MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on January 27th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 13, Three Dinners

Haley Turns the Table on Her Parents

The Framework
Tonight there are three conversations set at three different dinner tables. Although the three storylines never intertwine, the meals all share one thing in common: meddling.

Jay and Gloria’s close friends announce they are moving away, and Jay – desperate at the thought of losing his best pal – butts in, insisting that the move is a terrible idea. Mitch and Cam – out on a romantic dinner date – have taken some things off the table: no wedding talk and no Lily talk. With nothing left to talk about, they glom onto another couple seated nearby, interfering with the couples’ marriage plans.

But Claire and Phil take meal meddling to whole nother level; their meddling is premeditated. They explain their game plan like this.
Claire: Haley has no plans for her future whatsoever. She’s living in our basement. Taking community college classes in … meandering.
Phil: So we’re going to take her out. We’ll have some fun.
Claire: And then gently ease her into a friendly conversation about her future.

But things get off to a rocky start – even before the Dunphy parents have one too many mojitos.
Phil (to Haley): Come on now. Join us for a specialty cocktail on our specialty evening.
Haley: Can’t we just cut to the chase? … What are we doing here? What’s this about?
Claire: Nothing. We just wanted to have a fun night out with our daughter.
Phil: Yeah. Just think of us as your friends.
Haley: I don’t have 45-year-old friends.

And a bit later there’s this.
Phil (about their waiter): He seems like a real go-getter.
Haley: Why? Because he goes and gets things?
Phil: I wonder what he wants to do with his life. I wonder that about people all the time.
Haley: So this is what this whole night is about. The drinks. The pretending to be my friend.
Claire: Honey, we care about you. And we want to make sure. Because it seems like you’re meandering. … No, sweetie. Don’t just start texting because you don’t like the conversation.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Over the last couple decades parents have turned up the intensity of their expectations for their kids as well as their psychological investment in their kids’ lives. Parental responsibility and involvement – even in the lives of 20-somethings like Haley – have expanded in ways that were unheard of when we were growing up.

Today’s parents tend to hold themselves responsible not only for their offsprings’ physical wellbeing but for their psychological adjustment, personal happiness, and future success too. Helicopter parents who hover over nearly ever decision and action of their offspring have given way to snowplow parents determined to clear a path for their kid and remove anything that seems to stand in the way.

Shouldering all this responsibility can be a heavy burden for parents – especially if you have a slow-to-emerge young adult who is still living at home. Probably more than a few of us are familiar with the approach the Dunphys have taken with Haley in the past. An approach that goes something like this.
Claire (with her arms full of laundry): Is this what you’re going to do with your life – sleep late and take a selfie?
Haley: Why are you always criticizing me?! Is this really how you want to start the day?!
Claire: My day started five hours ago!
Haley: I’m under a lot of pressure!
Claire: How?! How?! You take three classes a week. And you miss half of them!
Haley: The parking is tricky!!
Phil (piling on): Morning, sunshine. I saved you some lunch.
Haley (slamming her bedroom door): I got it – okay!! I’m lazy!! GODDD!!!

And those of us who’ve tried this approach have probably had similar results.

Bottomline
Haley: You always assume the worst of me. …. You guys sit here acting like we’re drinking buddies. Judging me. When I have a better handle on my future than either of you did at my age.

We want our kids to be successful. To do their best. To be happy. And to feel good about themselves. And Claire and Phil are not the only parents fretting about their emerging adult. Many parents of 20-somethings worry if their offspring hasn’t yet found a career path or become financially independent.

What’s a Mom to Do
We sometimes assume that our young adults want to push us away. In reality they just need a different kind of closeness. In fact, several new studies suggest that parents who stay close to their kids – even when they’re no longer under their roof – can have a positive influence.

But young adults guard their independence ferociously. And parents who overdo it and meddle too much put their relationship in danger. So it’s important that our involvement be age-appropriate – that we treat our 20-somethings very differently than we’d treat a 16-year-old.

Here are some dos and don’ts to help you pull off this tricky balance.

Pay attention and be interested. Listen and help your young adult review options. But don’t overreact and takeover. Instead respect their right to make their own decisions. Act as a sounding board and a low-key consultant, offering advice only when it’s requested.

Don’t do things for them that they can do for themselves. Even if your 20-something is still financially dependent on you, they still can (and need to) practice independence in other ways.

Give them a chance to solve their own problems and make their own mistakes. It’s hard to sit back and watch our kids struggle. But sometimes that’s what it takes for them to learn. And a mistake or two might make them more likely to ask for and take your suggestions.

Keep your comments about what might lie ahead concise and positive. Don’t preach or lecture; they’ll tune you out. Don’t criticize; it will just make them defensive. And resist the temptation to threaten them with the height of the ladder they have to climb: You have to do well in high school so you’ll get into a top college; then do well in college so you’ll get into a top professional school… Instead of depicting adult success as a perilous and endless climb, describe it as doable and something that’s exciting to ponder and plan.

Be tolerant and patient. Some people take more time than others to figure out a career path. Don’t panic. Even if you’ve got a 26-year-old who doesn’t know what they’re going to do. There are hardly any 40-year-olds with that problem. Sooner or later, we all figure it out.

And, as we saw tonight when Haley turns the table on her parents, sometimes our 20-somethings are more grown-up than we give them credit for. Sometimes they’re already working on a plan.

Your Parenting Experiences
Do you know any helicopter or snowplow parents who never seem to let their kids fend for themselves? Do you sometimes feel parental peer pressure to do more for your kids because of this?



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