MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on January 12th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 11, The Day We Almost Died

Claire is Controlling Even When She Tries Not to Be

The kids have Friday off from school, and as tonight’s episode opens the Dunphys are driving home from a trip to the pancake house. Phil is at the wheel, as laidback as ever, while Claire (predictably) acts like she owns all the controls.
Claire (phoning Mitchell): Mitch, hi. What? … (then to the kids riding in the back) I can’t hear him. I can’t even hear myself. Everybody just shut up!!!

With the noise under control, Claire now takes control of her conversation with Mitch.
Claire: I need you to send a gift to Mom for her birthday from the both of us.
Mitch: No, I did it last year.
Claire: I know, and I need you to do it again. Look, I’ve got a conference call at 1:20. Then Luke’s tutor comes to the house, 2:45 sales meeting, and I still gotta get Alex to judo.
Mitch: And yet you somehow find time to bitch at me. Wow! You really can have it all.

Then suddenly a big truck barrels through a stop sign, missing the Dunphy’s car by inches. No one gets hurt, but the brush with death leaves everyone shaken.

Claire and Phil respond to their near miss with death by changing how they think about control.
Phil (to his family): Something hit me this morning – when that truck didn’t hit me this morning. I have not been in control of my own life. But those days are done … And if me getting what I want inconveniences people a little, so be it.

Claire (confiding to Mitch): Do you know what I was doing when I almost died? … Scheduling my life down to the last minute. [But] today made me realize something. We are not control freaks. We don’t [need to] sweat the small stuff. Just let it go.

The Framework
Tonight’s episode is all about control. Parenting teens is too.

Some parents think they own the controls. And they use lectures and threats to try to keep it that way. Teens parented this way are likely to become secretive, dedicating all their energy to sneaking around and outsmarting their parents’ controlling tactics.

Other parents choose to relinquish almost all control. They place few demands on their teens and give them more freedom than they’ve earned or than they’re ready for. Teens parented this way often fail to learn that past behavior matters, and they are likely to get the impressions that they’re entitled to whatever they want.

Claire (to Phil): Oh, honey, you spent the whole day trying to control everything. And I spent the entire today trying not to. And neither way worked.

Neither way – trying to control everything or totally opting out – works when parenting teens either. But often our deepest desire to do what is right for our kids means that we (like Claire and Phil) lean too far in one directions or the other.

When our kids were younger, we controlled all the action. Many of us would like to maintain that same relationship. Like Claire, we’re controlling even when we’re trying not to be. After all those tactics worked really well for the first twelve years of our kids’ lives.

Sometimes, though, we lean too far in the other direction. We so value our close relationships with our teens that we become reluctant to set limits or discipline them. Lots of well-meaning moms fear they’ll lose their teen’s love if they make and enforce rules.

Separating from the control of adults (especially their parents) is the teen agenda. In the spirit of growing up, they cannot allow our old relationships with them to continue. If they did, they’d live with us forever.

Yet teens lack experience and their brains are still under construction. This means that they don’t always prioritize or foresee things the same way we adults do. So even though they’ll almost never tell us directly, our teens are counting on us to provide guidance by making rules, and they’re counting on us to hold them accountable when they mess-up.

What’s a Mom to Do?
We’re at our best when we parent from the middle of the control spectrum. From this sweet spot, we neither act like we own the controls nor relinquish the controls completely. Instead, we help our teens manage the controls.

To help you find your sweet spot, take a few minutes to think about the path you’re currently on with your teen. Then make a list of 10 things that would make the path a lot smoother – things that would make a huge difference for good in your family life.

Now go back and put a question mark next to any of the things on your list that would require your teen or someone else to change. Then put a “C” for control next to the things left unmarked. These are the things on that list that you have direct power to change.

Next look back at the things on the list labeled with a question mark. Which of those things can you affect or sway if you work hard to interact with care, sincerity, and persistence? Mark those things with an “I” for influence.

Truth be told, once our kids become teens we can only really control two things when it comes to their lives: We can control how we spend our resources on them. And, we can control much of what they do in our homes – if we’re there and paying attention.

Yet, as we give up control, we can gain power through our influence. This starts with staying connected to our teens because our influence can be no stronger than our connection with them. Then we must use our influence wisely by focusing on the things that really matter and directing our energy towards affecting those.

Your Parenting Experiences
In general, where do you think you are on the control spectrum? Are you more likely to want to take control, like Claire? Or are you more laidback, like Phil? Are you purposefully more hands-on about some things and more hands-off about others? What do you think your teen would say?

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on December 15th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 10, Haley’s 21st Birthday

Claire Should’ve Left Herself Some Wiggle Room

The Framework
Tonight on “Modern Family” the adults all pitch-in to help Haley turn 21. Mitchell gets things started at the bar.
Mitch (bringing a round of drinks to the table): Haley, we are here for you tonight. (Then lifting his glass in a toast), To Haley’s first drink.

Haley chugs her drink while the others are still clinking glasses. Given all that we know about Haley, this fits. What’s odd is how she wound up spending her big night like this. She explains it this way: Yes, I’m a huge dork for celebrating my 21st with my family. But my mom was crazy excited to go to a bar with me.

