MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 19th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 23, The Wedding, Part I

The Teens Save the Day

The Framework
The wedding day gets off to a smooth start with Cam’s sunny greeting to Mitch: Good morning, my almost husband. But things get bumpier as the day goes on.

The first bump comes when Cam discovers that his perfectly tailored tux is not in the bag he’d picked up from the cleaners. The two almost husbands hurry to the cleaners (with Lily in tow) only to find the place closed. A call to 911 ends with this.
Cam (to dispatcher): Well, I guess we have different definitions of emergency. (And then to Mitch while looking at the cleaner’s express drop-off slot cut into the front of the building): There’s no way I can fit there.
But Lily comes through for her dads. After sighing, You two exhaust me, she climbs into the drop slot to retrieve Cam’s tux.

Over at the Dunphys, Claire tells Phil that they’re not going to the wedding without a very specific, turquoise, Italian glass bowl as a gift and asks him to pick it up after his eye exam. Alex is enlisted to do the driving because drops used during the exam will temporarily impair Phil’s vision. Later when buying the bowl and facing a long line at the checkout counter, Phil uses his impairment to his advantage.

Phil (grabbing a bamboo stick from a store display): I’m blind; follow me. Although
Alex insists, I’m not doing that, those waiting let Phil and his stick move to the front of the line.
Phil (to salesman while checking out the bowl and continuing his blind act): Yeah, that doesn’t feel like turquoise.
Salesman: You can feel color?! You gotta be kidding!!
Phil: When you lose one sense, all your other senses become heightened. That’s why you sound so loud and judgy to me.
Salesman: I don’t think [you’re] really blind.
Alex (coming to Phil’s rescue): Excuse me; my father suffered methanol poisoning on a humanitarian mission in Honduras, resulting in permanent neurological dysfunction and irreversible blindness … If he feels it’s not the bowl, it’s not the bowl.

Meanwhile, Claire picks up Luke from wilderness camp.
Claire: I feel bad you have to leave early. What are you missing today?
Luke: Boating.
Claire: Ohhh … I mean, we have a little time.
Luke: You don’t mind waiting in the car?!
The next thing you know, the two are in the middle of the lake in a motorboat going nowhere.
Luke (yanking on the pullchord): Not working.
Claire: And there’s no oar. We are literally up a creek without a paddle … We are never going to get [to the wedding] on time. And I’m the best person.
Minutes later, Luke, with a flash of insight, uses his fishing pole to snag a tree and reel the boat to shore.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
As much as we parents might like to maintain the relationships that seemed to work so well during the first twelve years of their lives, our teens insist that things be different. In the spirit of growing up and developing their own identity, our teens demand more say, more privacy, and less physical closeness. Their moodiness and heightened sensitivity can be particularly tough to deal with during early adolescence.

Case in point is this conversation between Claire and Luke as she picks him up from camp.
Claire: There’s my guy.
Luke: I thought Dad was picking me up.
Claire (looking hurt): Ohh, I missed you too. Come here. (trying to give him a hug) … I wanted to spend some time with you. You’ve been pushing me away so much lately … So did you have fun?
Luke: Yeah.
Claire: What was your favorite thing?
Luke: I don’t remember.
Claire: It was yesterday.
Luke: Hotdogs. Can we go now?

And there’s this from Phil and Alex just after Claire announces that she is picking Luke up from wilderness camp and that Alex can take Phil to his eye exam.
Phil: That’s a bummer.
Alex (hurt after overhearing): Ahh, Dad, I’m touched.
Phil: No, not because of you. I’d just rather pick-up Luke … than go to the eye doctor. I love spending time with you … Honey, don’t be like that. You’re super fun.

Andy (to Haley): I’ve been in this relationship off-and-on for eight years. So I kinda know what I’m doing.

As moms of teens, we can relate to this sentiment. We’ve been in a steady relationship with our teens for over twelve years. So it feels like we should know what we’re doing. But staying connected with our teens in a way that we (and they) welcome and value, is not as easy as the connections we had with them when they were younger.

