MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on December 16th, 2013, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 10, The Old Man and the Tree

Luke’s Problem Gets Bigger by the Week

The Framework
In tonight’s holiday episode, there were a lot of made up minds – along with the resulting mix-ups, mess-ups, and fess-ups.

Phil is spending this Christmas Eve doggedly determined to complete something he made up his mind to do last Christmas. As Claire explains: Last Christmas Phil got an elliptical machine and vowed to walk the equivalent of our home to Canada in one year.

Jay made up his mind to “save Christmas” after seeing the fiber-optic tree Manny set-up.
Jay: I’m drawing a line in the sand. We’re going to get a real tree, and we’re going to cut it down like I did when I was a kid. … Christmas is real trees and eggnog …Perry Como and Bing on the hi-fi.
Manny: Now you’re just making up words.

Claire is certain her mother doesn’t care about her. She made up her mind about this years ago after her mother kept sending her the same gift every Christmas.
Claire (lifting the lid of a large trunk full of slippers): Would you care to take a visit to the museum of maternal indifference?

Lily has her mind made-up too; there’s only one thing she wants for Christmas. But as Mitch laments: There are no Puppy Pounds anywhere. It’s like trying to find a Cabbage Patch Kid on Christmas Eve, 1983.

It’s the storyline about Luke, though, that caught my attention. He has a problem that won’t go away. Instead it’s getting bigger by the week.
Luke (to camera): I’m in charge of the recycling. I’m supposed to bring it from the garage to the curb by 6:00 every Thursday morning. I may have missed a few weeks – maybe more than a few weeks. After a while, the pile just got so big I couldn’t bring it out the night before or people would ask questions. …I don’t need people asking questions.

And with that, Luke makes up his mind to do something about it.
Dylan (standing in the Dunphy’s garage looking at a mountain of garbage): That is a lot of product you’re moving.
Luke: Just bring it to the recycling place.
Dylan: Not until I get paid.
Luke (handing Dylan several skyrockets from a large stash of fireworks): This is six weeks allowance.
Dylan: You have the coolest parents ever!
Then later, as the three families celebrate Christmas together, there’s this.
Luke (in a voiceover): A lot of times it’s only after we get rid of something that we realize how much we miss it. …And things that seem worthless suddenly turnout to be super valuable. Maybe even precious.

Luke’s monologue smoothly slides into a conversation with his parents as the three stand in the garage next to the garbage heap with a bandaged Dylan standing nearby.
Luke: Which is why I thought getting rid of this stuff would be a huge mistake.
Phil (smiling faintly and nodding): Uhhh.
Claire (with a knowing smile): Nice try. You still owe us six week’s allowance.
Phil: And the fireworks.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Regardless of how they’re parented, teens see their job as getting to do what they want. And they all have a tendency to think that nothing really bad is going to happen. So for them, getting to do what they want basically boils down to dealing with us – their parents. Add to this the fact that most teens also want to please us. And it’s easy to see that there’s going to be some stuff they’d prefer we not know about.

What’s a Mom to Do
To stay in the loop and be the sturdy presence our teens need, we must master the art of interacting with them. Although Claire and Phil missed a couple things that they might have noticed earlier had they been paying closer attention, they handled some things well as they dealt with Luke. Here are some tips we can learn from the Dunphy parents tonight.

At the back of your mind, remember that the conversation you think you’re having might really be about something else. Luke started off by talking about things that were easy to hear. Our teens often start out the same way. Sometimes they talk about things of little consequence. Other times they begin with their successes. Whether they know it or not, they’re testing us by talking about these easy things before shifting to things that are more difficult for us to hear – things like a speeding ticket, a failing grade, or a conflict with a teacher or coach.

Listen and let your teen know you hear them. Not all teens are as smooth as Luke. Typically teens relay things that are difficult for us to hear in a slow, piecemeal way. And as they talk, we quickly see all the possibilities for trouble. And, often, well before they’re finished, we feel compelled to interrupt and give advice about what they should do or scold them for getting themselves into such a mess. But Claire and Phil didn’t immediately jump in and begin to lecture Luke. Instead they listened first.

Listening to our teens – and letting them know with our facial expression, body language, and tone of voice that we’ve heard them – doesn’t mean we agree or condone what they did. Instead listening tells our teens that we care about them, and it helps them hear us when it’s our turn to talk.

