MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 20th, 2013, 0 Comments

Right. Wrong. They Just Can’t Stop It.

Season 4, Episode 23

The Framework

The title of tonight’s episode – “The Games People Play” – is the same as that of a song by the Spinners from years ago. Actually the full title of this classic is “They Just Can’t Stop It The Games People Play.” And this mouthful of a title is what tied tonight’s “Modern Family” storylines together.

The adults in each of the three families were interacting with their kids and with each other in ways that they’d picked-up from their parents. Right or wrong, they just couldn’t stop it.

When Jay and Gloria discover that the family had held a game night without them, they first blame it on each other’s competitive and cheating ways. But then quickly pin the blame on their parents:
Jay: I get this damn competitive streak from my dad. It’s a wonder I didn’t pass it on to Mitchell.
Gloria: I love that we can blame our parents. … My mother used to cheat on everything we ever did.

Of course, Jay was wrong in assuming that he hadn’t passed his competitive ways on to his kids. Because as Mitch watched Lily compete in a gymnastic tournament, he morphed into an out-of-control little league dad:
Mitch (to confessional): I have to admit, seeing Lily do so well brought out something in me: the pride of being the parent of a child who wasn’t just participating but thriving. … This [competitive thing] is the thing I always hated in my dad. … This ends today. I’m not passing it on to Lily.

Claire too picked-up her dad’s competitive streak:
Claire (to her kids): I goaded you guys into a fight to prove a point. Why do I always have to win? How did I get this way?

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

How we were parented matters. Even when we are consciously trying to do things differently, we can find ourselves acting just like the parent we vowed to never be.

Like Mitch, we don’t want to pass on to our children what our parents got wrong. But our memory of how we were parented can get in the way – not only in the specific behaviors we model but also in our overall approach to parenting.

Several decades of research have defined four basic parenting approaches or styles:

Micromanaging Bosses (authoritarian) use control with lots of lectures, warnings, and restrictions.

Likable Friends (permissive) place few demands and give more freedom than the teen is ready for.

Proactive Consultants (authoritative) strike the right balance between restrictiveness and autonomy.

Indifferent Bystanders (uninvolved) minimize the time and energy needed to interact with the teen.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably not an indifferent bystander. But most of us have some of each of the other three approaches in our parenting repertoire. Most of us also have a dominant style – a style that is often influenced by the approach our parents used.

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, our parenting style helps form the stance we take when we interact with our teens. Our stance, in turn, affects how our teens think, the tactics they use to get what they want, and what they learn as they interact with us:

A teen parented by a micromanaging boss…
Might think if I ask, they’ll say no without even listening. So I need to figure out a way to outsmart them and then be really careful not to get caught.
Tends to learn that you get what you want by sneaking and even lying. And if something bad did happen, they’d be reluctant to seek help or advice from their parents and would probably try to figure it out alone or with their friends. So they’re also learning that there are limited ways to solve a problem.

A teen parented by a likable friend…
Might think I can talk them into this – especially if I pester and badger them long enough. And if something does go wrong, they’ll have to get me out of trouble. That’s there job. So I have absolutely nothing to worry about.
Tends to learn that they can take risks without considering the consequences because their parents will do all the worrying that is needed. These teens tend to get the impression that they’re entitled to whatever they want – not because they’ve earned it but just because they want it. And they fail to learn that past behavior matters.

A teen parented by a proactive consultant…
Might think I’ve earned this by following the rules and being responsible. I had to do some negotiating last time, but they trusted me and let me do what I wanted to do. So I just need to assure them that I can handle this and then not mess up. But I’d better figure out what they’ll be concerned about and how I can handle those things before I ask.
Tends to learn how to negotiate and think ahead about possible holes in their plans. And since their parents had pre-approved the plan, they’d likely seek their parents’ advice if something went wrong. So they’re also getting guidance in problem solving.

The catchy lines of the Spinner’s song keep playing in my head – right, wrong, I just can’t stop it. It’s hard to unlearn what our parents modeled. Sometimes we’ll find ourselves acting just like they did, even though we vowed not to. At other times, we’ll over compensate and go too far in the other direction. So chances are we’ll sometimes act more like a boss – micromanaging and controlling. And chances are there will be times when we’re at the other end of the spectrum – leaving our teens too much on their own.