As their night in the bar gets going, it becomes clear that Claire hopes this night out with her oldest child will signal her wish for a change in their relationship.
Claire (to Gloria and Haley): What are you two giggling about?
Gloria: She asked me…
Haley (interrupting): You don’t want to know. Trust me.
Claire: I do. I do. I do. Trust me.
Haley: No. You’ll just be all judgy because you want me to be a perfect little angel.
Claire: Oh, Honey, no. That’s not true … I want us to have a more adult relationship. I am sure that the reason my mom and I grew apart is that she never stopped treating me like a child. Come on, Haley. Let me in.

And just like that Claire gets her wish.
Haley: Okay. Fine. So we were laughing because we were playing “would you rather” and I said would you rather marry George Clooney or have the best sex of your life with Tom Hardy … I can’t believe I’m talking to my mom about this.
Claire: Honey, I told you, you’re a grown-up now. I’m going to respect your decisions and let you live your life. It’s the best present I can get you on your 21st birthday: my friendship and unconditional acceptance.

No sooner had mother and daughter clinked glasses to ratify their new relationship than Haley puts it to the test.
Haley: Oh, that means so much to me right now. You know why?
Claire: Why?
Haley: Because I want to get a tattoo tonight. And I was afraid you’d say “no.”
Gloria: Why? How could she say “no” after everything she just said to you?
Claire (looking for wiggle room): How could I say “no”? Is there a way?
Haley (taking this as a “yes”): Oh my God! This is the best present ever! Could tonight get any better?!

As Haley presses Claire for more, it’s evident that she’s hoping the night can get even better.
Haley: I want to [get matching tattoos] with you. Will you? … It could be like our special thing that we have for the rest of our lives. Just us.
Claire: That is so sweet.
Hailey: I mean it. I want to do it with you. Will you?
Claire: I can’t believe this, but I will. I will. I will because I love you. (Then hugging Haley tightly), I love you. I love you. I love you.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
If there’s ever a time when our kids need a parent more than another buddy, it just might be on the eve of their 21st birthday. Because when kids turn 21, the law no longer stands in their way. They’re legal. And many celebrate the transition to legal drinking age by drinking. A LOT.

Studies indicate that about 85% of these partiers drink to dangerous levels with average blood alcohol concentrations of 0.17%. In fact, turning 21 has gotten lots of media attention because of the alcohol related deaths associated with the celebrations.

Although evidence suggests that young adults anticipate drinking excessively during their 21st celebrations, most of them drink more than they planned – with guys more likely than gals to do so. Those who end up drinking more than they expect to generally drink faster, consume more shots (as opposed to beer or wine), have more friends present to help keep the festivities going, and engage in more 21st birthday drinking traditions.

I tried to keep track of Haley’s drinks tonight and counted one shot and two mixed drinks. Like most of her peers, she celebrated with the harder stuff instead of wine or beer. But her tally of three drinks was much lower than the average number of drinks (10.7) consumed by most of those celebrating their 21st.

Celebrating with family also undoubtedly protected Haley from some of the “rite of passage” traditions that have become regular parts of 21st birthday parties. These often are dares to do things that range in risk from asking a room full of strangers to sing “Happy Birthday” to you or dancing on a table top to taking multiple frosting shots, drunk dialing the 21st person on your contact list, or drawing a tally mark on your arm for every drink and trying not to stop until you hit 21. (For more, click here.)

Claire: Phil, you’ve got to get down here right now and stop Haley from getting a tattoo!
Phil: What?! No, you stop her!
Claire: I can’t. I made a commitment to be her friend.
Phil: Why would you do that?
Claire: I don’t know. I was trying something.

The “something” Claire “was trying” was to relinquish her parental authority entirely and just be Haley’s friend. Once kids reach their teens and beyond, it’s a tempting thing for all of us to do. After all, like Claire, we love our kids. We want them to be happy. We don’t want to lose their love and our connection with them. And it can seem downright unkind to withhold our approval, our permission, and even our resources.

It’s so much easier to just go along with whatever they want to do – like a friend.

What’s a Mom to Do?
We have to be a mom first and a friend second. Keeping close, loving relationships with our kids is our most important job as a mom. And part of a loving relationship is the safety and security that comes when we set appropriate expectations and limits.

If there are times when you can be a mom and a friend, fine. But most kids still need our guidance more than they need another buddy – well into their 20s. And for many this is never truer than on their 21st birthday. Because the amount and style of drinking during these celebrations is often extreme, posing serious health risks for our kids.

Having fun is what turning 21 should be all about. But it’s our job to remind them to play safe. As their birthday approaches, you might get that conversation started by sending your young adult the “Top Ten 21st Birthday Survival Tips” created by Purdue University Student Wellness Center. Click here to see this page that comes complete with confetti.

In the meantime, remember that while we (like Claire) may wish to let the bond we share with our kids evolve and just be their friend, being a friend at all times hardly ever works well until kids have fully matured into their own adult lives. Until then we’re wise to leave ourselves some wiggle room.

Your Parenting Experiences
Tonight Claire made it clear that she wanted something more for Haley and herself than she had with her own mom.
Claire: I am sure that the reason my mom and I grew apart is that she never stopped treating me like a child.

What was your relationship like with your Mom when you were a young adult? How do you think this affects what you want for your own kids?

Sources and Resources: “Anticipated Versus Actual Consumption During 21st Birthday Celebrations” by H. Brister, R. Wetherill, & K. Fromme in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol; “Top Ten 21st Birthday Survival Tips” by Purdue University Student Health Center; “21 Ways to Celebrate Your 21st Birthday” at College

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