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.

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 October 21st, 2013, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 5, The Late Show

The Couples Fight In Front of Their Kids

The Framework
On tonight’s episode Jay pulls some strings to get reservations for an adults’ family-night out at a trendy, new restaurant. With all three couples trying to get there on time, someone in each household is running late – adding to the ever-present potential for bickering between the spouses.

Claire and Phil get in a quarrel about letting Luke stay home alone.
Claire: I think Luke is afraid to be left in the house alone, and he’s just pretending to be brave for you.
Phil: Honey, he’s 14! We left Alex alone when she was 10.
Claire: We didn’t leave her; we forgot her.
Phil: She was fine – physically… Plus she’s still friends with that sweet 911 operator.

Per usual, Gloria is taking forever to get ready.
Jay: Gloria is always late. Then I get mad and tell her to hurry. We yell. And it just takes longer. So [this time] I promised myself no matter how late, just to take some deep breaths and stay calm. That’s the only thing I learned in Lamaze class because we were always late.
And later, there’s this.
Jay (looking at his watch): Manny, see why your mother is taking so long. And don’t tell her I sent you.
Manny (yelling upstairs): Mom, hurry!
Jay: Don’t yell! I could have yelled!
Manny: Then why didn’t you?
Jay: Because I didn’t want to yell. I want you to go!
Manny: Why can’t you go?!
Jay: Why can’t you do what I ask?!! I’m trying to do something new here.

Meanwhile, Mitch and Cam are also busy doing battle.
Mitch (calling to Cam from the living room): How come it takes me five minutes to get ready, and you take forever?
Cam: Oh, please! I could get ready in five minutes too if I dressed like you (just before coming into the living room and discovering that they’re dressed alike).
Mitch: All right, one of us has to change. We look like twin toddlers at church. … I hate to play this card, but I was dressed first.
Cam: Oh, that’s silly! Lily, it’s time to play “Who Wore It Best?”
Lily: Nope. I’m not doing this again. I can’t.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
We all know that it can be damaging for children to witness their parents’ fighting if it spirals into an ugly screaming match or worse. But what about the arguing of the intensity we saw tonight? Almost all kids see this kind of bickering. But is it really okay?

Child psychologists have begun looking for answers. And a growing number of studies provide some guidance on what matters when we fight with our spouse when our kids are around.

We’ve know for years that kids are like Geiger counters – that their sense of wellbeing fluctuates with how well their parents are getting along. A recent study actually showed that kids’ emotional health and security are more affected by their parents’ relationship than by their own direct relationship with their parents.

In another study, parents were asked to make note of every argument – no matter how small. It turned out that the typical married couple was having around eight disputes a day, according to the moms. (Dads said it was slightly less.) The couples said that they expressed anger towards each other two to three times as often as they showed affection to one another. And, though, the parents said they often try to shield their kids from their arguing, kids were still witness to it 45% of the time.

What’s a Mom to Do

So should we try to avoid ever arguing with our spouse in front of our kids? The answer to that is complicated. But child psychologists who study this issue tend to say no. Most agree that it’s okay for our kids to witness our arguments as long as we can manage to argue in a healthy way. Below are some tips to help us keep it that way:

Keep it respectful and constructive. For starters, this means avoiding insults, name-calling, or piling on by dredging up issues from the past. And it should never even come close to anything physical. (This includes exploding pop bottles, Mitch.)
Stay in control. Don’t let things get too heated. If we or our spouse is starting to yell or swear, we need to put the fight on hold and give ourselves some cooling off time.
Avoid the silent treatment. Witnessing this can be worse for our kids than arguing. Because it tends to make kids think things are worse than they are.
Keep an eye on the kids. Look for signs that they are getting upset or worried. This includes crying, obviously. But it also includes freezing up, trying to intervene, or behaving in ways that draw attention away from the fight – like, for example, Luke falling off a teetering bar stool in a storm of Cheetos. (Granted, this may have been more about physics than psyche.)
Never draw the kids into the fight. (Listen up, Jay. It’s not okay to send Manny to do your dirty work.) And we should never encourage our kids to take sides (Cam, this means no more playing “Who Wore It Best?” You’re right, Lily, you can’t do this again.)
Be a united front. Some topics should always be out of our kids’ earshot. This includes disagreements about parenting decisions. (Claire and Phil, I’m talking to you now.) Our kids depend on our sturdy presence. So it’s best to settle parenting disputes out of the kids’ earshot and come up with and present a unified front. This is especially important for teens who have a knack for noticing and using our parenting disputes to their advantage.
Don’t take it upstairs. When we pause mid-battle to take it upstairs – to spare our kids – we actually might be making things worse. Especially, if we don’t show them or tell them that we’ve worked it out. Our kids need to know that we’ve reached some kind of resolution.

Jay: Gloria!
Gloria: What?!
Jay: I think the new earrings are really going to tie your new outfit together.
Gloria (blowing Jay a kiss): You’re so sweet!
Manny (to Jay): Wow! That was very mature of you.
Jay: Yeah – well, I’m a lot older now then when she started getting dressed.

Many experts say that if we can keep it calm and under control it can actually be helpful for our kids to see us argue with our spouse. After all, our kids are going to have disagreements with their peers and eventually their co-workers. Seeing us fight fairly and constructively and come to a resolution gives our kids a model for compromising and settling differences. Kids whose parents don’t argue in front of them miss out on this lesson in conflict resolution

What our kids see happening between us and our spouses at the end of our fights is crucial though. This is true even when our arguing is far away from the kids. Even if they’ve not heard or seen anything, they’re still aware of it. Normal chatter and genuine friendly, affectionate talk alleviates anxiety in our kids. (Good job, Jay!)

But even more crucial is what goes on when we’re not arguing. The proportion of affection to fighting words our kids witness matters. And this is something that the parents in all three Modern Family households might want to think about.

Your Parenting Experiences
Do you and your spouse sometimes argue in front of your kids? If so, how do your kids tend to respond?

Sources: Nurture Shock by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman; The Family that Fights Together by Andrea Peterson

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