MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on February 18th, 2013, 2 Comments

Jay and Phil Both Go Overboard – One Overprotects While the Other Overlooks

Season 4, Episode 15

The Framework

Tonight is a party night on Modern Family. Claire and Phil have private Valentine’s party plans while their kids have their own secret party planned. Jay and Gloria keep close tabs on Manny as he parties with the popular kids. And Mitch and Cam host a party where neither keeps close tabs on anything. By the end, this Hallmark holiday episode was as much about worry as it was about love.

It begins with Claire and Phil out for a romantic evening. But just as things heat up, Claire passes out. After the doctor assures them that the problem is minor, Claire wants to keep the night going. Phil, however, is worried and wants her to rest. So they return home. But there’s no rest for the worried because shortly after they enter their bedroom, Claire hears voices downstairs:

Claire: Who’s that?!

Phil: You think the kids are home?

Claire: That sounds like more than our three! (And then as the music starts)
Ohhh… They think we’re not home, and they’re having a party. I’m killing them!

Phil (As Claire starts to get out of her sickbed): No. No. No. No. It’s my turn
to kill them.

And with that he heads down the stairs.

Phil (to the whole downstairs): What the hell is going on?!!!

Haley: Dad! What are you doing home?!!

Phil: So this is how it is. We’re gone for a minute, and you guys throw a party!

Haley: Nooo…

Luke (to Haley as he enters the kitchen without noticing his dad): Just texted Mom, “We’re having a great time at the movies.” Works every time.

Alex (to party guests just before she notices her dad): You know the drill;
coolers out ba
(as she sees her dad) aack….

Phil: Enough!! Everybody who I did not create, get out of my house! Right

Phil (as if to himself): I won’t get upset. I’ve been through enough tonight. (And then to Claire once he’s back upstairs): Kids had a few friends over. I handled it.

Meanwhile Jay and Gloria, who haven’t had time alone since the birth of baby Joe, spend Valentine’s Day trying to find some one-on-one time. Instead they get interrupted a lot – by the crying baby, by Lily, by the baby proofer (who came to add bumpers and gates even though they won’t be needed for months), and by Manny who has been invited to a party:

Manny: Best day ever! I just got invited to a Valentine’s Day party by a secret

Gloria: You should go.

Jay: Sounds great! Go! (And then later after Manny is dressed and set to
leave for the party) What’s with the hat?

Manny: My secret admirer requested I wear a hat with a feather in it…

Jay: Really?! This secret admirer have any other requests?

Manny: Ahhh… Yes. She asked me to bring some poetry to recite at the party.

Jay: Uhhmmm… These uhhh… kids at the party – they wouldn’t be the
popular ones by any chance?

Manny: The most popular. Why?

Jay: No reason… Have fun.

But there was a reason. As he later confides to Gloria:

Jay: I’m worried about Manny. I think he’s being set up for some kind of
humiliation at the party… Ahhh, I think I got to check on him. There was
some kind of secret admirer getting him to…

Gloria: Bring his poems? He told me when I was lint rolling his jacket.

Jay: And you’re not worried it’s a prank?

Gloria: Of course, I’m worried. I worry about him all the time. But like you
said, we can’t protect them from everything. So I’m trying to let go a little bit.

Jay: That’s the hardest part, isn’t it? When you realize you can’t stop the
world from hurting them.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

When it comes to our teens, we moms worry about all kinds of things. Some are serious cause for worry. Others, not so much.

And we worry for all sorts of reasons:

We worry because we can’t protect them from everything any more. Now that they’re teens and making many of their own decision, it’s no longer in our power to keep them completely safe.

We worry because we don’t want to be caught off-guard in case something bad does happen to them. We think we won’t be prepared for a calamity if we don’t worry.

Some of us give worry an almost magical power. We think that somehow our worry is what keeps bad things from happening to our teens.

And almost all of us would agree that we worry because we love our kids. We don’t want anything bad to happen to them.

The thing is all this worry can leave us perpetually anxious. And when we’re anxious, we’re more likely to parent by overreacting or underreacting.

When we overreact, we parent like a micromanaging boss. Sometimes we boss by overprotecting our teens with too many warnings and restrictions. Other times we try to control them with blame and shame. Regardless of our methods, attempts to maintain tight control and overprotect our teens can backfire. When we do our best to eliminate all the danger, we’re removing the very things that can help them grow into creative, courageous, problem solvers.

Tonight Jay and Gloria have doubts about Manny’s invitation to party with the popular kids, but they encourage him to go anyway. Because as Gloria says: We can’t protect him from everything. So I’m trying to let go a little bit. However, both she and Jay worry about things they can’t control and check on Manny with separate phone calls – calls that could have caused a less self-confident teen to feel incompetent. And for a more unruly teen (and most are more unruly than Manny), such efforts to overprotect and control can invite rebellion.

Sometimes, though, our worry can cause us to underreact. As we saw with Phil tonight, if we get too busy or too preoccupied with other concerns to deal with all the battles that are part of raising a teen, we can begin to parent more like a bystander. We begin to overlook things we shouldn’t by becoming too permissive or too dismissive of our teen’s bad behavior.

