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Q: I don’t get along with my parents, so I try to avoid seeing them as much as I can, including during the holidays. Is this breaking one of the Ten Commandments?
A: The Russian writer Leo Tolstoy famously opened his novel Anna Karenina with the observation that all happy families are alike, but each unhappy family is unique in their unhappiness. I’d have to know the particulars of your family’s unhappiness—that’s the not getting along and the avoidance that you mentioned—to be able to answer your question. Do you steer clear of your parents because their need for technological help is relentless and their tendency to talk to you like you’re still a child is irritating? Or do you choose to stay away because they refuse to treat your romantic partner with respect and because a history of abuse or neglect means that visits take a serious toll on your mental health? There’s a big difference in these scenarios.
Yes, one of the Ten Commandments is to honor our parents. But when we look at the commandments in the way that Jesus taught us, they boil down to love of God and love of neighbor. If an honest assessment of your relationship with your parents (and may I suggest investing in the perspective of a therapist or spiritual director for this assessment?) leads you to believe that the best way to love God and your neighbors (this includes your parents, but also your chosen family and friends) is to maintain some healthy boundaries, then I wouldn’t worry about the fifth commandment. But if your examination leads you to see that some time together wouldn’t do tremendous damage to your physical, spiritual, or psychological well-being, then maybe it’s a good time to take a deep breath and honor your mom and dad with some time together.