MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 25th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 24, American Skyper

Even the American Skyper Phil Can’t Solve Everything

The Framework
Tonight Alex graduates from high school. Phil, who can’t make it home from a business trip, is forced to attend the family celebration by a robot on Skype.
Phil: How great is this thing, huh? It’s so convenient. It’s like I’m right there in the room with you guys.

The house is especially full with visitors tonight – including Andy’s girlfriend Beth. And it really does feel as though Phil is right there in the house with them. In fact, practically everyone (except for Jay who shuts him in the bathroom) seeks Phil out to dump their problems on him.

Claire: [I got Alex] a key chain with a picture of me and [her] on her first day of school. I wanted her to have something that reminded her of how much I love her.
But later there’s this.
Claire: Honey, the key chain was a bust. I need something else. Quick.
Phil: Why don’t we just sing that song I wrote her … Good thing I brought my ukulele on the trip.
Claire: Trip! Oh! When Alex was little, I took her for brunch at that cute little Dutch town up north. I-I could take her there again. A trip for just the two of us. It’s perfect.
And then there’s this.
Claire: You’re never gonna believe what my dad did.
Phil: Lock you in the bathroom?
Claire: No. He gave Alex a trip to Europe for her graduation present. There’s no way I can now give her a weekend of Dutch pancake balls after that.

Cam: Phil, I need to talk to you, man to man. I think Mitchell’s having an affair.

Mitchell: We had some budget cuts at the office, and a bunch of us got laid off … I didn’t tell Cam because I was embarrassed, but also because I knew I would get another job like that. But it’s been a month …
Phil: Mitchell, you can talk to me. I’m a realtor.

Andy: Hey, Mr. D. Can we talk? … I’ve been getting some signals from Beth that she wants me to propose. I even have a ring. [But] there’s this other girl, and I feel like I have a serious connection with her, but I just don’t know how she feels.
Phil: It’s natural to wonder about a different path, but if you truly love Beth, you should propose.
Andy: You’re right. I’ll do it. There’s this place she loves by the ocean. I’ll take her there and propose at sunset.

Haley: Hey, Dad, can we talk? … Everyone thinks Beth is so great, but I think she’s crazy. She’s been after me all day … [because] she thinks I’m in love with Andy.
Phil: Are you?
Haley: No. I mean, I care about him. He makes me laugh. I like spending time with him.
Phil: Well, do you think about him when he’s not around?
Haley: I guess. Sometimes, I see something funny and I think, “Oh, Andy would love that. I wish he were here so I could share it with him.”
Phil: Honey, I know I’m just a robot, but that sounds like love to me.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Modern Family has just been renewed for another season – which means that the show will have to deal with tonight’s guest of honor going off to college. And Phil gets a lot of practice tonight at the long-distance relationship that will be required.

Of course, there have been other, earlier transitions in kids’ lives – like starting kindergarten and going off to their first summer camp – but no transition is bigger than that of graduating from high school and leaving home for college. And the leaving for college thing is not just a transition for our kids – it’s a transition for us as well.

Alex: Hey, Mom … I wanted to give you a present.
Claire: Me? No. Honey, I want to give you a present. That’s what I’ve been trying to do all day. You are the last person who should give me anything.
Alex: You got me here. You got me to graduation. To Caltech. You did it. And you’re done. … I want you to go to Europe with me.

Truth be told, it’s Phil’s experience tonight – not Claire’s – that better foreshadows the interactions to come as our teens get set to take off for college.

For starters, a soon-to-be college kid’s focus is likely to be outside the family. So don’t count on yours inviting you to tag along to Europe (or anywhere else they happen to be going) this summer. And although you’ll probably invite them to do all kinds of things with you before they leave, they’re likely to say “no” almost every time.

Plus, while Alex assured Claire that she was now “done” at her job as a parent, it’s likely that things couldn’t be further from the truth for most of us moms. In fact, the dumping-on that Phil got tonight should help prepare us for the almost inevitable calls from our distraught teens during their freshman year at college.

What’s a Mom to Do
Here are some ideas to help make the college transition easier on you and your teen.

Invite your soon-to-be college kid to do things with you, but don’t be surprised if they say “no.” Your teen’s focus is likely to be elsewhere this summer. But the extent to which they stretch and extend themselves in healthy ways over this transition time is largely dependent on how connected they feel to home. So invite them to do all kinds of things with you and the rest of the family. But don’t guilt-trip them into doing something they don’t want to do. And don’t let yourself feel hurt when they say “no.” Because then you’ll stop asking just when your teen needs you to reach out more than ever. Instead, be content with knowing that the reaching-out and inviting is what deepens the connection – especially during this huge transition time.

Establish some guidelines for regular communication while they’re away. Before they leave for college, come up with a communication plan that will work best for both of you. Decide together about how often you want to connect, what method you will use to communicate, and what time is best. Many families decide on a once-a-week phone call and set a regular time and day of the week to check-in. Sunday afternoons often work well. These might be FaceTime or Skype calls with the entire family.

