MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on December 16th, 2013, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 10, The Old Man and the Tree

Luke’s Problem Gets Bigger by the Week

The Framework
In tonight’s holiday episode, there were a lot of made up minds – along with the resulting mix-ups, mess-ups, and fess-ups.

Phil is spending this Christmas Eve doggedly determined to complete something he made up his mind to do last Christmas. As Claire explains: Last Christmas Phil got an elliptical machine and vowed to walk the equivalent of our home to Canada in one year.

Jay made up his mind to “save Christmas” after seeing the fiber-optic tree Manny set-up.
Jay: I’m drawing a line in the sand. We’re going to get a real tree, and we’re going to cut it down like I did when I was a kid. … Christmas is real trees and eggnog …Perry Como and Bing on the hi-fi.
Manny: Now you’re just making up words.

Claire is certain her mother doesn’t care about her. She made up her mind about this years ago after her mother kept sending her the same gift every Christmas.
Claire (lifting the lid of a large trunk full of slippers): Would you care to take a visit to the museum of maternal indifference?

Lily has her mind made-up too; there’s only one thing she wants for Christmas. But as Mitch laments: There are no Puppy Pounds anywhere. It’s like trying to find a Cabbage Patch Kid on Christmas Eve, 1983.

It’s the storyline about Luke, though, that caught my attention. He has a problem that won’t go away. Instead it’s getting bigger by the week.
Luke (to camera): I’m in charge of the recycling. I’m supposed to bring it from the garage to the curb by 6:00 every Thursday morning. I may have missed a few weeks – maybe more than a few weeks. After a while, the pile just got so big I couldn’t bring it out the night before or people would ask questions. …I don’t need people asking questions.

And with that, Luke makes up his mind to do something about it.
Dylan (standing in the Dunphy’s garage looking at a mountain of garbage): That is a lot of product you’re moving.
Luke: Just bring it to the recycling place.
Dylan: Not until I get paid.
Luke (handing Dylan several skyrockets from a large stash of fireworks): This is six weeks allowance.
Dylan: You have the coolest parents ever!
Then later, as the three families celebrate Christmas together, there’s this.
Luke (in a voiceover): A lot of times it’s only after we get rid of something that we realize how much we miss it. …And things that seem worthless suddenly turnout to be super valuable. Maybe even precious.

Luke’s monologue smoothly slides into a conversation with his parents as the three stand in the garage next to the garbage heap with a bandaged Dylan standing nearby.
Luke: Which is why I thought getting rid of this stuff would be a huge mistake.
Phil (smiling faintly and nodding): Uhhh.
Claire (with a knowing smile): Nice try. You still owe us six week’s allowance.
Phil: And the fireworks.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Regardless of how they’re parented, teens see their job as getting to do what they want. And they all have a tendency to think that nothing really bad is going to happen. So for them, getting to do what they want basically boils down to dealing with us – their parents. Add to this the fact that most teens also want to please us. And it’s easy to see that there’s going to be some stuff they’d prefer we not know about.

What’s a Mom to Do
To stay in the loop and be the sturdy presence our teens need, we must master the art of interacting with them. Although Claire and Phil missed a couple things that they might have noticed earlier had they been paying closer attention, they handled some things well as they dealt with Luke. Here are some tips we can learn from the Dunphy parents tonight.

At the back of your mind, remember that the conversation you think you’re having might really be about something else. Luke started off by talking about things that were easy to hear. Our teens often start out the same way. Sometimes they talk about things of little consequence. Other times they begin with their successes. Whether they know it or not, they’re testing us by talking about these easy things before shifting to things that are more difficult for us to hear – things like a speeding ticket, a failing grade, or a conflict with a teacher or coach.

Listen and let your teen know you hear them. Not all teens are as smooth as Luke. Typically teens relay things that are difficult for us to hear in a slow, piecemeal way. And as they talk, we quickly see all the possibilities for trouble. And, often, well before they’re finished, we feel compelled to interrupt and give advice about what they should do or scold them for getting themselves into such a mess. But Claire and Phil didn’t immediately jump in and begin to lecture Luke. Instead they listened first.

Listening to our teens – and letting them know with our facial expression, body language, and tone of voice that we’ve heard them – doesn’t mean we agree or condone what they did. Instead listening tells our teens that we care about them, and it helps them hear us when it’s our turn to talk.

Present a united front to your teen. Claire and Phil demonstrated a solid confidence tonight as they stood together looking at Luke and the garbage heap behind him. Presenting a united front is especially crucial when it comes to important family expectations. So make up your mind not to argue in front of your teen. Even if your spouse says something you don’t agree with, unless it’s way out of line, go with it for the time being. You can come to an agreement later when out of your teen’s earshot.

