MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on December 15th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 10, Haley’s 21st Birthday

Claire Should’ve Left Herself Some Wiggle Room

The Framework
Tonight on “Modern Family” the adults all pitch-in to help Haley turn 21. Mitchell gets things started at the bar.
Mitch (bringing a round of drinks to the table): Haley, we are here for you tonight. (Then lifting his glass in a toast), To Haley’s first drink.

Haley chugs her drink while the others are still clinking glasses. Given all that we know about Haley, this fits. What’s odd is how she wound up spending her big night like this. She explains it this way: Yes, I’m a huge dork for celebrating my 21st with my family. But my mom was crazy excited to go to a bar with me.

As their night in the bar gets going, it becomes clear that Claire hopes this night out with her oldest child will signal her wish for a change in their relationship.
Claire (to Gloria and Haley): What are you two giggling about?
Gloria: She asked me…
Haley (interrupting): You don’t want to know. Trust me.
Claire: I do. I do. I do. Trust me.
Haley: No. You’ll just be all judgy because you want me to be a perfect little angel.
Claire: Oh, Honey, no. That’s not true … I want us to have a more adult relationship. I am sure that the reason my mom and I grew apart is that she never stopped treating me like a child. Come on, Haley. Let me in.

And just like that Claire gets her wish.
Haley: Okay. Fine. So we were laughing because we were playing “would you rather” and I said would you rather marry George Clooney or have the best sex of your life with Tom Hardy … I can’t believe I’m talking to my mom about this.
Claire: Honey, I told you, you’re a grown-up now. I’m going to respect your decisions and let you live your life. It’s the best present I can get you on your 21st birthday: my friendship and unconditional acceptance.

No sooner had mother and daughter clinked glasses to ratify their new relationship than Haley puts it to the test.
Haley: Oh, that means so much to me right now. You know why?
Claire: Why?
Haley: Because I want to get a tattoo tonight. And I was afraid you’d say “no.”
Gloria: Why? How could she say “no” after everything she just said to you?
Claire (looking for wiggle room): How could I say “no”? Is there a way?
Haley (taking this as a “yes”): Oh my God! This is the best present ever! Could tonight get any better?!

As Haley presses Claire for more, it’s evident that she’s hoping the night can get even better.
Haley: I want to [get matching tattoos] with you. Will you? … It could be like our special thing that we have for the rest of our lives. Just us.
Claire: That is so sweet.
Hailey: I mean it. I want to do it with you. Will you?
Claire: I can’t believe this, but I will. I will. I will because I love you. (Then hugging Haley tightly), I love you. I love you. I love you.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
If there’s ever a time when our kids need a parent more than another buddy, it just might be on the eve of their 21st birthday. Because when kids turn 21, the law no longer stands in their way. They’re legal. And many celebrate the transition to legal drinking age by drinking. A LOT.

Studies indicate that about 85% of these partiers drink to dangerous levels with average blood alcohol concentrations of 0.17%. In fact, turning 21 has gotten lots of media attention because of the alcohol related deaths associated with the celebrations.

Although evidence suggests that young adults anticipate drinking excessively during their 21st celebrations, most of them drink more than they planned – with guys more likely than gals to do so. Those who end up drinking more than they expect to generally drink faster, consume more shots (as opposed to beer or wine), have more friends present to help keep the festivities going, and engage in more 21st birthday drinking traditions.

I tried to keep track of Haley’s drinks tonight and counted one shot and two mixed drinks. Like most of her peers, she celebrated with the harder stuff instead of wine or beer. But her tally of three drinks was much lower than the average number of drinks (10.7) consumed by most of those celebrating their 21st.

Celebrating with family also undoubtedly protected Haley from some of the “rite of passage” traditions that have become regular parts of 21st birthday parties. These often are dares to do things that range in risk from asking a room full of strangers to sing “Happy Birthday” to you or dancing on a table top to taking multiple frosting shots, drunk dialing the 21st person on your contact list, or drawing a tally mark on your arm for every drink and trying not to stop until you hit 21. (For more, click here.)

Claire: Phil, you’ve got to get down here right now and stop Haley from getting a tattoo!
Phil: What?! No, you stop her!
Claire: I can’t. I made a commitment to be her friend.
Phil: Why would you do that?
Claire: I don’t know. I was trying something.

The “something” Claire “was trying” was to relinquish her parental authority entirely and just be Haley’s friend. Once kids reach their teens and beyond, it’s a tempting thing for all of us to do. After all, like Claire, we love our kids. We want them to be happy. We don’t want to lose their love and our connection with them. And it can seem downright unkind to withhold our approval, our permission, and even our resources.

It’s so much easier to just go along with whatever they want to do – like a friend.

What’s a Mom to Do?
We have to be a mom first and a friend second. Keeping close, loving relationships with our kids is our most important job as a mom. And part of a loving relationship is the safety and security that comes when we set appropriate expectations and limits.

If there are times when you can be a mom and a friend, fine. But most kids still need our guidance more than they need another buddy – well into their 20s. And for many this is never truer than on their 21st birthday. Because the amount and style of drinking during these celebrations is often extreme, posing serious health risks for our kids.

Having fun is what turning 21 should be all about. But it’s our job to remind them to play safe. As their birthday approaches, you might get that conversation started by sending your young adult the “Top Ten 21st Birthday Survival Tips” created by Purdue University Student Wellness Center. Click here to see this page that comes complete with confetti.

In the meantime, remember that while we (like Claire) may wish to let the bond we share with our kids evolve and just be their friend, being a friend at all times hardly ever works well until kids have fully matured into their own adult lives. Until then we’re wise to leave ourselves some wiggle room.

Your Parenting Experiences
Tonight Claire made it clear that she wanted something more for Haley and herself than she had with her own mom.
Claire: I am sure that the reason my mom and I grew apart is that she never stopped treating me like a child.

What was your relationship like with your Mom when you were a young adult? How do you think this affects what you want for your own kids?

Sources and Resources: “Anticipated Versus Actual Consumption During 21st Birthday Celebrations” by H. Brister, R. Wetherill, & K. Fromme in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol; “Top Ten 21st Birthday Survival Tips” by Purdue University Student Health Center; “21 Ways to Celebrate Your 21st Birthday” at College

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