MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on April 7th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 19, A Hard Jay’s Night

Phil Gets His Teens to Open Up

The Framework
Tonight most of the clan is gathered at Jay’s for the traditional Jay’s Night – a time when the grandkids come over to watch a movie they’d never choose on their own. The evening began with this:
Jay: Our feature presentation [tonight is] “The Great Escape.” Speaking of which, Haley…
Haley: Don’t worry, Grandpa. I’m not leaving. I have no plans for tonight.
Alex: Me either.
Haley: But when I say it, it’s news.
Alex: When you say any complete sentence, it’s news.

This time Luke is the one set on skedaddling. But the grandkids’ escapades aren’t what made Jay’s night hard. It was how he squabbled with Claire and withheld praise – especially for how she handled things during his week away from the office. It turns out, he’s more anxious about handing over control of his high-end closet company to Claire than he can admit.

Cam and Mitch are at Jay’s Night too – adding to the mayhem with their out-of-control need to be the one in control of their upcoming wedding. This time the issue is a cake topper.
Cam: My dad made this. He’s a world-class soap carver. Once when I was a kid, I cussed and my mom washed my mouth out with the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Mitch isn’t happy with his kicky-leg likeness and is determined to do-away with it. But by the end it’s clear that the whole thing is Cam’s ploy to give the boot to Mitch’s choice for a wedding singer.

Meanwhile Phil finds a buyer for the space Gloria and Manny lived in before she met Jay. While Gloria dithers about selling the place, she and Phil stop by the neighborhood’s hair salon where she used to work. The salon is short-handed, and the two pitch right in.
Gloria: I don’t want to ruin my nails. Phil, will you do my shampooing.
Phil: Well, I guess so. … Just a warning, I haven’t shampooed professionally since college and that was only part-time to pay for my cheer gear … What we got, double sinks? What’s the nozzle sitch?

Later Gloria admits that she’s ashamed about selling the apartment. As she puts it: I used to work for every penny. I would stand on my own two feet. Now I just stand on expensive shoes that Jay buys for me … It’s the last piece of the old me.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Tonight Jay battles Claire with the makings of a spaghetti dinner for the kids. Mitch and Cam go round and round over a cake topper. While Gloria beats herself up about letting her old apartment go even though it’s been years since she lived there.

These things all seem pretty inconsequential in the bigger scheme of things. But they don’t feel small to those doing the fighting. Because it feels to them like they’re fighting to maintain who they are.

And these folks are adults. They’ve had years to form and solidify their identity. Imagine for a minute how much more difficult things must be for teens who are in the middle of figuring out what makes them unique and different than others.

In fact, identity formation is a key task for teens. It ranks right up there with battling for independence. So it’s little wonder that our kids sometimes clam up to keep their distance. Or treat us like we’ve become the enemy if they get any inkling that we’re putting our interest before theirs. They fear losing themselves before they’ve even figured out who they are.

BottomLine
Claire (at the computer): Oh what the hell!
Phil: What’s going on?
Claire: The kids unfriended me again! How am I supposed to know what’s going on in their lives if they never talk to me?!
Phil: Honey, I got this.

With that, Phil jumps into action, giving salon-style shampoos, one-at-a-time, to all three kids.

What’s a Mom to Do?
I’m not suggesting you go corral your teen with shampoo and towel in hand. But Phil was on to something tonight when he decided to wash his kids’ hair to get them to open up. Here are some Phil inspired tips for getting your teen to talk to you.

Put the spotlight on your relationship. Build times into your everyday routine that are just about connecting with your teen. It takes perseverance and creativity, but when you develop regular ways for spending time with your teen, they will come to depend on them and gain a sense of security from your consistent connection. And there’s something in it for you too: parenting will become more manageable and a lot more fun.

Do something out of the ordinary. You might plan a dinner at a nice restaurant – one fancy enough to require a little dressing up. There is something about this unfamiliar setting – the formality, the leisureliness, the lack of their friends and yours – that encourages teens to share more about themselves. But don’t expect your teen to open up during the first course. As I recall from my kids’ teen days, the best conversations typically began over dessert and sometimes continued as we walked to the car and all the way home.

Be available when they’re most likely to talk. Teens often open up when minimal eye contact is required. This includes on walks, when riding in the passenger seat of the car, or in the dark. My teens were most likely to share their doubts and worries when I’d come into their bedrooms and sit on the edge of their bed to say a final goodnight after the lights were off.

Pay attention to your teen’s indirect signals that they want to talk. It can be really tough when you’re working on a demanding deadline or it’s 1 AM. But to teens our availability in these times is an indication of whether they can count on us when they need us. And these conversations are often much more important to our connection with our teens than the ones we try to initiate.

If you reach out and get rejected, try not to take it personally. It helps to remember that our teens see their job as extending away from us. And they haven’t matured enough to always be gracious as they go about this. Still it can hurt when they reject our offers to connect. Instead of responding angrily, you might softly say “ouch” to let them know that it doesn’t feel good to be pushed away. Later, let them know how much you want to be connected with them. And then don’t let their initial rejection keep you from trying again.

The chief complaint of parents with teenagers is that their teens won’t open up and talk with them. And it’s our job as their parents to do something about this. Because our teens need someone in their lives who they can talk with about their doubts and worries. Someone who helps them feel stronger and more confident than before they opened up and shared. Someone they see as a trusted ally. It’s our job to court this type of relationship with our teens so that we can help make up for what they’re lacking.

Your Parenting Experiences
The work it takes to stay connected with a teen feels a lot like courting – the creativity, the perseverance, the potential for rejection. What kinds of things do you do to court your teen?



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