In between these scheduled calls, you can keep in-touch by email or texts. But don’t be hurt if the correspondence is one-sided. In fact, it’s best to not expect an immediate reply or any reply to every one. Trust that the connection is being made. Like the invitations to do things together this summer, it’s the overture that counts.

Remind them that you’ll still be there for them if they need help.
When our kids take off for college, we have less oversight than we’ve ever had before. However, we still have lots of influence. And if we create an atmosphere of open communication before they leave, they’re more likely turn to us for guidance if they need help. So set some time aside this summer to discuss your new role and theirs. Below are some talking points to help get the discussion started.
– What choices, decisions or problems do you expect them to handle (at least at first) on their own?
– What decisions do you expect to have input on?
– At what point should your teen ask for help?
– In what situations would your teen want a friend or roommate to call you or the counseling center?

At the end of tonight’s episode as Andy gets set to take Beth for a drive to catch the sunset and propose, Phil tries desperately to get his attention.
Phil: It’s Haley! Haley’s the girl! You love Ha– (no audio) love each other! Where are you going? You guys love each oth– You’re making a huge mistake!

When the audio fails, we’re left dangling with no resolution about whether Haley and Andy will end up together. Perhaps this is just the writers’ way of making sure we tune-in for Season 7. But it’s also true to life. Because in reality, even if we have the most sophisticated telecommunication system available and the best parenting skills possible, we still can’t fix our kids’ problems for them.

This is never truer than when they’re away at college. But we can still be there for them – caring about them, remembering them, listening to them, and influencing them – from a distance.

Your Parenting Experiences
Have you found a particularly good source of advice for launching college kids? One of my all time favorites is The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College by Harlan Cohen. It gives a great behind-the-scenes look at campus life – for college freshman and their parents. No topic is taboo. A new, 6th edition just came out.

Sources and Resources: by the Jed Foundation; Staying Connected to Your Teenager by Michael Riera, PhD; The Launching Years by Laura Kastner, PhD and Jennifer Wyatt, PhD; The Naked Roommate by Harlan Cohen

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on February 9th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 13, Rash Decisions

Luke Pushes Away – On His Terms

The Framework
Everybody longs to feel connected to others. That was the thread that holds the various subplots on “Modern Family” together tonight.

Claire wants to be liked by the people she has to manage at Pritchett’s Closets.
Claire: I’ve had to learn how to balance being a friend and a manager. You could call it being a franager. … Here comes Lucy. She’s new and Dad wants me to talk to her about the way she dresses. He says it’s distracting. Watch and learn. Lucy is about to get franaged.
Mitch: Oh, good. It’s a verb too.

Jay competes for the attention of his French bulldog Stella when he has to give her to Cam (due to baby Joe’s reaction – the “rash” in the episode’s title).
Jay (to Gloria): You don’t know what I’m competing with over there. Cameron is wooing her with belly rubs, jewelry, kisses on the mouth … I just want her to remember who loves her the most.

Alex takes on Haley’s partying persona to impress a Princeton interviewer when she sees that nothing on her college resume sets her apart from the other applicants.
Alex (sighing): I’m so sorry for wasting your time. This was a big mistake. I’m probably not Princeton material anyway. I spent most of last night in the back of a squad car…

But it was Luke’s “let-me-go and hold me close” messaging to Phil that holds my attention tonight. It begins like this.
Phil (to Andy): Congratulations, assistant! I’m moving you up to the next level.
Phil (to Luke as he enters the kitchen): Hey, buddy, I gotta hit the mall a little later. You wanna go grab a couple chair massages ‘til they kick us out?
Luke (picking up apple from the counter and biting into it before walking off): Neah. I’m going to go hangout with some of my friends.
Andy: Teenagers. Huh?
Phil: Yeah. It’s been happening more and more. But it’s natural. Kids that age want distance. One day they’re holding your hand so tight it hurts. The next day, they’re eating the apple you kinda wanted.

And later there’s this.
Luke: Unbelievable! Good ol’ Andy.
Phil: Is something up, buddy?
Luke: I said “no” one time, and suddenly it’s all “Andy this and Andy that.”
Phil: Well, I didn’t mean anything by it. It just seemed like you needed some space, so I gave it to you. And I get it; you’re at the age when you want to separate.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Developing their own identity is a teen’s priority. And in order to do this, our teens need to separate themselves from us. Along with that comes their push for independence. This typically begins in the tween years when our kids walk several yards ahead of us in public and race to their bedroom and shut the door as soon as they get home.

As our teens push for independence, it’s normal for them to show less interest in doing things with us and more need for privacy. Few teens manage this gracefully. And parents, especially us moms, often windup feeling hurt. Plus the widening distance between them and us, just when they need our input more than ever, can be downright unnerving.

