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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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on July 29th, 2013, 0 Comments

Season 4, Episode 6, Yard Sale

Claire Got It Wrong – On So Many Levels

The Framework
Where else but at a “Modern Family” yard sale could you see a man wearing a $10,000 watch, haggling over 15 cents? Where else could Phil be seen on both a streetstrider and a Harley and then admitting, I know I looked super cool [on the Harley] on the outside, but on the inside, I was terrified. And where else could there be this exchange between two men and a dog.
Man: You selling that potbellied pig?
Jay (to his dog): You’re not a pig. You’re Daddy’s little girl.

Yard Sale’s takeaway lesson seems to be about how things aren’t always what they look like on the surface. Two additional storylines remind that sometimes what’s seen on the surface can override everything else.

When a suitcase from Columbia that’s been stored in the attic turns out to have a puppet inside, Gloria is pressured to tell about her talent act as a ventriloquist years ago in a beauty pageant. In short, she froze and went totally silent during her act, but still won the competition. Imagine this when I was 18, she explains, pointing to her chest.

But it was the storyline that began with this exchange that caught and held my attention.
Cameron: Well, well, well. What is this all about? Is there a new man in Alex’s life?
Claire: Well, she certainly thinks so. Is there any way that boy is straight?
Mitchell: Ooh, what’s going on? Who are we looking at?
Claire: Uh, it’s Alex’s new “boyfriend” Michael.
Mitchell: What’s up with the air quotes?
Cameron: She thinks he’s gay.
Claire: Look, I like Michael. I really do. I just don’t want her to get her heart broken. When it comes to boys, her self-esteem is low enough as it is.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
If Michael is gay, he’s not claiming it. And, even if her intentions were to save Alex from heartbreak, it was wrong – on so many levels – for Claire to try to pigeonhole him that way.

For starters, there is no formulaic way to determine if someone is gay or not. Just as straight folks don’t all act the same way, neither do people who are gay. Although Alex’s boyfriend was depicted with many of the traits we’ve come to think of as “gay,” the signals people send about their sexual orientation are often mixed and complex. This is especially true with teens who are still figuring out who they are.

Beyond that, as Mitchel pointed out, [Alex] is fourteen. No matter who that boy is, he’s not gonna last. Mitch is right. Almost all teen relationships will end in a breakup. Knowing this, it’s still usually wise to step back, remaining watchful but letting the process unfold. Because even though our teens may experience some emotional bumps and bruises along the way, when we interfere like Claire did, our teens are likely to reject our advice, and they’ll almost certainly resent our interference.

What’s a Mom to Do
Like other aspects of our teens’ social worlds, there are limits to what we can do when it comes to their romantic lives. Most of their social issues are best addressed by our teens learning gradually how to manage them for themselves.

We can help this process most by focusing on our own relationships with our teens rather than on meddling or making demands. Here are a few tips for staying connected and optimizing your influence by taking a collaborative approach before, during, and after a teen romance.

Share your values before their first romance. Even though some values may differ from one family to the next, most of us want our children to hold many of the same values when it comes to their romantic lives and sexual behavior. In her book “The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking Sense About Sex,“ Deborah Roffman suggests the following guiding principles about sexual behavior: It should be meaningful, it should occur in the context of a caring relationship, it should be freely chosen, it should be responsible, it should be private.

In addition, many parents don’t approve of teens having sexual intercourse, believing that it should be in the context of a deeply committed adult relationship. If this is your position, it’s critical that you say so. But remember, saying “no” is no guarantee that it won’t happen. So as Dr. Ruth Westheimer said years ago, “We need to teach kids everything and then encourage them to wait.”

Whatever our values, it’s important that we share them with our teens in ongoing conversations. Although it’s never too late, ideally these discussions begin before our teens start dating so that they will have our caring adult voice and perspective to guide their earliest actions and decisions. Because without them, our teens will have only their peers and the media to draw upon for guidance.

Beware of trying to control your teen’s romance. If you (like Claire) are tempted to step-in and interfere in your teen’s love life, remind yourself of what your teen may be getting out of the relationship. All romances offer some level of friendship and acceptance. Given all the changes of adolescence, this added security can be a real advantage for any teen, and for a more introverted teen like Alex it can be especially so.

If you’re worried about the intensity of your teen’s relationship, say so. But it’s wise to keep your comments focused on the changes you’ve noticed in your teen. For example, “You seem more tired than usual.” or “You missed your curfew again; that’s not like you.” or “I haven’t seen much of your other friends lately.” Float these observations by your teen with as much dispassion as you can muster. Because nothing cements a romantic relationship like a parent’s controlling rants.

Don’t shrug off the hurt of a breakup. Breakups can be harder on teens than for adults because teens don’t have the perspective or the fully developed identity that help adults manage the sadness, pain, and confusion of a breakup. So when teens are in a relationship that fails, they can feel devastated – even if the relationship lasted only a few months or a matter of weeks. This is true for boys as well as girls.

Although it can be difficult to watch our teens endure pain, experiences like these can help them gain perspective, learn about themselves, and build resilience. So it’s important that we don’t try to takeover their problems in an attempt to minimize their pain or preserve their self-esteem. But when they’re going through a breakup, they can use our quiet presence more than ever.

We can do small things to show that we care – such as making their favorite foods and making it easier for them to spend time with their friends. We can make a point of being around more and available to talk. And we can offer to take them out for coffee or ice cream so that we can be a sounding board as they process what they learned and how this shapes their future thinking. Remember, though, to only offer advice if you’re asked.

Claire interferes in Alex’s love life – and even gets Mitch and Cam to help – because she fears Alex can’t take the hurt of a breakup. As Claire put it, [Alex] is just sarcastic on the outside. Inside, she’s just a fragile little girl. But later, after the meddling, there’s this.
Alex: Well, I hope you’re both happy. Michael is not gay. Now he hates me. Thanks a lot.

In reality, dating can cause disconnect between our teens and us. It can even cause our teens to rebel. Or it can be an experience that helps our teens grow – strengthening their identity and adding to their wisdom for dealing with more serious relationships down the road. By staying involved without becoming controlling, we can minimize the chances for rebellion while boosting their chances for growth.

What are your thoughts?

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