Present a united front to your teen. Claire and Phil demonstrated a solid confidence tonight as they stood together looking at Luke and the garbage heap behind him. Presenting a united front is especially crucial when it comes to important family expectations. So make up your mind not to argue in front of your teen. Even if your spouse says something you don’t agree with, unless it’s way out of line, go with it for the time being. You can come to an agreement later when out of your teen’s earshot.

Have rules based on a structure of reward. If teens had their way, most of them would choose to live a life of entitlement: They’d do whatever they please and then look to us to pay their bills and bail them out of trouble. So unless we want them to never grow up and just live with us forever, it’s a good idea to set up family rules based on rewards – like allowance, their phone, new clothes, car use, and concert tickets. Our teens get these privileges when they follow the rules. But just as Claire and Phil did tonight, we need to follow through and take rewards away when our expectations aren’t met.

Strive for a strong connection and peace of mind. Claire and Phil dealt with Luke’s mess-up in a fair and objective way. They didn’t accuse or label Luke or even raise their voice. They kept their thoughts and feelings under control and did what was needed to hold Luke accountable without unduly damaging their connection with him in the process.

And we didn’t see Claire and Phil engaging in woulda, coulda, shoulda. Yes, if they would have noticed the heap of garbage growing in their garage, they could have done something about it sooner. And they probably should have been keeping tabs on how Luke was spending his allowance. But instead of looking backwards and beating themselves up, they put their energy into doing what they could do now.

Claire (as she licks the cookie batter left on the beater – a treat that Gloria has been denied by her own mother): I don’t make the rules.

Most of us don’t like confrontations – especially confrontations with our teen. Sometimes we’re too busy or too overwhelmed to deal with all the battles. And sometimes we become reluctant to set limits or discipline them because we so value our close relationships with them. Lots of well-meaning moms fear they’ll lose their teen’s love if they make and enforce rules.

But teens don’t always prioritize or foresee things the same way we adults do. They lack experience and their brains are still under construction. So whether we like it or not, they’re counting on us to provide guidance by making rules. And just as important, they need us to hold them accountable when they mess-up. Because if we don’t give consequences when they’re needed, our teens won’t see us as a guide worth following. And they’ll be on their own without our guidance.

Your Parenting Experiences
Can you think of a time when the conversation you thought you were having with your teen was really about something else?

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on December 9th, 2013, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 9, The Big Game

Space Matters

The Framework
Tonight’s episode reminds just how much space matters – the space between the letters in graffiti as well as the space between individuals that helps each of us define and protect who we are at our core.

The kids are busy trying on new things and new priorities as they do the work of defining who they are.
Haley is back in school. She seems to be taking it more seriously this time around while putting a little space between herself and Dylan in the process.
Dylan: We should see a midnight movie like old times.
Haley: Oh my God! I’m so in! Ohh… ooh. Could we do it earlier? I have a midterm tomorrow.

Alex is rethinking the status of her social life.
Haley: Wow! You really are invisible, huh?
Alex: I could not be more fine with it.
Haley: You’re like the guy from that movie who wishes he was never born.
Alex: “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Haley: You say that, but do you mean it?
By the show’s end, it seems that Haley may be on to something here.

Manny is trying on football. Coach Cam wants Manny to be a competitive player but ends up giving Manny a little space to figure out for himself what’s most important. Jay, who seems to have less respect for boundaries, too has hopes for Manny.
Manny: If you’re at the store later, could you pick up some ice? I’m gonna need it after the game.
Jay: My little athlete…
Manny: I want to try out the gelato maker I traded my bike for.
Jay: …Lures me in every time.

And precocious Lily (with a little help from Gloria) is learning some lessons about personal space and boundaries. As her teacher reports: One of the boys, Patrick, said that Lily pushed him down and tried to kiss him.

Meanwhile the adults are dealing with space and boundary issues of their own. Claire is still trying to define who she is at her new job: I want them to see me like a coworker – not somebody who is getting special treatment because she’s the boss’s daughter.
Mitch is letting his boss walk all over him with lines that have a familiar, parental ring. Lines like: You really let me down. And I expected so much more of you.
And Cam shouts I won! I won! I mean, we won! We won! as he struggles to juggle his desire to be the coach his freshman team needs with his own need to be the winningest first year coach in the school’s history:

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
We are all a part of various collectives – including our relationships at home as well as at school or work. But we are also individuals. And having space and boundaries that separate who we are as a person from everyone else helps keep us from becoming resentful, overbearing, or unhealthily dependent on others.

