MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on March 18th, 2013, 2 Comments

Haley Still Cares What Her Parents Think

Season 4, Episode 12

The Framework

The headline of tonight’s episode “Party Crasher,” announcing the birth of the Pritchett baby in the middle of Manny’s birthday party was no big surprise. Anyone who’s seen Gloria lately knew this long-awaited baby was due anytime. Nevertheless, the episode had its share of surprises. And these weren’t just your run-of-the-mill surprises. As Luke put it, these were the kind in which the surprised becomes the surpriser. And these were the kind of surprises that tested the connection between parent and child and left the relationship a bit stronger in the end.

There’s five-year-old Lily who has been favoring Mitch over Cam lately. But when the surprised Lily gets accidently dumped in the pool by Cam, she surprises him by calling out for him instead of Mitch:

Lily: Daddy!

Cam: Oh, look at this. I’m coming! Daddy’s coming!

What’s wrong with me, Mitchell? When she fell in the pool, she screamed for “Daddy.” She calls you “Dad.” She calls me “Daddy.” She got scared, and she called out for me.

Mitchell: See?

And later we see this playful exchange between father and daughter.

Cam: I guess Daddy was worrying about nothing. But, you know, I can be silly sometimes.

Lily: You’re always silly.

Cam: No, you’re silly.

Lily: No, you’re always silly.

Cam: No, you’re always silly.

There’s Manny who turned fourteen tonight. What with all the preparation for the new baby, he’s been a bit neglected lately. That’s why Gloria has planned a surprise birthday party for him. But Manny comes home early to his party, bringing his girlfriend with him. And in the pre-party darkness, she gives Manny his first kiss ever – a kiss witnessed by the surprised party guests who’d come to surprise him. Humiliated, Manny takes off for his bedroom, slamming the door behind him.

Gloria – now obviously in labor and doing all that she can to hold the baby in place for one more day so that Manny won’t have to share his birthday with a sibling for the rest of his life – tries to console him from the other side of his bedroom door:

Gloria: Manny, we’re so sorry. We didn’t mean to…

Manny: What? Ruin the greatest moment of my life? Thanks again, Mom!

But then later in the episode there’s this between mother and son:

Gloria: You know I love you no matter what.

Manny: You’re trying to hold another person inside of you to spare my feelings. Message received.

And then there’s Haley who, as a way of rebelling, introduces her parents to her new “boyfriend” Kenny: a ponytailed, fortyish jeans designer with a knack for coming up with creepy double entendres – things like I’m trying to get into girls’ jeans.

Claire is not just surprised, she’s disgusted, summing the situation up this way: He’s old. She’s young. It’s gross. And she begins hatching her own surprise for Haley – a surprise that involves a game of chicken. Now all she has to do is sell Phil on the idea:

Claire: Phil, you can’t say anything to Kenny… I know why Haley is doing this. She’s doing this to get back at you for being so hard on her. I did the same thing to my dad.

Phil: First of all, I’m not your dad. And do you think I’m just going to let this happen?

Claire: Trust me. The more it bothers you, the longer he stays. The more we ignore it … the sooner Willie Nelson is on the road again.

So when Haley surprises her parents again – this time with her plans to spend the night in a hotel with Kenny, Claire is ready. And to Haley’s surprise (and horror) she gets not only her parents’ permission but their credit card to boot.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

Should Claire and Phil have been able to see Haley’s rebellion coming? Probably.

Early in tonight’s episode when Haley hands Phil an envelope with her hard-earned money inside, we see some evidence of the sarcasm that has crept into Phil’s interactions with her:

Haley: This is everything I made at the boutique last week. I’m not going to have any money left for me.

Phil: Should’ve thought of that before you got thrown out of school. You live here, you pay rent.

Haley: You used to be fun.

Phil: You used to be… What? Oh, yeah, at college.

Now, I don’t have any problem with Haley being charged rent. (Click here to read an earlier post on that.) It’s the way that Phil talks to Haley about it that I object to. Here’s why: There’s a good chance that Haley isn’t feeling very good about herself after being asked to leave college. And when teens don’t feel good about themselves, they sometimes project their negative feelings on to us. Phil’s words, tone of voice, and body language added fuel to the fire, giving Haley reason to doubt his respect for her. And because respect is like air to teens, when we take it away, they can’t think about anything else. They dedicate all their energy to rebelling and getting revenge.

