Should We Be Good Children To ‘Bad’ Parents?



If on the right shoulder carrying one’s Father, and on the left shoulder carrying one’s Mother, going through a thousand years, even though they have their convenience on one’s back, however without having the resentful mind for one’s Father and Mother, this child still cannot adequately repay the Father and Mother’s kindness.

Śākyamuni Buddha
(Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks On Fathers And Mothers’ Kindness Being Difficult To Repay)

If our parents did not seem to have done their best in caring for us, perhaps by being largely absent, or even slightly abusive, should we still be filial to them when we grow up, and as they grow old? This is a good question, because to ponder about it is to want to do better, to want the relationship to be bettered. What is the Buddhist perspective on this? There are some 8 key considerations to reflect upon.

[1] Gratitude: Even if our parents’ care could have been better, the very fact that we are living relatively well now means that we were brought up with adequate needs, for our state of well-being to be possible. (Of course, much might be due to personal efforts too.) Thus, it is only natural for us to, out of gratitude, repay their kindness, even if it was not expressed to us in the best ways possible.

[2] Human Rebirth: In the Buddhist teachings, the first of the Four Heavy Sources Of Kindness (四重恩) is the Kindness Of Father And Mother (父母恩). This is so as they provided supportive conditions (助缘) for us to receive this precious human rebirth (人身), which is a relatively good vehicle for learning and practising the Buddha’s teachings (佛法), so as to progress towards True Happiness.

[3] Imperfection: Just as we might be uncertain of how we might bring up our children until they arrive, our parents probably did what they could back then, when we were children, despite their karmic challenges faced, mixed with personal shortcomings. Just as they are imperfect parents, we are also imperfect children, with no reason to expect perfect care for and from one another.

[4] Collective Karma: According to the Buddha’s teachings, there is common or collective karma (共业) that led us to be reborn in our present families. This is so as everything is based upon karmic (业力) cause and effect (因果). In this sense, we also have ourselves to ‘blame’ for the state of our families, (not just the others within). However, the Buddhist teachings also emphasise on impermanence (无常), on how things can change, for better or worse, pivoting on our present efforts.

[5] Generational Karma: If our parents were not very good to us, it might be that they did not have very good parents too. If our parents did not have good enough role models, due to their past generational experiences, they might simply be parenting in the only way they know. If we, as parents do not become good (or better) role models of filial piety to our children, such ‘generational karma’ might perpetuate, with them not being very filial to us in time too.

[6] Improvement: Although we are all imperfect, we can always improve ourselves. In fact, we can improve exactly because we are imperfect. To improve a two-way relationship, we should be good examples first. This is how the dynamics of relationships can change, beginning from ourselves, by being more understanding, forgiving and giving. With enough efforts over time, children and parents can touch one another emotionally, with strained relationships changed for good.

[7] Repayment: Just as our parents brought us up to be reasonably alright, we should repay their kindness by ensuring that they can grow old reasonably alright too. When more genuine concern surfaces, there will be more genuine care expressed two-way, thus healing the relationship. The true way to be filial is not just physical, but spiritual too, by guiding them to Āmítuófó’s (阿弥陀佛) Pure Land (净土).

[8] Communication: With more honest, more patient and more heart to heart communication, sharing experiences and feelings forgotten or untold, it is almost certain that all will realise, that we are more indebted to one another than we assume or know. The greatest sacrifices are often unspoken, thus with the greatest thanks for them still unspoken too.

Even if things do not work out as wished, we should still be the loving persons we wish to be, without regrets for caring too. Communication is the lifeblood of any relationship. Take baby steps perhaps? Actions do speak louder than words. More actions and less words at first perhaps? Express baby acts of concern perhaps? May all be well and happy.

Related Teachings:

What Basic Integrity And Gratitude Should We Have?

Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks On Fathers And Mothers’ Kindness Being Difficult To Repay

若父母无信,教令信… ;无戒,与戒教授…;不闻,使闻教授…;悭贪,教令好施,劝乐教授…;无智慧,教令黠慧,劝乐教授,… 获安隐处。


If Fathers and Mothers are without faith [in the Triple Gem], teach to enable them to have faith…; if without precepts, give the precepts and instruct them…; if not hearing the Dharma, enable hearing the Dharma and instruct them…; if stingy and greedy, teach to enable good giving, encourage joy in giving and instruct them…; if without wisdom, teach to enable intelligence and wisdom to arise, encourage joy in wisdom and instruct them, to obtain tranquil dwelling.

Śākyamuni Buddha
(Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks On Fathers And Mothers’ Kindness Being Difficult To Repay)

Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.