MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 6th, 2013, 0 Comments

Will Lily Help the Tooth Fairy Out of a Jam?

Season 4, Episode 21

The Framework

“Choice” was the thing that seemed to tie the plotlines together tonight on “Modern Family.” Jay claims that if he’d had a choice he’d have written a spy thriller by now, but life always got in the way. (He nods at Gloria as he says this.) At Career Day in Luke and Manny’s class, Claire is pressed by the teacher to talk about her choice to be a stay-at-home mom. A girl with a laser sharp tongue, who interrupts to say that her mom went back to work when she was four, adds to Claire’s pressure to justify her choice.

And over at the Tucker-Pritchett house, Mitch and Cam are trying to convince Lily – under her own free will – to return the $100 bill Cam accidentally slipped under her pillow when he was playing the Tooth Fairy. It was this storyline that caught and held my attention.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

Wanting to preserve Lily’s belief in the Tooth Fairy, Mitch and Cam are compelled to rely on influence more than control as they try to convince Lily to give back the $100. Thus, the power struggle the two had with their precocious six-year-old is not unlike the ones you and I might have with our teens as they battle for independence. And we can learn a few things from what Mitch and Cam did before, during, and after their conversation with Lily.

Before beginning, ask yourself what you want most for your teen and for your relationship. In the beginning, Mitch and Cam wanted different things.

Mitch: I don’t understand why we don’t just go in there and tell her we’re taking the money, and that’s that.
Cam: Because this is a teaching moment, and we want her to want to give the money back.

Tip: In the moment we (like Mitch) may want our teens to be obedient and do as we say. But unless our teens’ health and safety are involved, it’s better to be more like Cam here, focusing on what we want in the long-term and using our influence to get there.

Don’t begin the conversation by providing all the answers. Mitch and Cam made this mistake.

Cam (reading the letter from the Tooth Fairy): I’m writing because I made a mistake and gave you too much money. Please leave the $100 under your pillow tonight, and I’ll give you a dollar. Sorry if that bites.
Lily: No. I want to keep it!
Mitch (to Lily): Ahhh, well, it sounds like she’s really in a jam, and I think we’re going to have to give the Tooth Fairy her $100 back.

As it turns out, Lily had a plan for the $100. And Cam and Mitch could have saved a bunch of time and energy if they’d ask Lily here – at the beginning of the conversation – why she wanted to keep the money. Instead Lily stomps off, and Mitch and Cam decide to enlist some help.

Haley (in full costume): It’s me the Tooth Fairy, and I’ve come to ask you for a favor.
Lily: Is this about the money again?

Tooth Fairy: Well, yes, it is. I need enough for all the other children’s tooths – teeth.
Lily: Wait a minute! You’re not the Tooth Fairy! You’re Haley! … (then turning to her dads) Why did you lie? You said lying was wrong.

Tip: If we start by providing all the answers, we’re inviting our teens to look for the flaws in our ideas or methods – just like Lily did. It’s wiser to bring up your concerns and what you’re asking of your teen in a simple, clear thought. Try to come up with something that can be said in 30 seconds or less. And then encourage your teen to share their viewpoint and ideas first.

And when it’s your turn to talk, don’t advocate for a course of action if it will cause your teen to argue against it. Again, we can learn from Mitch and Cam.

Mitch: All right, Lily, this is ridiculous! The Tooth Fairy has made a mistake. You need to put the $100 under the pillow, and that is the end of the story.
Cam: Because you believe that it’s the right thing to do. Don’t you?
Lily: But I want to buy a scooter.

Tip: When we worry that our teen will make a poor choice, our righting reflex kicks-in. Following our instincts we tend to argue for the outcome we desire (like Mitch did) by providing solutions based solely on our view of things. Then hoping to help our teens see the big picture, we often wind up asking questions that are variations of the one Cam asked. Questions such as “How can you say this isn’t a problem?” “What makes you think this isn’t dangerous?” “Why don’t you just…?” or “Why can’t you…?”

It’s tempting to ask these questions because these are often what we really want to know. But they’re wrong because the answer to any of them is a defense of our teen’s position. And as teens argue on behalf of a position, they become more committed to it – literally talking themselves into or out of something.

Instead of arguing harder for your position, roll with their resistance. Lily reacted to her dads’ latest request to hand back the $100 by saying she wanted a scooter. And Haley demonstrated one way to roll with resistance when she replied by asking Lily about Santa.

Haley: You know, that’s what I’d do. I mean who cares what Santa thinks, right?
Lily: Santa?
Haley: Well, he sees everything. And this [keeping the money] will probably put you on the “naughty list,” but who needs presents every year? You’ve got $100. You can ride around that empty Christmas tree until you’re an old lady.
Lily: Can I have some time to think about it?

Tip: If you sense resistance from your teen, see it as a signal to shift your approach. Instead of letting your discussion turn into an argument, stimulate your teen’s problem solving by asking questions and floating your ideas by them – like bubbles. It’s hard to fight a question or an idea that is floated by you. And the questions and ideas that are floated by them are the ones that teens are most likely to store away to think about and act on later.

Practice patience. When Lily asked for some time to think about it, her two dads had two different responses.

Mitch: You don’t need any…
Cam: Of course, sweetie.

Tip: When it comes to parenting teens, it often pays to be patient when we’re feeling least inclined to do so. Floating ideas by our teens, providing them with choices, and giving teens time to consider their options (as Cam did for Lily) aren’t as convenient as taking control. But when you practice patience, you’re more likely to get the long-term results you want most – for your teen and for your relationship.

Resources: Motivational Interviewing by Miller & Rollnick

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• Early on in the Tooth Fairy storyline, Lily (with her $100 bill in hand) says she can’t wait to tell everyone in school. And Cam turns to Mitch and says: We can’t be the parents of a six-year-old who gets $100 from the Tooth Fairy. How do you think this concern might have affected their interactions with Lily?

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