Have rules based on a structure of reward. If teens had their way, most of them would choose to live a life of entitlement: They’d do whatever they please and then look to us to pay their bills and bail them out of trouble. So unless we want them to never grow up and just live with us forever, it’s a good idea to set up family rules based on rewards – like allowance, their phone, new clothes, car use, and concert tickets. Our teens get these privileges when they follow the rules. But just as Claire and Phil did tonight, we need to follow through and take rewards away when our expectations aren’t met.

Strive for a strong connection and peace of mind. Claire and Phil dealt with Luke’s mess-up in a fair and objective way. They didn’t accuse or label Luke or even raise their voice. They kept their thoughts and feelings under control and did what was needed to hold Luke accountable without unduly damaging their connection with him in the process.

And we didn’t see Claire and Phil engaging in woulda, coulda, shoulda. Yes, if they would have noticed the heap of garbage growing in their garage, they could have done something about it sooner. And they probably should have been keeping tabs on how Luke was spending his allowance. But instead of looking backwards and beating themselves up, they put their energy into doing what they could do now.

BottomLine
Claire (as she licks the cookie batter left on the beater – a treat that Gloria has been denied by her own mother): I don’t make the rules.

Most of us don’t like confrontations – especially confrontations with our teen. Sometimes we’re too busy or too overwhelmed to deal with all the battles. And sometimes we become reluctant to set limits or discipline them because we so value our close relationships with them. Lots of well-meaning moms fear they’ll lose their teen’s love if they make and enforce rules.

But teens don’t always prioritize or foresee things the same way we adults do. They lack experience and their brains are still under construction. So whether we like it or not, they’re counting on us to provide guidance by making rules. And just as important, they need us to hold them accountable when they mess-up. Because if we don’t give consequences when they’re needed, our teens won’t see us as a guide worth following. And they’ll be on their own without our guidance.

Your Parenting Experiences
Can you think of a time when the conversation you thought you were having with your teen was really about something else?



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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on June 17th, 2013, 0 Comments

Draw the Boundaries But Don’t Make Them Battle Lines

At this point, curfew and chores are tied for the most votes in last week’s poll about what we battle about most. Together those two issues make up two-thirds of the tug-of-wars we have with our teens.

The curfew battles often begin with them wanting to stay out later than we want:
Them: I wanna stay out until 1:00 tonight. Everybody else gets to.
Us: What? That’s after curfew – not just ours but the city’s too. No way.
Them: But listen! Just listen to me for a minute!

The chore battles tend to begin with us wanting them to do something they’d rather not do:
Us: The kitchen trash is about to overflow. It’s your job to take it out. Please do it right now.
Them: Why am I the only one who ever has to do stuff around here? I’ll take it out as soon as I get done [whatever…]

We want one thing. They want something else. And the battle is on.

Often the curfew and chore battles are about our kids trying to push the boundaries to make sure we mean what we say. And when they are testing our limits, it’s usually best to limit ourselves to just one more line. For example:

Us: You’re to be home by 11:30. If you’re not, there will be consequences.

Us: The garbage needs to go out now. If you don’t have it done in the next few minutes, I’ll do it and you’ll have to deal with the consequences.

Nothing quells a battle more effectively than silence. Yes, it’s tempting to fire off a retort beginning with Don’t you dare…! But that eggs teens on, and they’re likely to battle back with Just watch me! – a reply they always have at the ready. So say your parting line, make eye contact, and then walk away, ignoring whatever comes next.

Our teens know what gets to us and keeps us engaged in battle. They know that their threats of disobedience (like You can’t make me! or You can’t stop me! or I don’t care!) and swearing are particularly effective at keeping us going – just in a different direction. And they want us to stay in the battle because they prefer to deal with us than with their conscience.

But this internal battle is exactly the one we want them to face. We want our teens to have to listen to and wrestle with their inner voice – that voice whispering to them to do what they know is right and that source of bad feelings when they don’t. So it’s best to silently walk away, letting them have the last word, ignoring their threats of disobedience, and dealing only with actual rule breaking. And if you feel that you have to address their back talk, do it later after things cool down. To try to deal with it in the heat of battle will only fan their fire.

While it’s often best to restate our position and then walk away, we want to make sure that our default is not permanently set at “no.” So next week we’ll take a look at how and when to say “yes” to extending curfews and renegotiating agreements about chores.

See you next Monday!



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