And let’s be honest, when Phil tells Claire that he’ll deal with the kids because as he puts it: It’s my turn to kill them, we should have expected an under-reaction. Phil parents more like a likeable friend most of the time. Perhaps it’s his way of compensating for Claire’s bossiness. And truth be told, many of us – in an attempt to avoid our controlling tendencies – occasionally overcompensate and become more like a friend to our teens. We so value our close relationship with them that we sometimes become reluctant to set limits or discipline them because we fear we’ll lose their love if we do.

The problem is that when we underreact we fail to adequately deal with bad behavior (like the Dunphy kids’ secret party tonight) that could go seriously wrong or might get seriously worse without our intervention. It was a big breach of trust for the kids to throw a party while Claire and Phil were out. Plus in many places there are laws that hold parents responsible for damages, injuries, and sometimes even the cost of the police response if parents haven’t taken steps to prevent the party. And from his kids’ comments, it should have been clear to Phil that they’ve partied like this before.

I think we’d all agree that Phil was wrong to think he’d handled the situation as he assured Claire that he had. And we can all empathize with Phil when he says I’ve been through enough tonight. But exhaustion doesn’t let him (or us) off the hook.

After clearing the house by yelling, Everybody who I did not create, get out of my house! Phil should have told the three he did make to clean up whatever they’d set up. And he should have made it clear that he’d be talking things over with their mom and that there would be conversations with and consequences for the three kids the following morning.

Even when we feel overwhelmed, we can’t just abdicate our role as parents (as Phil basically did). Because not letting our teens experience some negative consequences when they make poor decisions means that they miss out on key feedback that can motivate them to learn from their mistakes. Plus being too permissive sends a message of low expectations, inviting bad behavior.

The BottomLine

Early in the show Jay wonders aloud: When did everybody get so overprotective?

It’s tempting to be overprotective when our kids become teens. Even though they’re now bigger, stronger, and smarter than when they were younger, their chances of getting hurt – physically and emotionally – have gone way up.

Not worrying is not really an option. But our worry can cause us to overreact, putting our teens at risk. And if we underreact, we can put our teens in even more danger. So what’s a mom to do?

Thankfully, there is a way to put our worry to work for us. We can turn that potentially negative energy into constructive interaction and supportive guidance.

You can use your worry to:

Anticipate what they can’t and help them fill in the holes. Listen to your teen’s plans, looking for the holes while staying open to their request. After listening, let them know what you’re most worried about and remind them that you take your job as a responsible parent seriously. Tell them that you’re not saying “no” right now, that you’re willing to think about it. Then relay that if they want to convince you to say “yes,” they need to consider your concerns and think ahead about other things that might go wrong and come up with a plan that will minimize those things.

If you have to say “no,” shift to why. If they fail to come up with a convincing plan, it’s wise to shift the focus to the reasons why you had to say “no.” When you share your reasons for denying their request, you’re helping with your teen’s brain training by giving them a chance to see how your adult brain works. Plus you’re reducing the reasons they have for claiming your decision is unfair.

Teach your teen that past behavior matters. If you say “yes” to their request, be sure they know that if they mess this chance up and give you reason to worry, it will definitely come up the next time they negotiate with you. All kids need to know that past behavior matters and putting them on notice that it does will increase the likelihood that they’ll behave in whatever they’ve just successfully negotiated for.

Appeal to their self-interest. Tell them that it is in their own best interest to minimize the things you worry about because your worry affects them. Let them know that when you worry, you don’t sleep as well. And when you’re tired you’re more likely to say “no.”

Flipping the Frame: From My Life as a Parent

All teens need more than their own still-developing judgment to guide them. They all need our sturdy presence. But temperamentally different kids are affected differently by the same parenting. My two kids are a good case in point. My daughter seemed to be born with more than her fair share of delayed gratification and self-regulation. And I used to joke that my son must have been hiding when those two traits got handed out.

Thus, what would have been just the right amount of parental involvement for my son would have been overreacting when it came to my daughter. In fact, she would have resented it and probably rebelled. And what would have been appropriate for her would definitely have been underreacting for my son. He benefitted from quite a bit more structure and guidance.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• When it comes to your teen, what do you worry about most? Are these things you can control? Or are they mostly out of your control?

• All of us have a tendency to either overreact or underreact when our teens mess up. Which are you more likely to do? Does it depend more on what went wrong or how you found out?

• If you have more than one teen, do they (like my kids) need significantly different amounts of parental involvement?

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  • I agree with your comments about the “dark side.” We as parents still need to find a way to stay connected even if it’s in a different less direct way. Another thought on being friends again, how about if parents could think about being friendly vs. friends? We shouldn’t be our kids’s friends. They need us as parents and we can’t be both. But, most of the time we can be friendly. Friendly can mean being engaging, respectful, finding humor in some situations, being polite, etc.

  • I agree, Colleen. Our teens need us to be a parent. And being a parent means doing things that can conflict with being a friend – things like conveying our values, setting limits, saying “no” when it’s needed, and holding them accountable for their missteps.

    And I agree that we can almost always be friendly. In fact, our teens need to be able to count on our commitment to staying connected to them even when they do things that a friend wouldn’t put up with – thing like rebuffing our kind gestures (as Alex did to Claire tonight) or behaving in ways that really disappoint.

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