MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on October 27th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 5, Won’t You Be Our Neighbor?

Mitch and Cam Overdo It

The Framework
Tonight in all three households the adults let their longings and anxieties push them over appropriate boundary lines. But it’s what happened with Lily that caught and kept my attention.

It’s Friday night and Lily has just returned from a school carnival with Cam.
Lily: I’m going to go do homework. Don’t knock unless it’s an actual emergency – not a spider.
Mitch: Mrs. Plank gave her homework on a weekend?!
Cam: I know! The woman is insane. But listen. I heard something in the glitter tattoo line … There’s an opening in Ms. Sparrow’s class.
Mitch: Oh my God, Cam! We need to get her in.
Cam: I know. We’re going in first thing tomorrow.

The dads are worried that school is stressing Lily out. Here’s their case in point.
Mitch (to Lily who’s holding up her poster of a frog’s lifecycle): Let’s see, sweetie … Good job!
Lily: Oh NO! I spelled “tadpole” wrong!
Cam: Oh, well now, that’s just one mistake.
Lily (tearing up her poster): Mrs. Plank doesn’t tolerate mistakes!

And with that, Mitch and Cam go to see Mrs. Plank.
Mrs. Plank: Is there a problem?
Cam: Not so much a problem. No.
Mitch: More of an opportunity for you to lighten your workload.
Mrs. Plank: Let me guess; you’ve heard there’s an opening in young Ms. Sparrow’s class.
Cam: Uhhh, well … we just stopped by in the neighborhood to say hi…
Mitch: …to say hello, and also … umm … about this opening in Ms. Sparrow’s class that you suggested for Lily. Is that something that you…
Cam: …you think would be a good idea?
Mrs. Plank: Parents are not allowed to choose their children’s teacher.
Mitch: No, and, of course, I would never suggest special treatment for Lily – even if she is a former orphan, a minority, and a daughter of two gay men.
Cam: That’s a big load on those little shoulders.
Mrs. Plank (writing BUFFOON on whiteboard): Are you suggesting that your daughter is at a disadvantage because she’s being raised by gay parents?
Mitch: Is it working?

Mrs. Plank adds an “S” to BUFFOON, and the dads switch tactics.
Cam: Uhh… Look, we just don’t think Lily responds to your teaching methods. We think she’d be happier in Ms. Sparrow’s class.
Mrs. Plank: We would all be happier in that new-aged drum circle she calls a classroom.
Cam: Okay. Well, we didn’t mean to offend you. We’re not saying you’re any worse than her.
Mrs. Plank: Than “she.” That’s proper English. It’s too bad Lily won’t learn it.
Mitch: So she can go?

Mrs. Plank: As far as I’m concerned she’s already gone. One more child left behind.
Cam: Lily will be fine. She’s going to have a chance to thrive in a more supportive classroom. You don’t need to worry about she.

But later when the dads share their good news with Lily (who’s playing with a friend in Ms. Sparrow’s class), there’s this.
Lily: I want to stay with Mrs. Plank.
Mitch: But why? Ms. Sparrow is so fun and creative.
Lily: I want to read and learn math.
Playmate: We do math.
Lily: Really? What’s two plus seven?
Playmate: Twenty-seven.
Mitch: No. No. It’s “nine.” But that’s an honest mistake, sweetheart.
Lily (to playmate): What do blue and yellow make?
Playmate: Blellow.
Lily (turning to her dads): You need to fix this.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Last week we saw Mitch way underparent. He was so wrapped up in his own worries that he totally missed what Lily was telling him about an incident in gym class that sounded a lot like bullying. Tonight he and Cam overparent as they team up and go to bat for Lily at school – about something that Lily doesn’t see as a problem.

The dads want Lily to be happy. To like school. They see her stress as a risk to her success at school. And they are determined to do something about it.

