MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 4th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 21, Integrity

Alex has Something Important to Say

The Framework
The adults are in a fix-it mode tonight on Modern Family – with their efforts all focused on the kids. Jay and Phil haul, destroy, and then rebuild Lily’s giant, pink, princess castle for Baby Joe’s birthday party. Gloria looks to her Columbian roots for inspiration as she advocate for Haley with her abusive boss. But it’s Claire’s attempts to fix things that held my attention tonight.
Claire: [It’s] awards day at school – the one day of the year Alex has some real swagger. Ironically, the one thing she’s not good at.
Alex (standing on a chair, cheering): When I say “trophy,” you say “trophy”! Trophy! Trophy! Can I get a wha-wha?

Claire (to camera): I always worried that Alex winning all those awards would bother Luke, and looks like it finally did. Can’t be easy growing up in the shadow of a superstar sister. Look at Mitchell.

With that, Claire jumps into action, going straight to the principal’s office to fix things.
Claire: I … have a tiny favor to ask.
Principal: You know, I love your family … Haley, our Homecoming queen. And now Alex winning just about every academic award … It’s been an honor to teach the Dunphy children.
Claire: Well, today I’m here to talk about Luke.
Principal: Is that the science rabbit?
Claire: That’s my son.
Principal: Oh! Yes. Of course.
Claire: That’s sort of the point. I think he’s feeling a little bit overlooked. I was wondering if you could just, you know, toss him one of those awards today.
Principal: Well, I’m afraid all of the award winners have already been decided. But if it makes him feel any better, he was runner up for the integrity award.
Claire: Maybe there’s some sort of, um… I don’t know, like, a…a…a donation or something I could give to the auto shop to, um grease the wheels.
Principal: Okay, Mrs. Dunphy, I’m really doing everything I can to ignore the fact that you’re trying to bribe me for the Marlon Boniface Integrity award.
Claire: Oh! I’m so glad you can remember that name, but you can’t remember Luke.

Claire, not one to give up easily, finds an alternative way to intervene. It has to do with pushing another student’s car, and … well, anyway when her kids return home from school, it’s clear that things didn’t turn out quite as she’d hoped.
Alex: Call me the periodic table, ’cause I got all the “metals.”
Claire: Yeah! That’s nice, honey. Luke, how was your day?
Alex: Well, Luke won the Boniface Integrity Award, whereas I got all…
Claire: Are you kidding me? That is fantastic! I’m so proud of…
Luke: The bonerface! You win that award, everyone calls you “bonerface.” It’s the super nerd award. My underwear got pulled over my head by a girl. It always goes to Scott Wheeler, but someone pushed his car into a handicapped spot so I’d get the award.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
One of the things I love most about Claire is her propensity to do outrageous things. Similar things might occasionally run through our heads. But we’d never carry them out. At least not to such ludicrous extremes.

Claire’s attempts tonight to fix Luke’s unhappiness is a good case in point. All of us want our kids to be happy. And many of us have, at one time or another, tried to fix things for our kids – doing their work, apologizing for them, making excuses for them, advocating for them. We do this in an attempt to make things better, easier, less painful for our kids. And truth be told, we also may interfere because we can’t tolerate the way we feel when our kids struggle.

Claire (confessing): I did it! I did it! I got you the bonerface! Ugh, the bonifa– What’s it called? … I didn’t know it was a nerd award. I just knew it was an award, and I wanted you to have one. And you were second in line to get it, anyway, so I just, you know…
Luke: Rigged it. Because you think I’m a loser who could never win his own award?
Claire: No. No. I… I just… Alex has her awards and…
Luke: Thanks for believing in me.

The desire to protect our kids and want the best for them is important and essential. But if our anxiety causes us to step in and take over, our children lose out – even when our fixes work.

If we never give them room to be unhappy, they don’t learn how to cope with the normal stresses and frustrations of everyday life. If we spring into action whenever failure lurks, our kids don’t learn that fear and doubt are almost always part of doing something difficult– and that you have to work through the fear of failure to achieve success. And as Luke reminds tonight, if we try to solve their problems for them, our children may come to believe that we do this because we don’t think they are capable of working things out on their own.

