MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on July 22nd, 2013, 1 Comment

Season 4, Episode 4, The Butler’s Escape

Phil Hopes to Live Out an Unfulfilled Ambition Through Luke

The Framework
We all have expectations. And it’s simply human nature to project these thoughts and desires on others – especially those that are close to us. This episode gives us a glimpse at what happens when our expectations don’t match reality.

Jay is losing sleep over his new reality now that Gloria is, as he put it, at the place in her pregnancy where she’s, you know, ample. Meanwhile Cam is conjuring up expectations for his first day of teaching that set him up for deep disappointment. But I focused on Phil who is focused on Luke in hopes that his son will live out one of his own unfulfilled ambitions.
Phil (to camera with Luke at his side): Like his old man, Luke is a magician.
Luke: I’m taking lessons from some guy my dad found online.

Luke smiles as he says his line. He seems totally onboard with the plan. But then there’s this exchange.
Luke: Mom, something’s on my mind, and it’s really bothering me. … I want to quit magic. … I’m not really interested any more. But I don’t think Dad’s going to be happy.
Claire: Oh, sweetheart, don’t worry about disappointing your father. He only wants you to do it if you want to do it. Tell you what – I will talk to your dad.

As it turns out, though, Luke has Phil pegged better than Claire does.
Claire: Luke wants to quite magic.
Phil: That’s not happening. … The kid is a natural. … He has everything: the hands, the patter, the outfits.
Claire: Okay. Let’s play this out. Even if he is one in a million, what’s our best-case scenario? He becomes what? A professional magician?
Phil (in unison with Claire): A professional magician! And then continuing, Honey, the boy has a gift! Do you want to just throw that away?

Luke overhears his parents’ conversation. And in the spirit of developing his own identity and growing up, he knows that he cannot and should not let his father control his life this way.
Luke: Don’t I get a say in any of this? I’m sorry I don’t like magic as much as you, but I don’t.
Phil: This isn’t about magic.
Luke: No. It’s about my life – and you controlling it.

With that the tug-of-war for control is on. And Phil is not going to give up easily.
Phil: If you really want to, you can quit magic. You just have to do one thing first: execute the Butler’s Escape.
The next thing you know, Luke has chains wrapped around his torso while a rope suspends him upside-down from his bedroom doorframe.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Phil acted out what the rest of us might just play out in our heads. Like Phil, almost all of us deep down have dreams we’d like our children to fulfill. We take joy in seeing our children succeed. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting our children to be all that they can be. But it’s important to separate our hopes for them from their potential and their desires. Because in truth, they may not have the interest (like Luke) or the ability to be what we dream they will become.

When our teens strive for the goals we have for them, their achievements will almost always feel hollow and meaningless to them. And just as importantly, they may remain unaware of their individual attributes and their own dreams and aspirations.

The BottomLine
As Phil pulls the rope to the Butler’s Escape taut, he reminds Luke (and himself) just why he’s doing this: I think you’re quitting because magic is getting hard. … I’m not raising a quitter. Trust me. I know what’s best for you.

It turns out Phil isn’t the only parent with a dream they want their children to fulfill. A study published in June confirms what has been theorized for decades: Parents (89% of those surveyed were moms) really do want to live out unfilled ambitions through their children. The researchers also found that parents are more likely to hope their kids will fulfill their unrealized dreams when they see their kids as an extension of themselves. (You can read more about this study here.)

We moms want only the best for our teens, and, like Phil, we often believe we know what that is. Yet, at some level, almost all of us know that if our kids are to thrive, they must form goals of their own and focus on fulfilling their own dreams rather than deferring to ours. This is further complicated by the fact that we don’t always realize how different our expectations may be from those of our teens. And when we hold different expectations than our teens have for themselves, it can lead to trouble – particularly when the differences are not discussed openly.

What’s a Mom to Do?
Here are a few questions that might help you prepare for a discussion about expectations with your teen:
– What do you think your teen is better at than most kids her/his age? What do you think she/he is more interested in than other kids? How do you think your teen would answer these questions?
– What do you see your teen doing 10 or 15 years from now? What do you think your teen thinks you expect?
– What do you think your teen sees herself/himself doing 10 or 15 years from now?
– Who do you think has the higher expectations – you or your teen? What are some potential areas of disagreement? How might those be resolved?

As you consider these questions, it’s important to remember that our teens’ ability to differentiate themselves from others (especially us) is a crucial part of their developmental work. To do this, they must learn to follow their own interests and to value their own attributes. We can support this process best by being attuned to and accepting of who they really are – so that we can support them as they develop their own strengths and interests.

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1 comment

  • I work to set and hold high expectations of my kids, but I try to not do this in ways that are unreasonable or grounded in aspirations that are purely mine and not their own. Something I struggle with in these efforts is how much to focus on how my kids are achieving relative to their peers. So much of school and extracurricular activity feedback is based on performance relative to their peers. On the one hand, this type of feedback can be meaningful in a lot of ways. But on the other hand, I don’t want that type of feedback to limit what I or my kids perceive as their gifts or their potential for the future. How do you all deal with this issue?

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