MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on November 25th, 2013, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 8, Closet-Con ‘13

Two Sisters and One Mister

The Framework
The title for tonight’s episode comes from the annual closet conference that Claire and Jay are attending. And closets and the space for conversation created by confining places help tie the storylines together tonight.

A lost reservation means that Jay and Claire end up sharing a hotel room and dealing with some skeletons while at the conference. There was the literal skeleton hidden in Claire’s closet – a traditional prank played on the newest sales rookie. But the close quarters brought some figurative skeletons out of the closet as well.
Jay: Before you turn that [light] out, have we talked about everything we need to? Cause I want everything in the clear here.
“Everything” turns out to include Jay’s attempt to thwart Claire’s marriage to Phil, Claire’s efforts to interfere in Jay’s plans to marry Gloria, and Jay’s confession about a gal named Rita.

Meanwhile Mitch and Lily go to Missouri (pronounced M-I-S-E-R-Y if you ask Mitch) with Cam to visit his family’s farm. Adding to the misery is the fact that the couple has to keep their relationship closeted while there. As Cam explains: We never told Gram about the gay. You know, after they reach a certain age, it could be the thing that sends them over the edge. And she’s been over the edge for a long time. We’re actually on deathbed number two. But when a tornado confines them all to the farmhouse basement, the resulting conversation causes Grams to soften, admitting: I guess there’s nothing more important than family.

Back at home, Phil, Gloria, and the kids have their own close encounters after Phil discovers Jay’s secret trove of antique model toys in a walk-in closet off the kitchen. Toy mishaps lead to some family bonding – especially between Haley and Alex who both have a crush on the pizza guy from last night.
Alex: He’s shy and thoughtful and wears a Princeton sweatshirt. Hardly Haley’s type.
Haley: I’m telling you the way he looked at me when I came to the door – it was so on.
Alex: It kind of seemed like he was just delivering pizza, and you were giving him money.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
What ends up happening between Haley and Alex tonight gives us a window into the ranting route we all tend to jump onto when we get upset with anyone. The route almost always looks something like this: 1) We notice something. 2) To explain what happened, we tell ourselves a story. 3) The story creates harsh feelings. 4) And we act on our feelings.

Early in the episode, Haley notices something she doesn’t like.
Haley: I’m starving! What are we going to do about supper?
Alex: I checked with Dad and ordered a couple pizzas from Tejas.
Haley: I knew it! You’re stalking my pizza guy!
Alex: He’s not into you, okay! Does he call you brown eyes and give you extra mozzarella sticks?
Haley: Stalker!
Alex: Trollop!
Haley: Ha! Ha! Don’t know what it means.

Things then go from bad to worse: The propeller of the toy plane Alex is holding suddenly starts to spin, and Haley’s hair gets caught in its blades. As soon as she senses what has happened, Haley begins to create a story to explain it.
Haley: Ahhh!!! What did you do?!!
Alex (alarmed): Nothing!
Haley: Yes you did! You turned it on and now the propeller is all tangled up.

Based on her story, Haley creates harsh feelings towards Alex, and she translates those feelings into judgments and accusations.
Alex: Why would I do that?
Haley: Cause my pizza guy is coming over, and now I have airplane in my hair!

The next thing you know, Alex too has her hair tangled up in the plane’s propeller. And because she also has been busy perceiving, thinking, and feeling, she reacts with anger.
Alex: Get her off of me!!! I’m getting dumb through osmosis!
Haley: I don’t have osmosis!

And Haley retaliates.
Haley: How have I never noticed how loud you breathe?!!
Alex: Oh, don’t beat yourself up. That would require you to notice something that isn’t about you!
Haley: Oh my God, you’re such a loser!

When our kids mess-up, we act a lot like Haley did tonight. We too tend to jump into the middle of a ranting route. Our thoughts run wild as we try to figure out what happened. Then to explain it, we tell ourselves a story filled with pretty ugly thoughts, and, in response to the story, we create harsh feelings towards our teen. We then translate those feelings into judgments and accusations and act on them as fact. We rant at our teen.

Meanwhile our teen is also busy perceiving, thinking, and feeling. And they often react to our rantings by becoming resentful and defensive – like Alex did tonight. In response, we create more harsh feelings and rant more and louder, setting up a vicious cycle.

Gloria (kneeling next to baby Joe): Oh, did you find a little toy?

Tonight as the camera pans away from the tangled-up sisters to another corner of the room, we are let in on the rest of the story: Baby Joe has the remote control for the model plane and is randomly pushing buttons to make the plane’s propeller spin.

We moms could benefit from one of those panning cameras when our kids mess-up. Because we often jump into the conversation, explaining the problem with our own version of the events. And often within the very first seconds we communicate to our teen that they’re the problem and warn them to defend themselves or attack back.

Of course, we get upset when our teen messes-up. How could we not get upset? This is our kid! But as Haley and Alex’s plight reminds, we are often reacting to an incomplete story.

What’s a Mom to Do
Have you ever wondered how the folks who work with youth gangs sometimes manage to get the kids to stop fighting and retaliating? They’ve learned that showing respect for the position of the kids by listening makes a crucial difference. Only after the kids believe that they’ve been listened to and that their ideas have been understood, can they give others’ ideas a fair hearing.

Our kids aren’t all that different. Our willingness to listen – even when what we’re listening to sounds crazy, is the first step to helping. Almost always a greater awareness of our teen’s story will change how we feel. And this, in turn, will affect how we act and their response.

Your Parenting Experiences
Being bound together eventually created space for a conversation that helped the two sisters – who were arguing over one mister tonight – understand each other a bit better. And sometimes a confining place can help create space for conversations with our kids too. I found that riding in the car with my teens – sitting side-by-side with them – often seemed to provide just the kind of space they needed to let their guard down a little bit and open-up. How about you? Have you found a particularly good space for catching-up with your teen?

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