Between kindness and ingratitude
Allah, the Most Exalted, have commanded man to do good to his parents. He has associated obeying and thanking Him with obeying and thanking them. He also deemed hurting them, even if just by saying "Ugh", unlawful, since they are the direct cause of one’s existence. They are the ones who look after the child with a sense of responsibility and giving. They sacrifice their lives to ensure that his life prospers and bear all kinds of misery to witness happiness glowing in his eyes. Thus, being good (kind) to them is a great virtue that is based on the great human virtue that appreciates giving, since giving generates giving, and life needs kindness, mercy and giving to reach its fullness.
As for being undutiful or ungrateful, it represents rigidity, cruelty, irresponsibility, stinginess and selfishness. This impedes the vitality of life and its ability to grow and continue. It also hampers the role of humanity in producing the values of goodness. It is a major sin that makes the one who commits it earn having his abode in hell.
The principles of dealing with parents
"Thy Lord has decreed that ye worship none but Him;” this is the general principle from which all sub-principles branch. It is to worship Allah and no one but Allah, and obey His commands in all what He had deemed lawful and all what He had prohibited. It signifies rebellion against all other wills that try to force man to succumb to tyrants, oppressors, desires and whims that run in his veins.
In this way, man deals with all affairs, deeds and relations from the perspective of this principle which draws the line between obeying Allah and disobeying Him. He would cling to obeying Allah, for it is the practical embodiment of worshipping, and he would rebel against disobeying Allah, since it is the practical manifestation of deviation from the principle of oneness.
"And that you be kind to your parents;” this is the first thing that one inspires when the feeling of Allah’s oneness overwhelms his soul, since if Allah is the ultimate cause of his existence, his parents are the direct cause. Moreover, if Allah has bestowed upon him all what has given strength to his life and enabled him to survive, his parents have made every effort and sacrifice to nurture these elements, and promote them. Allah wanted man to be fully aware of this fact in his relations with his parents. He ought to realize the deep secret that maintains these relations; which are the feelings of love and mercy which give without expecting anything in return. It is this feeling that makes them bear any pain and exhaustion to ensure the happiness and smoothness of their child's life.
Thus, Allah wanted man to treat his parents kindly, by means of words, gestures and deeds and by the spiritual embracement that they would feel deep inside, and that resembles how they had embraced him in his childhood; an embracement of affection, love and kindness.
Growing old in age affects the parent’s mood and they become impatient and bad tempered, which affects their behavior and leads those who live with them to react negatively, especially their children, who would hurt them, since the strong usually pressurizes the weak and hurts and abuses him. Thus, the issue is not that the old person has certain innate traits. It is his attitude that leads to negative reactions by his child.
“Say not to them (so much as) Ugh.” This is the right attitude one should adopt when dealing with their annoying deeds. If the mere saying of (ugh) is impermissible, then any stronger reaction must also be impermissible. The principle is the unlawfulness of hurting them, and since the weakest form is impermissible, then the stronger is naturally impermissible. Imam Ja’afar As-Sadiq (a.s.) says: “Had Allah known of a word more trivial and insignificant than the word 'Ugh', He would have forbidden it (to be spoken to the parents).”
“Nor chide them;” by yelling, rebuking and speaking cruelly, “but speak to them a gracious word;” a word that holds love, affection and kindness and that is full of respect and glorification.
“And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility.” This represents total humility and submission in words and actions, and in an act of pity and gratitude. It is as if Allah is saying that one ought to take his parents under his wings just as the mother bird does to its chicks. Thus, we understand that Allah does not want the child to instigate his sense of dignity towards his parents; but rather, a sense of humbleness that emanates from the feeling of mercy and love that makes one tolerate from those whom he love what he does not accept from others. He would forgive them when they wrong him; it is the [most sublime] human spirit that is open on mercy. This spirit will learn how to differentiate between the feelings of mercy and the feelings of humiliation, and it will be grateful to those who were good to it and treated it with love and mercy, and give back the same noble feelings, so that the movement of humanity towards giving would continue, in a noble feeling of gratefulness that preserves all the good that they were embraced with.
This feeling of mercy makes one recall his personal history with his parents…. He would recollect how they used to wear themselves out to let him rest… how they used to stay awake to let him sleep… how they used to stay hungry to satiate his hunger… how they used to sacrifice their lives to ensure the growth of his body and mind… How they used to embrace him with their feelings and kindness and protect him from anything that might hurt him … all these memories will fill his mind, heart and feelings, and he would become overwhelmed by a feeling of kindness, as he witnesses all the weaknesses they are suffering from, and remember that he was a part of all that. He would invoke Allah solemnly and piously to forgive them, take care of them and protect them, since Allah is capable of doing what he is unable to do in this respect, while the mercy of Allah covers both this world and the Hereafter.
Thus, Allah wants to deepen the humanitarian feeling of love, mercy and kindness towards one's parents to make them feel that the efforts they had made did not go in vain and they that have earned a kind of spiritual compensation in return.
Nevertheless, the kind of obedience Islam wants children to exhibit towards their parents is that of goodness, kindness and charity, and not that of responsibility as our obedience to Allah, the Messenger and the Imams is. If they order their children to do what goes against their interests in their religion or worldly affairs, then the children are not obliged to obey them, yet they have to deal with the situation with a lot of flexibility.