Boundaries needed between single parents and their kids

By Peter Ehrlich

Recently I was in the living room watching my 17-year-old son and his friends smoke, drink, giggle and flirt with a bunch of stunning 17-year-old girls. I know they're stunning because my own ageless 17-year-old heart, trapped in this adult body, tells me so.

When I talk to these young women I look straight into their eyes while thinking of something like, "Wow, cherries are only $2.99 at Loblaws."

My son's friends like me because we share some of the same passions; we all love '70s music.

It is not unusual for the bunch of us to jam and sing songs from the Stones' Exile on Main Street – teenage boys and single dad singing; "Gimme little drink, from your loving cup." Even though I know it has nothing to do with a cup.

Recently, for the first time ever, one of them called out to me, "Hey Peter, want to have a smoke with us?" (There is no chance anyone would call me Mr. Ehrlich.)

My 17-year-old heart snapped to attention but my single dad brain slapped it back down. "What the hell are you thinking?" I asked my heart.

My heart replied, "But you're all such good friends, why not?"

"Because, I am not truly their friend; I am my son's father and his friends' father figure." My heart sat back down in quiet resignation.

The fact is, this single dad is "single dad seeking" at the exact same time my son is "single son seeking" and that causes a blurring of the lines, even if I am seeking something romantic and lifelong.

It's so easy to blur the relationship line between single parent and child when your kids become preteen or teen. Easier because we hang out with our kids much more often than we with do our ex.

I asked Dr. David Wolfe about the importance of "boundaries" in the single parent-child relationship. He is the RBC Chair in Children's Mental Health at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

"There is nothing wrong with saying you're friends with your child," Wolfe says, "but as an adult, not on the same level as peer friends. Boundaries are required.

"Children want us to be parents. Parents need to stick to their generation so their teenage children can have theirs – their clothing, hairstyle and music."

"Moms shouldn't be making an effort to run out and try to look like their daughters, getting a navel piercing or whatever, and men 50-plus shouldn't be hanging out in muscle shirts.

"Social drinking is fine, but that means sharing one drink at home."

I'll be wearing sleeves more often this summer and, after talking to Wolfe, I was reminded of the importance of lines in the sand, being a friend to my son while staying the course as the father figure he needs me to be.

I have no plans to stop singing "Loving Cup" with my son and his friends, but now I'm going to leave the room shortly after the song ends.

Our character is defined by our will. My heart may be 17, but my old soul is not. If single dad is lonely, he needs to find his friends elsewhere.

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