MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 12th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 22, Message Received

Message Received – But Was It What They Really Wanted to Convey?

The Framework
In tonight’s episode the characters confront things outside their comfort zones, reminding just how uncomfortable that can be – for adults and kids alike.

Mitch and Cam confront the fact that the budget for their upcoming wedding has ballooned out of control, causing Cam to venture: Maybe we can send un-invitations … is that a thing? But the conversations that held my attention tonight happen in the other two households.

Over at the Dunphys, the kids find Phil’s old answering machine from his college days. To their delight, they find a message from their mom mixed in with the other recordings. But as they and Claire listen to her message, the mood in the room shifts from happy to horrified.
Claire (recorded): Phil, hey. It’s Claire. Umm… I need to tell you something, and I don’t want it to be on your machine. It’s really important – you know like life and death important … Not death. Just life. I mean it’s … Oh hell. I’m pregnant. Don’t worry; you don’t have to marry me or anything. Let’s talk as soon as you can. Why weren’t we more careful?! Stupid Duran Duran concert.

Meanwhile at the Pritchett household, family members press each other to face something they fear: the unpleasantness of eating a pickle, rubbing the dog’s belly, a bite of blood sausage. But Mitch presses Jay to confront a much bigger fear – his discomfort with the upcoming wedding.
Jay: Can I ask you a question? Why are you having such a big thing anyway?
Mitch: Well, because we’re only getting married once.
Jay: I’m just saying, why do you need to make it into a spectacle?
Mitch: Ssspectacle?!!
Jay: I don’t think I’m out of line suggesting my friends don’t want to see a father-son dance at a big gay wedding. I’m just saying I don’t how this stuff plays out with my guys from the club.
Mitch: This isn’t about them. This is about you.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Tonight we saw the Dunphy kids’ horror at the images they conjured up as they listened to Claire’s message recorded years ago and then again as they stood outside their parents’ bedroom and heard the door being locked.
Kids (in unison): Door lock! Run!! Ugh! Ugh! Run!!

Tonight we also saw Jay struggle to come to terms with his gay son’s sexuality. It seems that Jay has accepted the fact that Mitch is gay on a conceptual level, but now the upcoming wedding is forcing him to confront what that means on a practical level.

Most teens are like the Dunphy kids – they don’t want to think about their parents having sex. And to be honest, many of us parents are a bit like Jay: It makes many of us uncomfortable to imagine our kids as sexual – even if what we’re imagining is a heterosexual relationship.

Jay: Fine. I admit it; this whole wedding thing is weird to me … I didn’t choose to be uncomfortable. I was born this way.
Mitch: You know, Dad, if it really makes you that uncomfortable, then don’t come to the wedding.

Later as Jay holds his cell phone waiting for Mitch to call, I’m rooting for Jay to initiate the call. As tough as it might be for Jay, it’s his job as a parent to get his thoughts and feelings under control and begin the conversation that will let him reconnect with Mitch.

And as tough as it might be for us to talk with our kids about sex as well other things that make us uncomfortable to think about our kids engaging in – like bullying, drinking and drugs, it’s our job to do it. Because when we hold these conversations, we’re sending our kids three powerful messages. First we’re telling them that we recognize that they’re growing up and beginning to make more decisions for themselves. Second we’re showing them that our commitment to them and our concern for their wellbeing gives us the courage to initiate these uncomfortable conversations. And third we’re letting them know that that we’re always open to talking about these tough topics and that we’ll continue to bring up the subject in the future in case they have questions but are unable to ask.

What’s a Mom to Do?
Don’t wait for your teen to come to you with questions. Tough topics are too scary for most teens to bring up with their parents.

Here are some tips to help you hold tough conversations in a way that will leave you more connected with your teen than you were before you talked.

Come up with a list. Begin by making a list of all the things you’d really like to know. Here are some questions to get your thinking started: Are you getting pressure from your girlfriend/boyfriend to have sex? If you’re having sex, are you using protection? Are you part of the bullying that has been going on at school? Are you drinking when you’re hanging out with your friends? Are you and your friends getting high after school?

Then use everyday situations to spark your conversations. To help you initiate good conversations on these topics keep an eye out for news stories, young adult books, or movies and TV shows that bring up sensitive topics. Share them with your teen, and then ask what they know about the topic and whether they have any opinions or questions on the subject before sharing your own.

Begin in way that is comfortable for both of you. Talk when the two of you are alone. Riding in the car, hiking, playing one-on-one basketball, or doing a household chore together are all particularly good places to begin because they don’t require your teen to make eye contact. And if you’re more comfortable putting your ideas in writing first, start that way.

Try to put yourself in their shoes. When your teen talks, really listen to understand rather than to make a judgment call. Even when you disagree, give more positive nonverbal cues than negative ones – nod to show you’re interested, lean towards them, and smile when it’s appropriate. And don’t be afraid to touch your teen. Although some teens may prefer to be asked first, our touch conveys our unconditional love for our teens.

Be approachable. Make sure your teen knows that they can ask you anything. And when they do ask about a specific topic, find out what they already know about the subject. And then clarify what they are really asking so that you can answer their questions in a way that is detailed enough to make them feel comfortable asking additional questions but doesn’t overwhelming them.

Think carefully about what you disclose. Many parents struggle with whether or not to share their adolescent exploits with their teens. Some believe that their kids will be more likely to heed their advice if it’s based on real-life experience. On the other hand, kids can become confused when we parents present them with information and a model that contradicts what we expect of them. Plus times have changed. What may have been only somewhat risky when we were their age, may now be far more dangerous. You can be honest about sharing personal things without going into details that wouldn’t be appropriate. Remember, once you share something you can’t take it back.

