MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on January 12th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 11, The Day We Almost Died

Claire is Controlling Even When She Tries Not to Be

The kids have Friday off from school, and as tonight’s episode opens the Dunphys are driving home from a trip to the pancake house. Phil is at the wheel, as laidback as ever, while Claire (predictably) acts like she owns all the controls.
Claire (phoning Mitchell): Mitch, hi. What? … (then to the kids riding in the back) I can’t hear him. I can’t even hear myself. Everybody just shut up!!!

With the noise under control, Claire now takes control of her conversation with Mitch.
Claire: I need you to send a gift to Mom for her birthday from the both of us.
Mitch: No, I did it last year.
Claire: I know, and I need you to do it again. Look, I’ve got a conference call at 1:20. Then Luke’s tutor comes to the house, 2:45 sales meeting, and I still gotta get Alex to judo.
Mitch: And yet you somehow find time to bitch at me. Wow! You really can have it all.

Then suddenly a big truck barrels through a stop sign, missing the Dunphy’s car by inches. No one gets hurt, but the brush with death leaves everyone shaken.

Claire and Phil respond to their near miss with death by changing how they think about control.
Phil (to his family): Something hit me this morning – when that truck didn’t hit me this morning. I have not been in control of my own life. But those days are done … And if me getting what I want inconveniences people a little, so be it.

Claire (confiding to Mitch): Do you know what I was doing when I almost died? … Scheduling my life down to the last minute. [But] today made me realize something. We are not control freaks. We don’t [need to] sweat the small stuff. Just let it go.

The Framework
Tonight’s episode is all about control. Parenting teens is too.

Some parents think they own the controls. And they use lectures and threats to try to keep it that way. Teens parented this way are likely to become secretive, dedicating all their energy to sneaking around and outsmarting their parents’ controlling tactics.

Other parents choose to relinquish almost all control. They place few demands on their teens and give them more freedom than they’ve earned or than they’re ready for. Teens parented this way often fail to learn that past behavior matters, and they are likely to get the impressions that they’re entitled to whatever they want.

BottomLine
Claire (to Phil): Oh, honey, you spent the whole day trying to control everything. And I spent the entire today trying not to. And neither way worked.

Neither way – trying to control everything or totally opting out – works when parenting teens either. But often our deepest desire to do what is right for our kids means that we (like Claire and Phil) lean too far in one directions or the other.

When our kids were younger, we controlled all the action. Many of us would like to maintain that same relationship. Like Claire, we’re controlling even when we’re trying not to be. After all those tactics worked really well for the first twelve years of our kids’ lives.

Sometimes, though, we lean too far in the other direction. We so value our close relationships with our teens that we become reluctant to set limits or discipline them. Lots of well-meaning moms fear they’ll lose their teen’s love if they make and enforce rules.

Separating from the control of adults (especially their parents) is the teen agenda. In the spirit of growing up, they cannot allow our old relationships with them to continue. If they did, they’d live with us forever.

Yet teens lack experience and their brains are still under construction. This means that they don’t always prioritize or foresee things the same way we adults do. So even though they’ll almost never tell us directly, our teens are counting on us to provide guidance by making rules, and they’re counting on us to hold them accountable when they mess-up.

What’s a Mom to Do?
We’re at our best when we parent from the middle of the control spectrum. From this sweet spot, we neither act like we own the controls nor relinquish the controls completely. Instead, we help our teens manage the controls.

To help you find your sweet spot, take a few minutes to think about the path you’re currently on with your teen. Then make a list of 10 things that would make the path a lot smoother – things that would make a huge difference for good in your family life.

Now go back and put a question mark next to any of the things on your list that would require your teen or someone else to change. Then put a “C” for control next to the things left unmarked. These are the things on that list that you have direct power to change.

Next look back at the things on the list labeled with a question mark. Which of those things can you affect or sway if you work hard to interact with care, sincerity, and persistence? Mark those things with an “I” for influence.

Truth be told, once our kids become teens we can only really control two things when it comes to their lives: We can control how we spend our resources on them. And, we can control much of what they do in our homes – if we’re there and paying attention.

Yet, as we give up control, we can gain power through our influence. This starts with staying connected to our teens because our influence can be no stronger than our connection with them. Then we must use our influence wisely by focusing on the things that really matter and directing our energy towards affecting those.

Your Parenting Experiences
In general, where do you think you are on the control spectrum? Are you more likely to want to take control, like Claire? Or are you more laidback, like Phil? Are you purposefully more hands-on about some things and more hands-off about others? What do you think your teen would say?



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