Just as our parents weren’t perfect, neither are we. But the more time we spend at the middle of the control continuum, guiding our teens like a proactive consultant, the better our relationship with them will be and the more influence we’ll have on their decisions and actions.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• Where were your parents on the control spectrum – were they more controlling, guiding, or hands-off? What did you argue most about with your parents when you were a teen – grades, curfew, clothes, friends, attitude, chores? How do you think your teen would answer these questions about you?

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on March 18th, 2013, 2 Comments

Haley Still Cares What Her Parents Think

Season 4, Episode 12

The Framework

The headline of tonight’s episode “Party Crasher,” announcing the birth of the Pritchett baby in the middle of Manny’s birthday party was no big surprise. Anyone who’s seen Gloria lately knew this long-awaited baby was due anytime. Nevertheless, the episode had its share of surprises. And these weren’t just your run-of-the-mill surprises. As Luke put it, these were the kind in which the surprised becomes the surpriser. And these were the kind of surprises that tested the connection between parent and child and left the relationship a bit stronger in the end.

There’s five-year-old Lily who has been favoring Mitch over Cam lately. But when the surprised Lily gets accidently dumped in the pool by Cam, she surprises him by calling out for him instead of Mitch:

Lily: Daddy!

Cam: Oh, look at this. I’m coming! Daddy’s coming!

What’s wrong with me, Mitchell? When she fell in the pool, she screamed for “Daddy.” She calls you “Dad.” She calls me “Daddy.” She got scared, and she called out for me.

Mitchell: See?

And later we see this playful exchange between father and daughter.

Cam: I guess Daddy was worrying about nothing. But, you know, I can be silly sometimes.

Lily: You’re always silly.

Cam: No, you’re silly.

Lily: No, you’re always silly.

Cam: No, you’re always silly.

There’s Manny who turned fourteen tonight. What with all the preparation for the new baby, he’s been a bit neglected lately. That’s why Gloria has planned a surprise birthday party for him. But Manny comes home early to his party, bringing his girlfriend with him. And in the pre-party darkness, she gives Manny his first kiss ever – a kiss witnessed by the surprised party guests who’d come to surprise him. Humiliated, Manny takes off for his bedroom, slamming the door behind him.

Gloria – now obviously in labor and doing all that she can to hold the baby in place for one more day so that Manny won’t have to share his birthday with a sibling for the rest of his life – tries to console him from the other side of his bedroom door:

Gloria: Manny, we’re so sorry. We didn’t mean to…

Manny: What? Ruin the greatest moment of my life? Thanks again, Mom!

But then later in the episode there’s this between mother and son:

Gloria: You know I love you no matter what.

Manny: You’re trying to hold another person inside of you to spare my feelings. Message received.

And then there’s Haley who, as a way of rebelling, introduces her parents to her new “boyfriend” Kenny: a ponytailed, fortyish jeans designer with a knack for coming up with creepy double entendres – things like I’m trying to get into girls’ jeans.

Claire is not just surprised, she’s disgusted, summing the situation up this way: He’s old. She’s young. It’s gross. And she begins hatching her own surprise for Haley – a surprise that involves a game of chicken. Now all she has to do is sell Phil on the idea:

Claire: Phil, you can’t say anything to Kenny… I know why Haley is doing this. She’s doing this to get back at you for being so hard on her. I did the same thing to my dad.

Phil: First of all, I’m not your dad. And do you think I’m just going to let this happen?

Claire: Trust me. The more it bothers you, the longer he stays. The more we ignore it … the sooner Willie Nelson is on the road again.

So when Haley surprises her parents again – this time with her plans to spend the night in a hotel with Kenny, Claire is ready. And to Haley’s surprise (and horror) she gets not only her parents’ permission but their credit card to boot.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

Should Claire and Phil have been able to see Haley’s rebellion coming? Probably.

