Role Reversal: Needing My Son’s Help

Last night I needed my son’s help.

Sure, in the past I have told my kids I needed their help, but it was just words. I have shouted from the car that I needed them to bring the groceries into the house, promising not to let them eat any of the food if they didn’t assist me. They never believed my threat. I have insisted that I needed them to clean their room. But they knew there was not an ounce of truth in that. I am completely capable of cleaning their room.

But last night I needed my son.

Parents need their kids' help.

The job of getting a very large and very unwell dog, calmed down and into the back of my car after midnight was a two-person job. But my husband was 1,000 miles away as our dog’s health deteriorated rapidly. Our son was 45 miles away. My husband told me to call him.

I had never been in the situation of truly needing one of my sons’ help and resisted calling. He is a kid. It was Saturday night. He was probably out with friends eating or drinking (he is legal). I didn’t want to bother him. I didn’t want to disturb his fun on the weekend. He could be sleeping, I argued.

My husband saw my situation far more clear-eyed. You need him. Call him. And, there was no chance he would be in bed before midnight on a weekend.

So I called and when my son didn’t answer right away, I hung up quickly. Two minutes later he called back. “Mom, what’s up?” I hadn’t thought. The wee hours of Sunday morning was not our usual hour for chit-chat. He would be concerned.

I told him about the dog, his dog. I told him I needed to get to the vet and it could not wait until morning. And then, I told him not to worry I had it all under control. This was a moment of reflex parenting. I had nothing under control.

And then he said that he was walking out of a restaurant that second (one point for the husband) and would get to me as fast as he could.

As I waited for my son I understood how wrong I had been. I had taught my kids that they needed to be responsible for themselves, but not for me. Yet, that is not how family works. I would do anything for him or his brothers and my kids have always known that.

I reconsidered:

By not asking for help I was attributing characteristics to my son, self-absorption, unhelpfulness, that he has never shown. He deserved better than that from me.

Asking kids to help is not a burden. It makes them feel needed and respected and acknowledges their competence.

I have spoken to my kids a thousand times about the importance of being there for the people (and pets) you love. But lessons need more than lip service.

She’s his dog. And while my son may not live at home, he has loved her for as long as he can remember. She had taken him through childhood and on into young adulthood. Helping me help her is not a burden. It is an act of love.

[Related: When it is time to say “goodbye” to the family dog.]

Let’s be honest. At this point. He owes me. In terms of helping it’s been one way traffic for more than two decades. He probably appreciates a chance to return the favor.

Yet, role reversals are rarely comfortable and we have a fairly well established pattern stretching the entire length of his life that involves me helping him. I was just beginning to understand as the dog simpered and flailed, that at this point our roles needed to evolve. Sure my sons are young and, as parents, we may still give more than we take, but life is a continuum and it was time for us to move along.

[Related: The significance of turning 18.]

Someday I will really, really need his and his brothers’ help. A little training now won’t hurt.

Our dog shook and whimpered and, as I watched my son lie down on the floor, trying to sooth and calm her at the vet’s office at 2 AM, I wondered how I had ever considered not calling him.


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