. If you find yourself overwhelmed with the demands of caring for elderly parents, consider asking for help from other family members or from professionals.

  • Look after yourself.

    What the Bible says: “No man ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cherishes it.”—Ephesians 5:29.

    How can the principle be applied? Although you have a responsibility to take care of your parents, you also have to care for your needs and those of your own family if you are married. You need to eat well. You have to get adequate rest and sleep. (Ecclesiastes 4:6) And you need to take breaks when possible. By doing these things, you will be in a better position—emotionally, mentally, and physically—to care for your parents.

 Does the Bible say that elderly parents must be cared for at home?

The Bible contains no specific direction on whether adult children must care for parents at home. Some families choose to keep their aged parents at home for as long as possible. At some point, though, they may feel that nursing-home care is a better option. The family might meet together to decide what is best for everyone involved.—Galatians 6:4, 5.

^ par. 12 Regarding this account, one Bible commentary says: “It is probable that Joseph [Mary’s husband] was long since dead, and that her son Jesus had supported her, and now that he was dying what would become of her? . . . Christ has here taught children to provide for the comfort of their aged parents.”—The NIV Matthew Henry Commentary in One Volume, pages 428-429.