What’s a Mom to Do
The next time your teen is unhappy and you feel the urge to fix things, remind yourself how things turned out for Claire. Remember that even if your intentions are good and your methods are honest, you often lack some of the information needed to fully understand the problem – much less fix it.

Below are a few suggestions to try instead:

Just be present. It’s difficult to not intervene when our kids are unhappy. But it’s often during these times that our kids most need us to remain quiet. Our silent presence relays that it’s a tough issue, that it’s okay to sometimes struggle and be unhappy, and that we don’t have an easy answer. The reassuring look on our face relays that we believe in them and that we won’t give up on them.

Help your teen focus on their feelings. While it might not be easy to fix one’s own feelings – especially for a teen – it’s more doable than a fix that requires changing other people. So the next time your teen is unhappy, you might encourage them to make a list of things that would help them feel better – active steps they could take to fix their feelings. The more you can remain emotionally neutral during this process, the more your teen will keep talking.

Help keep the focus on fixing their feelings rather than fixing other people. Not only will this give your teen a renewed sense of power in the short-term, it will also help them build a lifetime skill.

Encourage gratitude. Scientists think that about 50% of happiness is genetic. But the rest comes from how we choose to look at the world and feel about what we see. This means that kids (and adults) can learn to look at the brighter side.

Studies show that negative words – even negative self talk – darkens our moods. On the other hand, focusing on our blessings helps us ward off the natural tendency to dwell on problems and unfairness.

We can help our kids change their thought patterns by modeling gratitude for them and by encouraging them to focus on what they’re grateful for. To avoid sounding boastful, share how others have helped and give them credit.

In a voiceover at the end of tonight’s episode, Alex has this to say: No one wins anything without help from family and friends who steer you away from bad ideas and toward good ones. Because every time anyone accomplishes anything he or she achieves it with the help of a thousand silent heroes, the selfless team players who offer their support, not to be recognized, but because it’s the right thing to do.

We have to look beyond her swagger tonight to hear the message, but Alex has something important to say.

Your Parenting Experiences
Are your kids thankful for what they have? Do they feel and act grateful?

The answers to these questions may be more important than you think. Because it turns out that counting blessings is good for us – not just emotionally but physically as well. Over the last decade studies have shown that adults who are grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections, more happiness, and more resistance to viral infections. Now scientists are finding that gratitude brings benefits to young children and teens too. Kids who feel and act grateful tend to get better grades and set higher goals. They complain of fewer stomachaches and headaches. They are less materialistic. And they feel more satisfied with their families, friends and schools.

Still not convinced? Click here to watch Shawn Achor’s Ted Talk. It’s not only informative and fast, it’s funny to boot.

I'd love to have you become a regular reader. Join my mailing list to be notified by email of new blog posts here. And if you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on Facebook below.

MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 26th, 2014, 1 Comment

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 24, The Wedding, Part II

Partners for Life

The Framework
After many, many false starts, Mitch and Cam finally get married tonight. The grooms don’t have the most captivating storyline in their own wedding episode though. Competing with the couple’s story is Jay’s heartwarming reconciliation with Mitch and Haley’s “I like him; I like him not” relationship with Andy. But it was the interactions between the siblings that captured my attention tonight.

There’s the sibling teasing as Luke squabbles with Manny like a stereotypical “married couple.” Alex captures it all on film, exclaiming: I can’t get enough of this!

There’s the sibling snubbing as Haley ignores Alex in favor of Andy.
Alex: Okay, this is weird. I think this is the same seat I use to nervously scratch on – on my way to school.
Haley (looking at her phone): Ahhh. Poor thing.
Alex: Yeah. Even though I felt such pressure to be …
Haley (still looking at phone): Andy’s flight is delayed again!
Alex to Haley: Okay, that was close. We almost connected on a human level.

But it’s Claire’s closing voiceover that best encompasses what it means to be a sibling. As Mitch walks down the aisle on Jay’s arm, Claire reflects: I remember like it was yesterday – the day that Mitchell came home from the hospital in a very unfashionable white diaper with three strands of scraggly Raggedy Andy hair … We were inseparable. I was his big sister. His big brother. His nemesis. His protector. His best friend … I was his first partner …

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
For years researchers have tried to figure out what shapes kids’ personalities the most. First they thought it was parents – especially moms. Next they thought it was genes. Then it was their friends. Now more and more evidence suggests that of all the factors that shape personality, siblings are at the top.