Yet our connection with our teens is our most important asset as a parent. Because now that our kids have become teens, most of our parental power is in our influence. And our influence over our teens can be no stronger than our connection with them.

What’s a Mom to Do?
It helps if we remember that the diminished feeling of closeness is likely not rooted in a serious loss of love or respect between our teens and us. In fact, the distancing effect of adolescence is temporary and our relationships often become less strained during late adolescence.

In the meantime, needing your teen’s help can build connectedness. Tonight we saw Lily (acting like a six-year-old going on sixteen), Alex, and Luke all save the day by doing something that their parents could not have done as well.

Needing your teen’s help builds connectedness because interdependence is at the heart of parent-teen relationships. Your teen needs to be able to count on you, and you need to be able to count on your teen. Asking your teen for help with a task at which they are more talented or skilled than you are can foster this kind of interdependent connectedness.

My Parenting Experience
My daughter gave me first-hand proof of this when, one summer during her middle school years, I asked for her help with a task with which I’d been struggling for years: organizing the clothes in my closet in a way that would last. Using her artistry and logic she arranged everything in my closet by color like the crayons in a brand new box. She put all the tan items together, then whites, ivories, greens, blues, reds, and browns. Besides being an organizational scheme that helped me find my clothes, it was one that I could easily maintain.

I would not have come up with this idea on my own, and I was thrilled with the arrangement. My daughter delighted in knowing both these things. And, by needing her help, I was building an interdependent connectedness with her.

Your Parenting Experiences
When you have an interdependent connectedness with your teen, it makes everything on your parent to do list – things like making and enforcing rules, helping them learn from their mistakes, and coaxing them to reach their potential – a whole lot more doable and fun. Over the summer while your teen is on vacation and free from homework is a perfect time to need their help with some of your work. What task could your teen do with more talent or skill than you?

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 12th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 22, Message Received

Message Received – But Was It What They Really Wanted to Convey?

The Framework
In tonight’s episode the characters confront things outside their comfort zones, reminding just how uncomfortable that can be – for adults and kids alike.

Mitch and Cam confront the fact that the budget for their upcoming wedding has ballooned out of control, causing Cam to venture: Maybe we can send un-invitations … is that a thing? But the conversations that held my attention tonight happen in the other two households.

Over at the Dunphys, the kids find Phil’s old answering machine from his college days. To their delight, they find a message from their mom mixed in with the other recordings. But as they and Claire listen to her message, the mood in the room shifts from happy to horrified.
Claire (recorded): Phil, hey. It’s Claire. Umm… I need to tell you something, and I don’t want it to be on your machine. It’s really important – you know like life and death important … Not death. Just life. I mean it’s … Oh hell. I’m pregnant. Don’t worry; you don’t have to marry me or anything. Let’s talk as soon as you can. Why weren’t we more careful?! Stupid Duran Duran concert.

Meanwhile at the Pritchett household, family members press each other to face something they fear: the unpleasantness of eating a pickle, rubbing the dog’s belly, a bite of blood sausage. But Mitch presses Jay to confront a much bigger fear – his discomfort with the upcoming wedding.
Jay: Can I ask you a question? Why are you having such a big thing anyway?
Mitch: Well, because we’re only getting married once.
Jay: I’m just saying, why do you need to make it into a spectacle?
Mitch: Ssspectacle?!!
Jay: I don’t think I’m out of line suggesting my friends don’t want to see a father-son dance at a big gay wedding. I’m just saying I don’t how this stuff plays out with my guys from the club.
Mitch: This isn’t about them. This is about you.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Tonight we saw the Dunphy kids’ horror at the images they conjured up as they listened to Claire’s message recorded years ago and then again as they stood outside their parents’ bedroom and heard the door being locked.
Kids (in unison): Door lock! Run!! Ugh! Ugh! Run!!

Tonight we also saw Jay struggle to come to terms with his gay son’s sexuality. It seems that Jay has accepted the fact that Mitch is gay on a conceptual level, but now the upcoming wedding is forcing him to confront what that means on a practical level.

Most teens are like the Dunphy kids – they don’t want to think about their parents having sex. And to be honest, many of us parents are a bit like Jay: It makes many of us uncomfortable to imagine our kids as sexual – even if what we’re imagining is a heterosexual relationship.

