MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 18th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 23, Crying Out Loud

Gloria Gets a Word in Edgewise

The Framework
After almost six seasons, regular watchers of Modern Family understand the relationships among the various characters. Tonight’s episode takes these familiar family dynamics to a new extreme.

Jay has always been reserved about showing emotion when it comes to his kids. But tonight he uses Claire’s picture as a mirror to pluck his nose hairs. Of course, Claire sees this, mistakes it for something else, and dithers over an offer for another job because of it.

Gloria has always been manipulating – especially about Manny’s girlfriends. But tonight, after Manny has his wisdom teeth pulled, she tries to gaslight him into believing his girlfriend never showed up.

Cam has always been uber-emotional. About everything. As Mitch puts it: [Cam] gets so emotional he kind of handles the emotions for the entire house … possibly the entire block. Tonight the dads worry that this might be keeping Lily from developing a sense of empathy.

Phil has always been sentimental when it comes to his kids. Tonight he takes them to an old, abandoned theater he helped build years ago. When they find the kids’ tiny footprints in the cement floor, Phil uses a jackhammer to salvage them for a memento.

Haley and Alex have never gotten along. Tonight with Alex’s departure for college eminent, things between the two come to a head.

But it’s Claire’s attempts to figure out her job dilemma that captured my attention tonight.

First she tries to talk with Mitch.
Claire: So I walked into to Dad’s office, and he is holding a picture of me, looking at it with tears welling in his eyes.
Mitch: Oh, Dad was never that emotional when were growing up.
Claire: I know. That’s what makes this whole thing so hard!
Mitch: Maybe Lily hasn’t learned empathy because she hasn’t seen it from me, you know?
Claire: Could we maybe stay on my problem until the bread comes?
Mitch: I’m sorry. It sounded like you were done.

Then she tries to tell her story to Phil.
Claire: So I walk into his office. He’s looking at a picture of me and he’s crying.
Phil: Your dad?
Claire: Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either.
Phil: This is why I’m glad I show my emotions in front of the girls. I think that’s the reason they’re feeling…
Claire: Phil, could we at least stay on my story until the oven preheats?
Phil: Sorry. I thought you were finished.
Claire: No. Okay, so anyway, I went back later, and it turns out he wasn’t crying, he was plucking his nose hairs.
Phil: I didn’t expect that.
Claire: Yeah, me neither.
Phil: To walk into that theater and see their cute little heads together after they’d been fighting all afternoon.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
For most of the episode, none of the characters were really listening to each other. Mitch and Phil may have been the clearest culprits tonight, but they weren’t the only ones who were just waiting for a chance to talk.

Truth be told, that’s how most of us communicate most of the time. We listen until what we hear sets off an association in our mind – a question, a problem, or story of our own. We then wait for a pause in the conversation before asking our question or sharing our problem or story. This is how conversation normally flows back and forth.

Truly listening requires that we shift our focus off ourselves and pay full attention to someone else. We then have to process what they said and decide how to respond. This is harder and takes a lot more energy than simply waiting for a chance to talk.

Claire: Is it me? Is it the way that I tell stories? Am I so boring or is everyone in this family that self-involved?

Teens typically are not as reflective as Claire, but most of us have heard our teens complain, “You’re not even listening to me!” Sometimes our teens accuse us of not listening because we don’t agree with what they said or because we won’t change our minds based on what they said. And, of course, these accusations have nothing to do with listening.

But sometimes our teens have a valid complaint. In fact, even if we’re exceptional listeners with our friends, our spouse, our co-workers, and even our younger kids, we’re often not that good at listening to our teens.

Why? Because teens are harder to truly listen to. There are two main reasons for this.

The first reason has to do with timing. Teens tend to pick the most inconvenient times to talk – like when we’re under a deadline or when we’re exhausted and trying to get them (and us) headed toward bed.

