MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on October 6th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 2, Do Not Push

The Parents’ Pushes Feel More Like Shoves

The Framework
A lot of buttons get pushed on Modern Family tonight. There is a literal button in one of the storylines. But a lot of “getting under the skin” kind of button pushing happens tonight too – with parents and kids alike getting in on the action.

The Dunphys all tag along with Alex on a campus tour at Caltech. But Claire has her mind made up even before the tour begins.
Claire: Caltech is the perfect school.
Phil: For Claire.
Claire: And Alex! Come on we’re talking about one of the best schools in the country. Yes, it happens to be 45 minutes from our house … But with Alex the important thing is keeping her close for the next four years. After that I’m never going to see her unless she Skypes me from Neptune where she’s living in a bio-dome she invented.

Once on campus, Claire tries to sell Alex on the school – pushing buttons and getting pushed back in the process.
Claire: Wow! This place screams “Alex”… And check this out – a reflecting pool.
Alex: Great. Maybe you can see how crazy you’re being right now … You need to calm down. This is a college tour – not Oprah’s favorite things.
Claire: I’m just so impressed by this place. Aren’t you?
Alex: Of course, I am … But if you must know, I don’t like everything about it. Honestly, the only reason I took this tour today is so you won’t accuse me of not giving it a fair shot.
Claire: Why wouldn’t you want to go here?
Alex: I can’t believe you’re making me say this! It’s too close to home. I need to get away from you guys a little bit. Okay?

Meanwhile, Lily pushes a few buttons too when she draws a picture of herself and pastes it between her two dads in a photo that’s been on their mantel for years. As Cam explains: We are taking a new photo for above our mantel. Lily is not in the one up there now. And we started to get the impression that it was bothering her.

Now if they can just fix Lily’s smile.
Cam (looking at the first shot): Not bad. Let’s shakeout our faces.
Mitch (taking a peek): Why is she doing that with her face?
Cam: I don’t know. I’ve never seen such a weird, forced smile … I’m going to talk to her. I’ve been photographing her for years. We have a relationship … I’ll tell her that her smile is forced. It looks unnatural. And we’re not going home until we get what we need.
Mitch: A couple things: We are home. And that’s mean.
Cam: What’s your suggestion?
Mitch: We show her the photo and let her discover her weird smile on her own … Let’s do this gently. Okay?

But after looking at the umpteenth shot, Cam confides to Mitch: She looks like Pepper’s Pomeranian. We have to say something. And with that things go from bad to worse. The photo shoot ends with this exchange.
Lily: You mean I’m not beautiful?
Dads (in unison): No. That’s not what we’re saying. No.
Lily (stomping her foot): Just forget it. I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m an ugly monster, and I’m never coming out of my room again.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
All of us have buttons that get pushed. And if you have a kid, you have at least one button pusher in your life. Our kids seem to instinctively know how to exasperate and worry us like nobody else can.

Moms today have more buttons for pushing than ever before. Because over the generations, we’ve assumed new responsibilities and become more and more psychologically invested in our kids. We tend to hold ourselves responsible for our kids’ physical well being – which, historically, is what parents have always worried about. But we also tend to hold ourselves responsible for our kids’ emotional health, their current happiness, and their future success.

On top of all this responsibility is our longing to feel connected and close to our kids. At some level most of us fear not being liked by them. Add to this the fact that many of the things we feel responsible for are outside of our control – especially once our kids become teens. In short, we moms have a lot of buttons. And they’re often hot.

After the photo shoot, Mitchell calls Claire who, of course, has some advice at the ready.
Claire: Mitchell, I say this with love … But when you became a parent, I knew this was going to become a problem for you because you like to control everything … Bottom line: It’s all going to work itself out. But if you [say something] and push her on it, she’s just going to push you away.

Children have buttons too, and kids of all ages are attuned to indications of disapproval from their parents. But teens’ buttons are especially hot. Picture the emotional centers of their brains as a whole bunch of exposed nerves. Like an exposed tooth root, even the slightest sensation gets exaggerated. Just a hint of disapproval can trigger a defensive response that looks nothing short of irrational.

Most of us have learned the hard way that our efforts to advise and protect often angers our teens. We know we’re treading on dangerous ground, so we try to tread lightly. Like Mitchell and Cam tonight, rather than coming right out and saying directly what’s on our mind, we try to be gentle.

But our gentleness often makes our teens even angrier. Because a big part of their job in growing-up is to prove to themselves (and to us) that they can make their own decisions. They see our advice as criticism of their ability to do their new job. And they feel compelled to show us that we – or at least our direction and advice – are often wrong.

Our teens don’t want our advice. They want our approval.

But what if we don’t approve? It’s our job to guide our teens.

What’s a Mom to Do?
There’s some truth in Claire’s advice to Mitchell tonight. Speaking up can be costly. We risk hurting our teen’s feelings in a way we didn’t intend. Or we might cause an argument, widening the distance that has been growing between the two of us.

Yet if we stay silent, who will help our teens learn how to make good decisions and do the right thing?

Below are some questions to help you determine if you’re staying silent when you should be speaking up.

Are health and safety at issue? If it involves your teen’s health or safety, it must be addressed.

Does it threaten respect, trust, or smooth family functioning? This includes issues about your teen staying in contact – calling to let you know when their plans have changed and answering when you call them.

Am I acting out my concerns by using subtext? When our intuition is telling us to say something but we know we’re treading on dangerous ground, it’s tempting to send indirect messages to our teens. Tonight’s photo-shoot with Lily and her dads provided some great illustrations of this. Sometimes we use indirect jokes and off-hand comments like Mitchell and Cam did to get our messages across. But more often we use body language and questions we already know the answer to

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you probably should be speaking up. But saying something to your teen doesn’t have to begin with offering advice. When we begin that way, we’re telling our teens we know what’s best for them – that we’ve got everything figured out before they’ve had a chance to think things through for themselves.

Instead, consider beginning by asking questions. Don’t make it an interrogation. Try to make the tone conversational. And as you listen, try to show genuine curiosity about how your teen sees things.

Sometimes this small change in the way we approach conversations with our teens can improve both our communication and our relationship with them. But if you try this and your teen still doesn’t respond the way you’d hoped, rest assured. Your opinion still matters to your teen. Their extreme reaction is proof of that.

For further reassurance, make an extra effort to notice what your teen is doing well and acknowledge it on a regular basis. This kind of specific and genuine praise is bound to add to the goodwill between you and your teen. And seeing how important your praise is to your teen is more evidence of just how much your opinion means to them.

Your Parenting Experiences
Seeing something in our child that reminds us of a “flaw” in ourselves is often one of our hottest buttons. Click here to see an example of this from tonight’s show. Have you ever had that button pushed?

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