MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on March 9th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 17, Closet? You’ll Love It!

Lily’s Dads Don’t Want Her to Sing

The Framework
Figuring out what one’s passions and talents are (and what they’re not) is the thread that holds the multiple storylines together tonight. Jay brings passion but no talent to marketing his closets. Haley is falling in love with Andy even though she seems to have a knack for dating another kind of guy. And Phil makes one impassioned attempt after another to knock a drone out of the sky, even though he becomes an “idiot” on YouTube in the process.

But the story that caught and kept my attention begins like this.
Cam (hollering): Okay, Lily, ballet at 11:00, then a play date, then karate class at 3:00. So why don’t you go get your uniform? Chop! Chop!
Mitch: What? Why would you schedule all this extra stuff on the same day as her talent show?
Cam: Okay, are you accusing me of overscheduling our tone-deaf daughter so she’s so tired she misses the talent show and doesn’t humiliate herself?

Lily (entering the room): I got it! Hey, wait. Isn’t my talent show today?
Mitch: You’re right. It is today, and since you have a little bit of time before ballet, why don’t you two do a little bit of warming up?
Cam (sitting down at keyboard): Oh, okay, great. So, Lily, can you meet me here at C? (playing and singing key of C)
Lily(singing off-key): C
Cam (singing): Now daddy’s lonely.
Lily (off-key): I’m there with you.
Cam (singing again): No, you’re not … That’s not even a note. I feel like you’re doing it on purpose.
Mitch (singing too): That seems a little bit sharp.
Cam (still singing): I’m never sharp; I’m pitch-perfect.
Mitch (singing again): I’m talking about your tone toward our daughter.
Lily (also singing): I can understand you even when you’re singing.

Later there’s this.
Mitch: Oh! You’re still rehearsing.
Cam: We sure are, and we found a more appropriate song for Lily’s singing voice.
Mitch: Really? Well, I’d love to hear it.
Cam: Okay. (singing) Everybody was kung fu fighting.
Lilly (doing a karate kick): Hyah! Hyah!
Cam (singing): Those kicks were fast as lightning.
Lily: Hyah! Hyah!
Mitch: Okay, stop, stop, stop … This is ridiculous. She’s not even singing.
Cam: She wasn’t singing before either.

With that, Mitch sends Lily out of the room, and there’s this.
Mitch: Cam.
Cam: Mitchell, I just don’t want her to embarrass herself in front of her friends – not to mention the parents. I can already hear Andrew’s condescending, “Hmm.”
Mitch: Oh my gosh! You’re still competing with Andrew.
Cam: He staged a coup, Mitchell. He forced me out of the group I founded … The Greensleevers were Southern California’s premier holiday chorus …
Mitch: So you’re not worried about Lily embarrassing herself. You’re worried about Lily embarrassing you.
Cam: Not so much now that’s she’s not singing.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Cam and Mitch act like the quintessential pushy parents tonight – it’s all about their interests. But there’s a twist. Like most pushy parents, the dads have Lily’s schedule fully booked, including a solo in tonight’s talent show. That is until they (yes, eventually Mitch too) determine that it’s better for them if Lily doesn’t sing.

Many parents insist that their kids participate in lots of activities hoping that at least one will click. Then they urge their kids to practice, practice, and practice some more on the ones that stick, in hopes they’ll standout and shine when it comes time to perform. This sounds like a win-win. After all who doesn’t want their offspring to excel and be brilliant? And if we can be proud while helping cultivate our child’s talent – a talent that will look good on a college application someday and maybe even lead to a career – what could possibly go wrong?

Grouchiness, headaches, stomachaches, and slipping grades all come to mind.

Cam (to camera): Lily has no talent.
Mitch: Because she’s 7. No one has talent at 7.

Cam and Mitch are both wrong. Every kid has in them at least one worthwhile and passionate interest. Our job as parents is to help them find that passion and nurture its development. But in the process, some parents push too hard while others don’t push hard enough. And truth be told, most of us worry about getting the balance right.