Given a choice, most of us would choose to maintain the close relationships we had with our kids during the first twelve years of their lives. Phil put it this way when talking to Luke: If it were up to me, we’d do everything together…. I’d go to college with you. We’d be roommates. We’d try to join a frat. None of them would take us. We’d start our own. Oh, my God! That sounds amazing.

Most of us can relate (at least to some degree) with Phil’s sentiment. But our teens, in the spirit of developing their own identity and growing up, can’t let our old relationships continue.

Luke: I separate from you – not the other way around. Maybe I don’t want to do dumb stuff with you all the time. But that doesn’t mean that you get to replace me.

If you reach out and get rejected, try not to take it personally. Their rejection is not about you. This is a natural part of your teen’s development. And as Luke reminds us tonight, their push to extend away from us does not mean that they want to completely break the connection with us.

It’s our teen’s job to extend away from us. And it’s our job to stay connected no matter how hard they try to push us away. Because there’s a huge difference between teens who separate from their parents as part of the normal growing up process and teens who become totally disconnected from their parents.

Staying connected allows us to provide the structure and guidance that our teens can’t yet provide for themselves. The challenge is to find new ways of connecting with them.

What’s a Mom to Do
Any successful relationship has a balance between positive and negative feelings and actions. Research on relationships indicates that the magic ratio is five to one. This means for every one negative interaction with your teen, you should add five positive interactions to your goodwill account – an account you’ll need to draw on when you have to deal with problems or disagreements.

Below are some things you can do to add to the positive balance in your parent-teen goodwill account.

Make sure your criticism is helpful. Our teens count on our feedback for guidance. But as Claire discovered when she tries to “franage” tonight, it’s not easy to stay connected to those you must criticize from time to time. So it’s important that we make our feedback helpful. This begins with making sure that the purpose is not just about our anger or our need to set our teen straight.

Make sure the purpose of your criticism is truly about helping your teen. Teens will be most open to the information if you describe your feelings, your concerns, and your perceptions of what’s happening rather than accusing or judging them.

Accept your teen unconditionally. In order to build their own identity, our teens need to differentiate from us in looks, thoughts, and behavior. This means we need to accept that our teens’ preferences may be different than ours.

You don’t need to agree with your teen’s ideas or see their perceptions as correct, but, regardless of the issue, you do need to listen to your teen’s views. And when you disagree with your teen, you have to let them know you heard them and give them the right to disagree. Until you do that, your teen will almost certainly shut out any of your ideas. And with that goes any chance you have of influencing them.

Give your teen some privacy. Invading your teen’s privacy jeopardizes the mutual trust and respect that staying connected is all about. Giving your teen some privacy adds to your goodwill account big time. And your invasion takes a huge toll on the account. I’m not saying that you should never snoop, but if you decide you need to snoop, make sure the outcome is worth the cost. (Click here for tips on how to minimize the damage of snooping.)

Sometimes say “yes. When your teen asks permission to do something, if your default is always set at “no,” you may be missing out on some developmentally crucial conversations with your teen. But if your first reaction is more like this: “If you can show me how you’re going to do this (whatever this is), while following our agreed upon rules, then we have something to talk about,” you’ll get lots of opportunities to help your teen grow.

Apologize when it’s appropriate. If your words or tone have given your teen reason to doubt your respect for them or that their interests matter, any conversation is likely to cause misunderstandings and hard feelings until you offer a heartfelt apology.

Look for ways to share fun and show you value your teen. Define some things that you can do for and with your teen – tangible things to show them that they’re cared about and valued.

When my kids became teens, I started celebrating what I call their “mirthday” (the day of the month on which they were born). For example, my son was born on July 10th, so on the 10th day of each month I’d find a small way to make him special. When my kids were still at home, this often meant they got to pick a favorite meal or dessert for dinner that night. When they went off to college, I sent little gifts – home baked cookies were always a big hit.

Like Luke, your teen (no matter how hard they try to push you away) still wants you involved in their life. They probably won’t tell you – because they don’t have the words or because they don’t want to look like a child who has to depend on their parent. But if you look closely, you’ll see unmistakable clues that they want you to stay connected with them. So when they tell you that they’re not a little kid and they don’t need you anymore, you might offer a gentle reminder, “Yes, but I’m still your mom.

Your Parenting Experiences
What’s the balance in your parent-teen goodwill account?

You can check the balance by keeping a journal for one week.
– At the end of each day review the interactions you’ve had with your teen that day and write them down in your journal.
– Then go back and categorize each interaction as a negative one or a positive one.
– At the end of the week, review your journal to see how the negative and positive interactions balance out.
– Whatever the balance in your goodwill account is, try to put into practice at least two positive interactions from the list above on a regular basis. In a few weeks try journaling again to see if the balance in your goodwill account is closer to that magic ratio of five to one.

Sources and Resources: A Fine Balance: The Magic Ratio to a Healthy Relationship by the Department of Child Development and Family Studies at Purdue University; Staying Connected to Your Teenager by Michael Riera, Ph.D.

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