This makes sense from just the sheer amount of time kids spend with their siblings. Even during the teen years when pushing away from family is the norm, kids still spend at least ten hours a week with their sibs. All this together time gives brothers and sisters lots of opportunity to learn from each other – with learning going both up and down the age scale.

The sibling fights that drive us crazy give sibs training on how to resolve conflict – and how not to do it. This can give them a big advantage down the line in marriage and in the workplace.

Sibling rivalry can push kids to learn skills and build strengths. Sometimes younger kids mimic their older sibs while older sibs push themselves to do things so as not to be out-shone by a younger sib who has already done it. At other times, to minimize the rivalry, siblings strive to carve out their own identity by being different: She’s the pretty one; I’ll be the smart one or He’s the athlete; I’ll be the musician.

And for learning about the world of the opposite sex, there’s nothing better than having an older sibling who’s a member living in the same house. Compared with their peers, girls with older brothers and boys with older sisters tend to converse more easily and be better liked by members of the opposite sex.

Phil (wrapping up his duty as wedding officiant): By the powers vested in me by the state of California, I am privileged to pronounce you spouses for life.

The thing is, even if Cam stays with Mitch for the rest of his life, he wasn’t there from the beginning like Claire. Our spouses arrive relatively late in life, and our parents will eventually be gone. So it’s siblings who may be the only ones who truly qualify as partners for life. And given the powerful force of sibling relationships, we moms have a stake in building healthy relationships between our kids.

What’s a Mom to Do?
Below are some tips to help you help your kids get along.

Don’t compare their achievements. If you do, you’ll only make your kids’ natural rivalry worse. Instead, look for areas in which each child is doing well and praise them without measuring them against their sibs or anyone else. Use words like “quick” and “strong” rather than comparison words like “quickest” or “strongest.” Viewing themselves as the quickest or the strongest causes kids to crave the exhilarating feeling of being the best. And as they get older and the comparison pool gets bigger, there will almost always be someone who is quicker or stronger.

Avoid pigeonholing them. Adolescence is a time when kids are finding out who they are and figuring out what they want to do with their lives. Labeling them tells them who they are before they’ve even had a chance to figure things out for themselves. Narrow reputations (the creative one, the smart one, the athletic one, the spoiled one, the problem child), even when they’re stated in positive terms, can be bad for our kids. They can feel pressure to live up to positive labels and to think of their negative reputations as unlikely to change regardless of their efforts to improve.

Promote both shared activities and alone time. Siblings benefit from time together to learn social skills – like how to compromise, take turns, and make amends. But everybody needs some time alone. And sibs tend to get along better if some times are designated as time away from each other – especially during vacation times when there’s no school to break up the kids’ time together.

Don’t play favorites. Favoritism is the one thing that can make or break our kids’ relationships with one another. For kids the real issue is fairness. But if we try to be fair by treating all our kids the same, we’re in for trouble. Because we’re bound to treat our kids of different ages, abilities, and needs differently. Plus even if we could treat each of our children in exactly the same way, chances are they’d respond to us in different ways and their experiences would not be the same. So rather than suggesting to your children that you’ll try to treat them equally, it’s wiser to assure them that you’ll strive to be fair by taking their individuality into account and giving each what they need.

Kids spend more time with their siblings than they do with anybody else – more than they spend with their friends, with their teachers, with us, or even by themselves. And kids are stuck with their siblings for life. So it’s well worth the time and energy it takes to help our kids get along.

Your Parenting Experiences
From the time they are born siblings begin shaping each other. They serve as sparring partners, measuring sticks, protectors, competitors, co-conspirators, collaborators, models, and cautionary tales. Which of these roles best describe the relationships you and your sibs shared as kids? What do you think your kids would say about their relationships with each other?

I'd love to have you become a regular reader. Join my mailing list to be notified by email of new blog posts here. And if you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on Facebook below.

© 2024 Roxane Lehmann, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.