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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