Children’s identities are extensions of their parents. But teens begin to recognize their uniqueness and to develop a sense of self. In fact, this is one of the most important tasks of adolescence. If all goes well, teens emerge from adolescence knowing and trusting themselves and valuing their own attributes. Of course, having an overbearing boss (like Mitch’s), working for a parent (like Claire is), or simply going home for the holidays can sometimes require even the most mature adult to step back and set some limitations to keep their identity intact.

Jay (about Claire): Your own kid, embarrassed to be seen with you. I mean you spend your whole life… (and later to Claire as he holds up a mug with “#1 Dad” inscribed on it): You gave me this. Look how adorable you were.
Claire: I want you to try really hard to hear what I’m saying. When I need your help, I’ll ask for it. Until then, just butt out.
Jay: Well, you’re still my daughter. … You’re the only one I carry home in my arms.

Although our teens are hardly ever this polite as they do it, Claire’s lines capture their sentiment as they push us away to create the space they need to disentangle their identities from ours. And as Jay’s lines attest, it can hurt to be a parent and to be so pointedly pushed away. It can be even more painful as our teens, in the process of extending away, point out what they see as enormous flaws in our mannerisms, our beliefs, and our decisions.

What’s a Mom to Do
Our teen’s job is to differentiate themselves from us and develop their own identity by trying on new things and extending away from us. Our job is to stay connected to them while giving them enough space to do their job. Here are some tips to keep in mind as we do our job:

You can and do make a difference. When our teens declare they are not a little kid anymore and no longer need us, we might respond with a gentle reminder, “I know, but I’m still your mom.” Study after study confirms that parents are a crucial source of information and feedback about relationships, values, decision-making, and consequences of one’s actions. We have more influence than anyone else.

Rather than focusing on all the things in your teen’s life that you’re concerned about, try to focus on the things that you can influence. When we focus on our worries, we tend to lecture, criticize, and blame. This kind of negative messaging diminishes our influence with our teens. On the other hand, when we focus on the things that we can actually do something about, we tend to listen, to be curious and more creative, and to look for ways that we can collaborate – all things that add to our influence with our teens.

To parent well takes some faith in the learning process. Although our influence can and does make an enormous difference, there is a limit to our influence. We now have less knowledge about their lives and less control over their actions than when they were younger. Plus, even when we can intervene, it’s sometimes best to observe watchfully from a distance as our teens experience and learn for themselves. Because sometimes when we stay out of the process, our teens learn more with outcomes that are both better and more long-term.

Your teen’s expressions of dissatisfaction are not a good gauge of the job you’re doing as a parent. Being a parent requires that we take on certain obligations – like setting limits, making rules, offering guidance, and holding our teens accountable. It’s our job to say “no” and to mete out consequences when we need to. So sometimes doing our job well means that our teens will be unhappy with us and our decisions. You can almost guarantee it.

Although they’ll almost never tell you directly, your teen cares deeply about you and your opinions. Especially during tough times or transitions (like second semester senior year), it’s helpful to stay focused on maintaining our connection with our teens. We need to keep reaching out to them and inviting them to do things with us even if they keep turning us down. Because our reaching out strengthens our connection with them. And the stronger our connection, the more influence our opinions will have.

Adolescence is a stage. It’s easy to forget when you’re in the middle of a dispute with your teen, but someday things will be different. As your teen grows-up, your relationship with them will evolve. If you stay connected to them now – despite the hassles and heartache – while giving them the space they need to figure out who they are, chances are good that you’ll feel close again one day. You can almost guarantee it.

Your Parenting Experiences
Tonight Phil’s effort to reach out to his kids is met with little enthusiasm. But he seems unfazed by the rejection.
Phil (to his kids): I’ll see you guys at the game!
Luke: Unph!
Phil: There is no “unph” in “Dunphy!” …Different spelling.

How do these scenes play out at your house?

Sources: Staying Connected to Your Teenager by Michael Riera

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