Let your teen set the pace. Most kids do better with shorter bursts. So instead of thinking about it as “having the talk” and getting it done in one fell swoop, think of it as an ongoing conversation. As you talk, watch for signs that tell you your teen has had enough for now. When they signal they’re shutting down or pushing you away, it’s best to change the subject and come back to the topic another time.

We can’t assume our teens understand our family values just because they live under the same roof. We have to communicate the things we believe are important and why we have these values. As uncomfortable as holding these conversations with our kids can be, if we don’t continue to bring them up, they may never happen – or at least not in the way we want them to take place.

Your Parenting Experiences
Some of my readers have told me that they’re watching Modern Family with their teens and letting the show be the spark for conversations. How do you bring up sensitive topics with your teen?

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on April 1st, 2013, 1 Comment

Look Who’s Manipulating Now

Season 4, Episode 18

The Framework

Wow! There sure was a lot of manipulation tonight on “Modern Family.” Every house seemed to have some of it going on.

The Dunphy household had its share of it. Alex sweeps up spilled sugar as though she’s never used a broom in her life, and Haley complains that she can’t change a light bulb because the ceiling is too high. Observing all this, Phil becomes alarmed – not that his daughters are playing him for a fool but that they know nothing about house maintenance. And he decides it’s up to him to show them what a modern, self-sufficient woman looks like.

First he demonstrates how to use a stepstool to reach a light bulb before moving on to bigger things like how to restart a water heater. And that’s when he gets in over his head. After bemoaning (with mini flashlight in mouth) that he can’t get the crupid thing relit, he sends the girls on a concocted errand so that he can Skype his father on the down-low for help.

Over at the Pritchett house, Jay cons his way out of an event he’d promised Manny he’d attend by convincing Gloria that he’ll take care of baby Joe so that she and Manny can have some mother-son time. At first Gloria is delighted. But then she finds out what Jay knew all along: The event is a reading of “Moby Dick” which Manny gushes is going to be four hours you’ll never forget. In the end Gloria lies to escape the event, telling Manny the book reading is sold-out. But she doesn’t stop there. She has a couple more tricks up her sleeve:

The first is on Manny: I lied, but I earned that lie, Manny. I’m so sorry, but you know I’m always trying to do everything for everybody in this family.

The next on Jay: But you – you only do what’s good for you. Let me tell you something, Jay Pritchett, when it comes to raising kids, you get what you give.

Meanwhile Mitch is adamant that nobody in his house is going to be bullied. Suffice it to say that Mitch has suffered from this overt and meaner form of manipulation in the past. So when he learns about Milo – a kid at Lily’s school who’s been bullying anyone who tries to play a child version of handball on the playground – Mitch vows to get good at the game and give Milo a taste of his own medicine. And with Luke as his trainer, he does – drawing an audience of disapproving parents and teachers in the process. Of course, there were consequences:

Mitch (to camera): Cam’s gonna be doing drop-offs for a while.

Lily (forlornly): We got a letter.

There was even manipulation going on in the house bought for flipping. Because when it comes to making decisions about the renovation, Claire and Cam are mostly at odds. And they both use trickery to get their way. Cam uses a method he calls a Trojan Horse:

The key is I let Claire think she’s in charge. I hide what I want in something bigger and more expensive. Then, when she rejects that, we ‘compromise’ on what I wanted all along. … You know how I got Lily? I asked Mitchel for triplets.

But Claire is not to be outdone. She rattles off numbers about square footage and cost to rattle Cam and get her way:

I employ something I call the “number dump.” Yesterday I accidently said “elevendy-five.” (She also said “forty-twelve.” But who’s counting?)

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

Manipulation is a deliberate thought process. It takes advanced social skills to lie well and spin good stories, to con others into letting you do what you want, or to know how to push people’s buttons and intimidate. Manipulating is something kids grow into.

And, of course, as we saw tonight what adults model isn’t always stellar:

Phil fibs to get his daughters out of the house.

Jay cons his way out of a four-hour father-son event.

Gloria lies to Manny to get out of the same event and rationalizes as she tries to justify her lie. Then she gets up on her high horse and lays a guilt-trip on Jay to keep him on the defense.

Mitch, determined to give bullying Milo his comeuppance, uses shame in the form of sarcasm and putdowns to do it.

And Cam and Claire trick each other so they can each have their own way.

Truth be told, these characters aren’t all that different from the rest of us. Most of us occasionally manipulate a situation to advance our own cause. And our kids have probably seen some of it. Yet our best chance to make a difference in our children growing up to be trustworthy adults is to be straightforward and honest when we deal with others – especially when dealing with our own children.

The BottomLine

Handball trainer Luke to Mitch in the tag scene tonight:

Close your eyes. It’s okay; we’re off the court. And then just as Mitch lets down his guard, Luke knocks the water bottle out of his hand and hits him with this parting shot: You’re never off the court.

If you’re a parent, you’re a model. Like it or not, we cannot, not model. And we’re never really off the court. In fact, our day-to-day modeling is our highest form of influence in our children’s lives.

So to tell our children to be trustworthy and to be disappointed and scold them when they’re not, is all well and good. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think that this alone will teach our children not to be manipulative. Our words have meaning only when we practice them on a regular basis.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• What do you think the letter from Lily’s school said? If you were Milo’s parents what would you want the letter to say? How about if you were a parent of one of the kids watching from the sideline?

• There seemed to be a number of missed opportunities for setting a positive example tonight. For instance, Phil sent his daughters on an errand instead of modeling the rightness of asking for help when you get in over your head. What missed opportunities did you notice?

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