Part of being a parent is minimizing risks for our children. And it’s worrisome to see our kids unhappy or struggling. But when we rush in too quickly to shield our kids from struggles, we deprive them of experiences that can help them develop the skills and resilience they’ll need to deal with the much bigger difficulties they’re bound to face as they get older. Plus when we interfere because of our own worries and anxieties, we’re getting in the way of our kids’ most crucial task: developing their own sense of self – one distinct from us.

Our job is to know our children well enough to be able to figure out when to step in and when it’s better to step back and be watchful and available, while giving our kids a chance to manage the situation. Yes, we’ll probably be anxious. But we must keep our anxiety in check so that our kids can do their job: to grow and gradually become more independent.

Mitch (to Mrs. Plank): It seems that we forgot to talk to Lily before coming in to see you.

Getting our child’s take is important. But even if you’re hearing repeated complaints from your child that you believe warrant action, addressing concerns about their classroom can be tricky. You don’t want to come across as an overanxious, interfering pain.

What’s a Mom to Do?
Checkout these suggestions before you go to that meeting with the teacher.

Get your child’s take. Remember you’re not the one in the classroom. Think of this as a parent-teacher-child partnership.

Approach the relationship with respect. Treat the relationship the same way you would any other very important partnership in your life. Instead of lecturing the teacher about what’s wrong, begin by bringing up your concern and your hope that working together you can come up with ways to make the situation better. Keep your bring-it-up statement brief – something you can say in 20 seconds or less. Then ask for the teacher’s point of view.

Provide tangible details. Instead of your judgments (Like Cam’s We don’t think Lily responds to your teaching methods or “He’s bored” or “She’s having a terrible year”), give concrete examples of what you’re seeing and hearing. Think of the process as creating a dot-to-dot picture. You give the details (the dots) and then give the teacher a chance to connect them. Teachers (like the rest of us) are more likely to act on conclusions they’ve drawn for themselves.

Talk about what matters most. We tend to pester their teachers about grades (“Why’d she get a B?”). But dissecting each grade won’t instill a life-long love of learning and willingness to work hard – the traits most important for long-term academic success. So as you talk with the teacher, spend more time on the process of learning – your child’s self-directedness and preference for challenge. Their persistence and resilience. Because it’s how our kids view effort that will largely determine how much they ultimately achieve.

Agree on who, what, and when. Come up with a plan of action. Everybody in the partnership (parent, teacher, and child) should have a role. So ask what you can do to help. And set a time to follow up and check on progress.

The final scene of this storyline gives us one more reason not to overparent.
Mrs. Plank: I will take Lily back if you are able to tell me the object of this sentence. “Lily’s parents were wrong about Mrs. Plank.”
Cam (confused to Mitch): Do you know?
Mitch: I think the object is to humiliate us.
Mrs. Plank: Correct. See? I can teach anybody.

While her dads’ interfering tonight probably didn’t hurt Lily, it took a toll on Mitch and Cam. Overparenting is stressful and exhausting. Yes, the dad’s overdoing was comically over the top. But many of us are tempted to interfere more than we should. We think that with a bit more of a parental push we could turn out kids with lots of talents and secured futures.

The thing is, our kids notice when we overdo it. A few years back, researcher Ellen Galinsky asked 1,000 kids what they’d like to change most about their parents’ schedules. The top wish was for their parents to be less tired and stressed. And one of the most important things we can do to motivate our kids to be all they can be is to show them a version of adult life that is appealing enough to strive for.

Your Parenting Experiences
There are lots of different styles of teaching, and we can relate to some of our children’s teachers better than others. Cam handled his uneasy relationship with Lily’s teacher like this.
Cam (to camera): I call Mrs. Plank “Mrs. Crank” hahaha … I have the courage to say what others won’t.
Mitch: Behind her back.

What do you tend to do when you don’t readily relate to a teacher?

Sources and Resources: “Talking with Teachers” from PBS Parents; “Raising Successful Children” by Madeline Levine in the New York Times; “Helicopter Parents: Relax, your kids will be fine” in the Economist.

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