Jay: Fine. I admit it; this whole wedding thing is weird to me … I didn’t choose to be uncomfortable. I was born this way.
Mitch: You know, Dad, if it really makes you that uncomfortable, then don’t come to the wedding.

Later as Jay holds his cell phone waiting for Mitch to call, I’m rooting for Jay to initiate the call. As tough as it might be for Jay, it’s his job as a parent to get his thoughts and feelings under control and begin the conversation that will let him reconnect with Mitch.

And as tough as it might be for us to talk with our kids about sex as well other things that make us uncomfortable to think about our kids engaging in – like bullying, drinking and drugs, it’s our job to do it. Because when we hold these conversations, we’re sending our kids three powerful messages. First we’re telling them that we recognize that they’re growing up and beginning to make more decisions for themselves. Second we’re showing them that our commitment to them and our concern for their wellbeing gives us the courage to initiate these uncomfortable conversations. And third we’re letting them know that that we’re always open to talking about these tough topics and that we’ll continue to bring up the subject in the future in case they have questions but are unable to ask.

What’s a Mom to Do?
Don’t wait for your teen to come to you with questions. Tough topics are too scary for most teens to bring up with their parents.

Here are some tips to help you hold tough conversations in a way that will leave you more connected with your teen than you were before you talked.

Come up with a list. Begin by making a list of all the things you’d really like to know. Here are some questions to get your thinking started: Are you getting pressure from your girlfriend/boyfriend to have sex? If you’re having sex, are you using protection? Are you part of the bullying that has been going on at school? Are you drinking when you’re hanging out with your friends? Are you and your friends getting high after school?

Then use everyday situations to spark your conversations. To help you initiate good conversations on these topics keep an eye out for news stories, young adult books, or movies and TV shows that bring up sensitive topics. Share them with your teen, and then ask what they know about the topic and whether they have any opinions or questions on the subject before sharing your own.

Begin in way that is comfortable for both of you. Talk when the two of you are alone. Riding in the car, hiking, playing one-on-one basketball, or doing a household chore together are all particularly good places to begin because they don’t require your teen to make eye contact. And if you’re more comfortable putting your ideas in writing first, start that way.

Try to put yourself in their shoes. When your teen talks, really listen to understand rather than to make a judgment call. Even when you disagree, give more positive nonverbal cues than negative ones – nod to show you’re interested, lean towards them, and smile when it’s appropriate. And don’t be afraid to touch your teen. Although some teens may prefer to be asked first, our touch conveys our unconditional love for our teens.

Be approachable. Make sure your teen knows that they can ask you anything. And when they do ask about a specific topic, find out what they already know about the subject. And then clarify what they are really asking so that you can answer their questions in a way that is detailed enough to make them feel comfortable asking additional questions but doesn’t overwhelming them.

Think carefully about what you disclose. Many parents struggle with whether or not to share their adolescent exploits with their teens. Some believe that their kids will be more likely to heed their advice if it’s based on real-life experience. On the other hand, kids can become confused when we parents present them with information and a model that contradicts what we expect of them. Plus times have changed. What may have been only somewhat risky when we were their age, may now be far more dangerous. You can be honest about sharing personal things without going into details that wouldn’t be appropriate. Remember, once you share something you can’t take it back.

Let your teen set the pace. Most kids do better with shorter bursts. So instead of thinking about it as “having the talk” and getting it done in one fell swoop, think of it as an ongoing conversation. As you talk, watch for signs that tell you your teen has had enough for now. When they signal they’re shutting down or pushing you away, it’s best to change the subject and come back to the topic another time.

We can’t assume our teens understand our family values just because they live under the same roof. We have to communicate the things we believe are important and why we have these values. As uncomfortable as holding these conversations with our kids can be, if we don’t continue to bring them up, they may never happen – or at least not in the way we want them to take place.

Your Parenting Experiences
Some of my readers have told me that they’re watching Modern Family with their teens and letting the show be the spark for conversations. How do you bring up sensitive topics with your teen?

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