When kids are younger and they’re in need, our interactions with them are so much more straightforward. When Lily was dumped in the pool and needed rescuing, she called out for help, yelling Daddy! and Cam jumped right in and pulled her to safety. But as evidenced by the way things went with Manny and Haley tonight, getting the recuse right gets decidedly more complicated when it involves teens. And as we saw, the older the teen, the more complicated things can get.

Granted, teens use a variety of strategies to make our interactions with them more complicated – complications that include evading, omitting, distorting, and even fabricating. But something happens to us parents too when our kids become teens.

Before our kids became teens, if their behavior told us that something wasn’t quite right – even if we weren’t exactly sure what it was, we spoke up. Without hesitation we calmly confronted them with what our intuition was telling us. This sent our child a message about our sturdy presence, reminding them that we cared about them, that we noticed their behavior, and that we weren’t afraid to say something about it.

However, when those same kids become teens and our intuition is telling us that something is amiss, instead of speaking up, we’re tempted to say nothing. Especially if we don’t have clear evidence for concern or if we think that addressing the problem will cause more trouble. But no matter how awful their response can be – and a teen’s sulking silence and raging anger can be pretty awful – our teens need to be able to trust that we’ll speak up and guide them through adolescence.

The BottomLine

Bad things can happen when we’re worried and should speak up but don’t. Our silence can have long-term consequences for our relationship with our teens.

When we say nothing, our worry about our teen can turn into anger. Then our feelings fester. And although we don’t deal directly with the issue, we act out our concerns through our tone of voice and offhanded comments – as Claire and Phil (especially Phil) have been doing lately with Haley. And as the exchange below between mother and daughter shows, our acting out can damage our connection with our teen:

Haley: What’s the matter with you?! You’ve been acting so weird ever since I left college.

Claire: For the record, you didn’t leave college. You were asked to leave.

Haley: Of which you guys never let me forget – especially Dad.

Claire: Honey, your father…

Haley: Oh, you don’t have to tell me what he thinks. Okay?! I’m a huge disappointment to him. And I see it on his face everyday. He acts as if he doesn’t even want me around.

Because teens are desperate to feel independent, they’ll often go to great lengths to demonstrate that they don’t need our advice or direction any more. In truth, though, as we saw with Haley tonight, they care deeply about our opinions of them and fear seeing a diminished view of themselves reflected in our eyes. They desperately want our respect.

At the very end of the episode, Phil confronts Claire about the plan she hatched up:

Phil: This little chicken game may work for your dad, but it doesn’t work for me. That’s my little girl. I need her to know that no guy on earth is good enough for her – let alone some slimy, middle-aged jean salesman!

Then Phil sees that Haley too is in the room. And the next minute she is in his arms.

Phil: What’s this?

Claire: Just enjoy it.

This is more than just a feel good ending for a made-up TV show. There’s a vital message here for you and me: Although our teens may insist on changing the terms of our involvement, they still want us involved in their lives.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• Tonight we see that Haley still cares about what her parents think about her. I’m not sure we ever outgrow that. What do you think?

• Teens do care deeply about their parents’ opinions. But we have to look closely to see evidence of this because they’ll almost never tell us this directly. Have you seen evidence of this in your teen? What does it look or sound like?

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  • I completely agree about continuing to care immensely about how we perceive our parents’ assessment of ourselves. This seems to be complicated in adolescence though by teens at times refusing to acknowledge this care or at least tuning down their awareness of it. Because of the complexity this adds, I especially appreciate the ideas you offer for how to negotiate this fraught territory with teens. Thanks so much, Roxane!

  • I struggle with a son who consistently goes to the negative assumption and shuts down and although I see it happening, I can’t seem to turn it around. I’m embarrased and ashamed at our lack of communication and the direction our communication takes when it does happen. For all of our sake, I know I need to keep reaching out and trying to pull him in but I’m running out of tools to do so. I’m looking forward to hearing some ideas from others out there. Thanks so much for this interesting and relevant format!

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