The second reason has to do with topic. If the conversation involves a disagreement, we tend to listen with our minds made up. Once we’ve made up our mind, we focus on what we’re going to say next instead of on what our teen is saying now. And it’s even more difficult to listen when our teens are talking about things that make us anxious – a clash with a teacher or coach, a poor grade on a test, a concern about a close friend. We immediately see all the potential for trouble down the road and feel we must intervene – to tell them what to do or we scold them for getting into such a mess. In fact, we often jump-in without even making a conscious decision to interrupt at all.

But as hard as it sometimes is to give our teens a good listen, the quality of our relationships with them hinges on our ability to do just that.

– Listening is the most effective way to show your teen that you care about them and are committed to them.

– Listening affirms your teen. If you can open up your mind and listen without judgment – even when what you’re listening to sounds crazy – you’re showing respect for your teen’s right to have ideas of their own. And this helps your teen feel like they’re respected too.

– Listening is the best window into your teen’s external and internal life. The more you can encourage your teen to talk, the more you get to know about them.

– Listening can increase compliance. Sometimes giving your teen’s plans a full hearing and patiently listening to their objections will yield more cooperation. It tells your teen that you’re open to their input and that you can be convinced if they make a strong case that addresses all your concerns.

– Listening gives teens practice in speaking-up – to share their feelings, ask questions, and standing-up for what they believe.

– And perhaps most surprising, listening will help your teen listen to you. In fact only after teens have clarified their own thinking and believe that you’ve listened and understood their ideas, can they give your ideas a fair hearing.

What’s a Mom to Do
There’s a huge upside to listening to our teens. But it takes a lot of energy. Below are a couple suggestions to help you make the most of your limited supply of energy.

Be available when your teen needs to talk. Our teen’s readiness to talk rarely coincides with our readiness to listen. It’s tempting to say, “Let’s talk later.” But teens tend to share their most important self-disclosures spontaneously – when their mood and the moment feel right to them. When the mood passes, the momentary window into their lives closes. When a teen says, “I don’t feel like talking now,” it’s often not an excuse. More often it’s an emotionally genuine explanation. So parents who are the best listeners are the most available. They drop whatever they’re doing when their teen needs to talk.

End the conversation when it’s no longer constructive. At times discussions with our teens need to be long and even intense. But the conversation should not continue without end or at all cost.

Teens often have a lot invested in the outcome of their discussions with us. And if the discussion is about trying to convince us to say “yes,” they have a lot more energy to continue the discussion than we do. They know they can outlast us with persistence and repetition. Thus, we must be the one to decide when a conversation is getting out of hand and needs to end.

When the conversation begins to feel like it’s going around in circles or if the conversation is about to enter the combative stage, it’s time to end it. Let your blood pressure be your guide. If you feel a rush of anger beginning to build inside you, end the conversation as swiftly as you can.

It’s perfectly acceptable to leave the room to ensure the conversation ends if your teen refuses to stop pleading or arguing. And let them have the last word. It’s wiser to let them have this little victory, rather than spend the extra energy needed to continue a pointless or even hurtful conversation.

At the end of tonight’s episode, Gloria laments: Parents make so many mistakes with their children. But it’s only because we’re trying so hard to make them happy.

It’s hard to take anything Gloria has to say about parenting seriously. She didn’t listen well tonight. She didn’t even wait for her turn to talk; she got in what she had to say edgewise, in a voiceover. And she tried to gaslight her own kid tonight – for crying out loud! Still she might be on to something here.

Your Parenting Experiences
What do you think about Gloria’s lament in the voiceover tonight? When you think back to some of the parenting mistakes you’ve made, do many of them revolve around trying to keep your teen happy or trying to keep them close?

Sources and Resources: I’d Listen to My Parents if They’d Just Shut Up by Anthony Wolf, PhD; Staying Connected to Your Teenager by Michael Riera, PhD; “Why Listen to Your Adolescent?” by Carl Pickhardt at Psychology Today

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