MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on January 27th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 13, Three Dinners

Haley Turns the Table on Her Parents

The Framework
Tonight there are three conversations set at three different dinner tables. Although the three storylines never intertwine, the meals all share one thing in common: meddling.

Jay and Gloria’s close friends announce they are moving away, and Jay – desperate at the thought of losing his best pal – butts in, insisting that the move is a terrible idea. Mitch and Cam – out on a romantic dinner date – have taken some things off the table: no wedding talk and no Lily talk. With nothing left to talk about, they glom onto another couple seated nearby, interfering with the couples’ marriage plans.

But Claire and Phil take meal meddling to whole nother level; their meddling is premeditated. They explain their game plan like this.
Claire: Haley has no plans for her future whatsoever. She’s living in our basement. Taking community college classes in … meandering.
Phil: So we’re going to take her out. We’ll have some fun.
Claire: And then gently ease her into a friendly conversation about her future.

But things get off to a rocky start – even before the Dunphy parents have one too many mojitos.
Phil (to Haley): Come on now. Join us for a specialty cocktail on our specialty evening.
Haley: Can’t we just cut to the chase? … What are we doing here? What’s this about?
Claire: Nothing. We just wanted to have a fun night out with our daughter.
Phil: Yeah. Just think of us as your friends.
Haley: I don’t have 45-year-old friends.

And a bit later there’s this.
Phil (about their waiter): He seems like a real go-getter.
Haley: Why? Because he goes and gets things?
Phil: I wonder what he wants to do with his life. I wonder that about people all the time.
Haley: So this is what this whole night is about. The drinks. The pretending to be my friend.
Claire: Honey, we care about you. And we want to make sure. Because it seems like you’re meandering. … No, sweetie. Don’t just start texting because you don’t like the conversation.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Over the last couple decades parents have turned up the intensity of their expectations for their kids as well as their psychological investment in their kids’ lives. Parental responsibility and involvement – even in the lives of 20-somethings like Haley – have expanded in ways that were unheard of when we were growing up.

Today’s parents tend to hold themselves responsible not only for their offsprings’ physical wellbeing but for their psychological adjustment, personal happiness, and future success too. Helicopter parents who hover over nearly ever decision and action of their offspring have given way to snowplow parents determined to clear a path for their kid and remove anything that seems to stand in the way.

Shouldering all this responsibility can be a heavy burden for parents – especially if you have a slow-to-emerge young adult who is still living at home. Probably more than a few of us are familiar with the approach the Dunphys have taken with Haley in the past. An approach that goes something like this.
Claire (with her arms full of laundry): Is this what you’re going to do with your life – sleep late and take a selfie?
Haley: Why are you always criticizing me?! Is this really how you want to start the day?!
Claire: My day started five hours ago!
Haley: I’m under a lot of pressure!
Claire: How?! How?! You take three classes a week. And you miss half of them!
Haley: The parking is tricky!!
Phil (piling on): Morning, sunshine. I saved you some lunch.
Haley (slamming her bedroom door): I got it – okay!! I’m lazy!! GODDD!!!

And those of us who’ve tried this approach have probably had similar results.

Haley: You always assume the worst of me. …. You guys sit here acting like we’re drinking buddies. Judging me. When I have a better handle on my future than either of you did at my age.

We want our kids to be successful. To do their best. To be happy. And to feel good about themselves. And Claire and Phil are not the only parents fretting about their emerging adult. Many parents of 20-somethings worry if their offspring hasn’t yet found a career path or become financially independent.

What’s a Mom to Do
We sometimes assume that our young adults want to push us away. In reality they just need a different kind of closeness. In fact, several new studies suggest that parents who stay close to their kids – even when they’re no longer under their roof – can have a positive influence.

But young adults guard their independence ferociously. And parents who overdo it and meddle too much put their relationship in danger. So it’s important that our involvement be age-appropriate – that we treat our 20-somethings very differently than we’d treat a 16-year-old.

Here are some dos and don’ts to help you pull off this tricky balance.

Pay attention and be interested. Listen and help your young adult review options. But don’t overreact and takeover. Instead respect their right to make their own decisions. Act as a sounding board and a low-key consultant, offering advice only when it’s requested.

Don’t do things for them that they can do for themselves. Even if your 20-something is still financially dependent on you, they still can (and need to) practice independence in other ways.

Give them a chance to solve their own problems and make their own mistakes. It’s hard to sit back and watch our kids struggle. But sometimes that’s what it takes for them to learn. And a mistake or two might make them more likely to ask for and take your suggestions.

Keep your comments about what might lie ahead concise and positive. Don’t preach or lecture; they’ll tune you out. Don’t criticize; it will just make them defensive. And resist the temptation to threaten them with the height of the ladder they have to climb: You have to do well in high school so you’ll get into a top college; then do well in college so you’ll get into a top professional school… Instead of depicting adult success as a perilous and endless climb, describe it as doable and something that’s exciting to ponder and plan.

Be tolerant and patient. Some people take more time than others to figure out a career path. Don’t panic. Even if you’ve got a 26-year-old who doesn’t know what they’re going to do. There are hardly any 40-year-olds with that problem. Sooner or later, we all figure it out.

And, as we saw tonight when Haley turns the table on her parents, sometimes our 20-somethings are more grown-up than we give them credit for. Sometimes they’re already working on a plan.

Your Parenting Experiences
Do you know any helicopter or snowplow parents who never seem to let their kids fend for themselves? Do you sometimes feel parental peer pressure to do more for your kids because of this?

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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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