Child development experts say that we nurture when we follow our kids’ lead. But we push when we want our kids to follow us – to do what we want them to do. The distinction sounds pretty straightforward. So why do so many parents struggle with getting it right?

Let’s take Lily as a case in point. Singing doesn’t really seem to be her thing. But let’s imagine, instead, that Lily is passionate about it. And let’s say her dads, wanting to nurture her interest, arrange for her to join a community choir. Each week Lily looks forward to choir practice. She shines when she sings. She even gets a solo in the spring concert. In fact, she performs so well that Cam and Mitch decide she should have private voice lessons.

Is arranging for a seven-year-old to join a choir or take voice lessons pushing? Private lessons seem a bit over-the-top, but Lily is interested and having fun, and as long as a child is having fun, it’s not pushing. Her dads are just trying to provide opportunities to nurture her interest.

Let’s take things another step further. Let’s say that once Lily starts voice lessons, she doesn’t always want to practice the scales that her teacher assigns as part of the lesson. Her dads, however, insist that she practice her singing for 30 minutes a day – including the scales that will help her continue to develop her skills. And they take away some of her privileges when she doesn’t.

Are her dads being pushy when they insist that Lily practice scales for 30 minutes a day? This is a little trickier. Some might say that requiring Lily to practice for any amount of time means that her dads are no longer following her lead. But, in truth, almost all kids resist practicing what they consider boring parts or when things get hard – even in areas of their interest. And unless Lily practices the scales, she won’t develop the skills she needs to sing the way she seems to want to. So requiring that Lily practice singing scales that she’s not interested in for 30 minutes a day is nurturing – not pushing.

Let’s go one more step. Imagine now that that after she’s been practicing 30 minutes a day almost every day, Cam and Mitch notice that Lily’s singing skills have increased remarkably. Her vocal teacher even says that she has never seen a young child with so much talent. So Lily’s dads begin requiring that she practice an hour every day. Soon this becomes two hours a day. Even though Lily has other interests and misses playing with her friends, her dads insist that she focus on her singing. They envision Lily as a child prodigy or at least a famous adult.

With this last step, Lily’s dads clearly move from nurturing to pushing her. By insisting on so much practice, they are preventing Lily from being with her friends and engaging in other interests. They got caught up in their vision of Lily’s potential future and began letting that, rather than Lily’s interests, guide their decisions.

What’s a Mom to Do
Below are some tips for helping you find and keep your balance as you help your kids find and develop their interests and talents.

Talk regularly about natural interests and talents. Talk with your kids about theirs and share what yours are and how they enrich your life.

Take care not to push. Our job is to support – not direct – by providing lots of opportunities for our kids to explore, find, and develop their talents. This begins with our kids’ interests. When our interests (rather than our kids’ interests) determine what is done or what is learned, then it becomes pushing.

Emphasize the importance of practice and sticking with commitments. There will almost certainly be times when your kids won’t want to do what they’re supposed to do or learn what they’re supposed to learn, so sometimes you’ll have to nudge. You might set an expectation that they practice 30 minutes – even if things get boring or hard – before they get screen time or time with friends. And if your kids wants to drop an activity, let them do so at a natural stopping point (for example, at the end of the season) but only if they find another activity to replace it.

Support and recognize your kids’ progress. Attend their games, concerts, and other events. Make sure they know you’re proud of the progress they’re making. And be sure to celebrate the important milestones.

Thank the adults who help develop your kids’ talents. Write a thank you note or an email to let them know you appreciate what they do.

Source for tips: ParentFurther, a Search Institute Resource (Click here for more.)

If we help our kids find an activity they love, they’ll get a chance to see what they can do if they work really hard at something. And as they develop their interests into well-honed talents they’re working to become the best they can be and do their part in making the world better for us all.

Your Parenting Experiences
If you were to name the one or two things that really get you excited, what would they be? Do you think your kids know what your biggest interests and talents are?

Sources and Resources: Helping Kids Discover What They Love to Do in Search Institute’s ParentFurther; When Does Nurturing a Gifted Child Become Pushing? by Carol Bainbridge in About Parenting

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