As a religious law, adage, and recipe for generational reciprocity, the “honor commandment” looms large as a societal construct, especially with 76 million baby boomers in the United States approaching old age. This article explores how the honor commandment persists as a normative ethic in the lived practice of elder care and the ways that it is supported by, or at odds with, secular legal imperatives of elder care.
Much in the way that the biblical story of Ruth provides a broad interpretation of how to live the honor commandment, this interdisciplinary exploration is informed by contemporary experiences of elder care culled from ethnographic interviews as well as by theological, demographic, and legal source material. We argue that the honor commandment continues to support practical adherence to largely unknown legal obligations. Caring for aging and ill parents can impose burdens on the caretakers that secular laws often fail to alleviate, particularly because of changes in the structure of twenty-first-century families. We suggest potential reforms that could better facilitate honoring seriously ill elders and the grown children who care for them.