MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 5th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 21, Sleeper

The Dads Fall Asleep at the Wheel

The Framework
This week’s half-hour contained at least six subplots – each with a different sticky situation. What caught my attention through all the fast paced action was the interaction between the fathers and their children. Due to a bizarre bout of narcolepsy, Phil literally falls asleep at the wheel while driving – and talking to Alex. Meanwhile the kids in the other two households complain about their fathers’ inattentiveness.

Mitchell complains that his dad doesn’t notice him.
Mitchell (playing a player piano): I’m pretty good, huh?
Jay: Yeah. But you were always good. I’m just glad you stuck with it.
Mitchell: Seriously?!
Jay: What?
Mitchell: It’s playing itself!
Jay: Well, I didn’t know.
Mitchell: You honestly thought I just became a piano virtuoso, Dad? You’ve know me my whole life. Have you ever seen me take a lesson?
Jay: I thought maybe you were self-taught.
Mitchell: I’m sorry, you’re right. Like when I taught myself to play the clarinet.
Jay: Exactly!

Mitchell: I never played the clarinet!
Jay: Can we drop it? Let’s go get an ice cream.
Mitchell: What about my lactose intolerance?!
Jay: Oh, I’m not loving this game.

Manny also feels that he has to compete for Jay’s attention.
Gloria (to Manny who comes into the house limping): What happened?
Manny: It was something stupid I was trying out. And I don’t know why. Since it’s basically impossible.
Jay (entering the house with his dog Stella riding a skateboard): Gloria! Gloria! Check it out! Is this the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?! She did it on her first try.
Manny: Sure rub it in, Jay! … Now she’s just showing off.

And Lily insists that she too has been forgotten by one of her dads.
Claire (to Cam): I’m so sorry it took me so long to get you these clothes. I left them in the back of my car and completely forgot about them.
Lily: Sounds familiar.
Cam (to Lily): I was in the pharmacy for three minutes. You had a cracked window and a juice box. Can we retire that story?!

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Tonight we got a window into the importance kids place on their relationships with their fathers. While there is no single right way for fathers to be involved, the research is clear that children with involved fathers have an advantage – socially and academically – over kids with distant or no relationship with their dads. When the dad is involved, kids have higher self-esteem and are less likely to be depressed. In addition, quality father and child time means kids have fewer behavioral problems, more confidence, more social competence, and higher grades in school.

In short, fathers who are involved with their kids, have kids with fewer problems. This holds true even when the father doesn’t live in the same home as the child. And, of course, someone other than the birth father – an adoptive father, a stepdad, an uncle, grandfather, good friend, or other close acquaintance – can provide a beneficial male influence.

Jay (to Mitchell): If it seems sometimes I don’t notice you, it’s because [I’m] focused on [my] own stupid problems.

Some fathers seem to withdraw from their role as a father during their kids’ teen years. As Jay explained, sometimes fathers withdraw due to the stresses and busyness of their own lives. Sometimes it’s in response to a teen’s pushing away as they battle for independence. But sometimes dads are less involved because we moms have convinced our co-parent that we know best and that we’re in-charge.

Regardless of the reason, a reduction in a father’s availability and guidance during the teen years can put kids at a disadvantage.

What’s a Mom to Do?
A few years back a study in the Journal of Family Psychology described the impact moms have on a dad’s fathering. The researchers found that when mothers criticized their co-parents’ efforts, it caused them to lose confidence, become discouraged, and even withdraw from helping. But when moms encouraged and praised the fathers’ efforts, they took a more active parenting role.

Although the study looked at day-to-day care of an infant, similar dynamics play out in households with older children. Of course there are exceptions, but by and large we moms are the gatekeepers by either encouraging or curtailing how much fathers are involved in parenting. Even when dads think they should be involved, if we are highly critical of their parenting efforts, the fathers’ beliefs about the importance of his involvement don’t matter.

Kids with highly involved dads have an advantage, so we moms need to be careful about how we’re shaping the role of fathers. Below are a few tips to help us open the gate to our co-parent’s involvement in our kids’ lives:

Point out the positive results you see from their father’s efforts. For example, when he juggles his schedule to fit into the kids’ lives (even if you’re of the mind that this is just part of his job as a dad), let him know that it was appreciated. And when he’s not able to be at some event in your teen’s life but calls or texts to let your teen know he’s thinking about them, make sure he knows how much that meant to your teen.

Give him advice and hints in a non-threatening way. When differences in parenting styles come up, we moms are often viewed as the “expert.” And sometimes we send the message to dads that we want them involved but only in a specific way. Instead of responding to what you think is the “wrong way” to parent with exasperated sighs or rolling eyes, consider asking Can we talk about this? Or Would you like me to tell you what I’ve learned that seems to work in situations like this one?

Don’t disagree in front of the kids. If you disagree with a decision your children’s father makes regarding the kids or something he says to the kids, discuss it with him later in private. Unless it is something way out of line, support him in front of the kids.

Beginning when our children were newborns, we moms are likely to have done more of the explicit nurturing. Even now that our kids are teens, when something goes wrong, our first instinct is still often to sooth and comfort. A father’s first instinct is more likely to be about helping them learn a valuable lesson. So our kids will tend to gravitate to us when they are upset or ill; in the middle of the night they call our name. But they tend to listen more closely to their father’s advice.

Your Parenting Experiences
Our parenting style is often quite different than our co-parent’s style. Many times our differences complement or balance each other. So with some work, we can turn our differences into an asset. How have you worked out differences in parenting style with your co-parent?

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