Early in tonight’s episode when Haley hands Phil an envelope with her hard-earned money inside, we see some evidence of the sarcasm that has crept into Phil’s interactions with her:

Haley: This is everything I made at the boutique last week. I’m not going to have any money left for me.

Phil: Should’ve thought of that before you got thrown out of school. You live here, you pay rent.

Haley: You used to be fun.

Phil: You used to be… What? Oh, yeah, at college.

Now, I don’t have any problem with Haley being charged rent. (Click here to read an earlier post on that.) It’s the way that Phil talks to Haley about it that I object to. Here’s why: There’s a good chance that Haley isn’t feeling very good about herself after being asked to leave college. And when teens don’t feel good about themselves, they sometimes project their negative feelings on to us. Phil’s words, tone of voice, and body language added fuel to the fire, giving Haley reason to doubt his respect for her. And because respect is like air to teens, when we take it away, they can’t think about anything else. They dedicate all their energy to rebelling and getting revenge.

When kids are younger and they’re in need, our interactions with them are so much more straightforward. When Lily was dumped in the pool and needed rescuing, she called out for help, yelling Daddy! and Cam jumped right in and pulled her to safety. But as evidenced by the way things went with Manny and Haley tonight, getting the recuse right gets decidedly more complicated when it involves teens. And as we saw, the older the teen, the more complicated things can get.

Granted, teens use a variety of strategies to make our interactions with them more complicated – complications that include evading, omitting, distorting, and even fabricating. But something happens to us parents too when our kids become teens.

Before our kids became teens, if their behavior told us that something wasn’t quite right – even if we weren’t exactly sure what it was, we spoke up. Without hesitation we calmly confronted them with what our intuition was telling us. This sent our child a message about our sturdy presence, reminding them that we cared about them, that we noticed their behavior, and that we weren’t afraid to say something about it.

However, when those same kids become teens and our intuition is telling us that something is amiss, instead of speaking up, we’re tempted to say nothing. Especially if we don’t have clear evidence for concern or if we think that addressing the problem will cause more trouble. But no matter how awful their response can be – and a teen’s sulking silence and raging anger can be pretty awful – our teens need to be able to trust that we’ll speak up and guide them through adolescence.

The BottomLine

Bad things can happen when we’re worried and should speak up but don’t. Our silence can have long-term consequences for our relationship with our teens.

When we say nothing, our worry about our teen can turn into anger. Then our feelings fester. And although we don’t deal directly with the issue, we act out our concerns through our tone of voice and offhanded comments – as Claire and Phil (especially Phil) have been doing lately with Haley. And as the exchange below between mother and daughter shows, our acting out can damage our connection with our teen:

Haley: What’s the matter with you?! You’ve been acting so weird ever since I left college.

Claire: For the record, you didn’t leave college. You were asked to leave.

Haley: Of which you guys never let me forget – especially Dad.

Claire: Honey, your father…

Haley: Oh, you don’t have to tell me what he thinks. Okay?! I’m a huge disappointment to him. And I see it on his face everyday. He acts as if he doesn’t even want me around.

Because teens are desperate to feel independent, they’ll often go to great lengths to demonstrate that they don’t need our advice or direction any more. In truth, though, as we saw with Haley tonight, they care deeply about our opinions of them and fear seeing a diminished view of themselves reflected in our eyes. They desperately want our respect.

At the very end of the episode, Phil confronts Claire about the plan she hatched up:

Phil: This little chicken game may work for your dad, but it doesn’t work for me. That’s my little girl. I need her to know that no guy on earth is good enough for her – let alone some slimy, middle-aged jean salesman!

Then Phil sees that Haley too is in the room. And the next minute she is in his arms.

Phil: What’s this?

Claire: Just enjoy it.

This is more than just a feel good ending for a made-up TV show. There’s a vital message here for you and me: Although our teens may insist on changing the terms of our involvement, they still want us involved in their lives.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• Tonight we see that Haley still cares about what her parents think about her. I’m not sure we ever outgrow that. What do you think?

• Teens do care deeply about their parents’ opinions. But we have to look closely to see evidence of this because they’ll almost never tell us this directly. Have you seen evidence of this in your teen? What does it look or sound like?

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