It's OK to rely on your kids, just not too much

By Jim DeBrosse

After an hour of trying to replace a headlight last week on my 2006 Honda CR-V, I finally gave up and let my 15-year-old daughter do it. She accomplished the task in about two minutes, but only after she made me promise to cease cussing. I was forced to swallow my pride on at least two fronts, bringing shame upon all men, who are supposed to have superior mechanical skills, and to anyone 55 and older, a benchmark I happened to clear that same week.

Alas, the second headlight burned out two days later. I was prepared this time. I read, and re-read, the totally cryptic directions in the owner's manual. I carefully removed the plug, the rubber seal, the fastener and the old bulb, noting by touch the exact position of each piece since the Honda Corp., in its great wisdom, has placed bulb and fastener where they can't possibly be seen.

But when I went to install the new bulb, I failed again. This time I didn't cuss, just sighed with resignation, and went crawling to my oldest daughter. She replaced the bulb in about 15 seconds. I couldn't watch.

Then came an awful epiphany: As I grow older and less agile mentally and physically, I will have to rely increasingly on my children. It's a realization that every parent faces, but it's all the more sobering, I think, when you're a single parent.

For six years, I've been the primary caretaker of my children -- a challenge, but also a source of can-do pride. But as my children need me less, I find I need them more. And there is a danger, I believe, in my becoming too dependent on them, not just for simple tasks but for my emotional needs.

A recent South Park episode is telling. When Cartman's harried single mother can no longer control his behavior, she engages the services of a male counselor, who guides her in how to set and enforce limits. That includes not caving into her son's demands for a very expensive video game.

It works! Cartman, the quintessential foul-mouthed brat, turns into a nice kid, surprising even himself. But then Cartman's mother begins to fall for the counselor, who, of course, is oblivious as she finds one excuse after another for their meeting socially.

When the counselor tells her it wouldn't be ethical for him to accompany her to a rock concert, she stews a moment, then asks her son if he'll go with her. Cartman refuses -- unless she buys the video game he's been begging for.

She gives in.

As my children grow older, I find I enjoy their company more and more and, I hope, vice versa. But I also realize they will (and they had better) leave my nest someday, and that day is coming sooner all the time.

Dating in middle-age and with children at home is akin to running a marathon with 10-pound weights around your ankles, especially when the kids resent the time you spend away from them. Millions of single parents, not just me, are running that race.

So, the easiest thing to do is to become "buddies" with your kids and let them provide the companionship and entertainment you might have gotten from a relationship. Don't. When the day comes, and it must, for them to be on their own, you will be all the more alone.

So, single parents, pursue your dreams of adult companionship without guilt -- you owe it to yourself and your children. And if you're like Mr. Mom, you'd better find a good mechanic to work on your car.

DATE: February 9, 2007                                                                                                          PUBLICATION: Dayton Daily News (OH)

Copyright, 2007, Cox Ohio Publishing. All rights reserved.

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