Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on October 10th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 2, The Day Alex Left for College

Plotline: Alex Gets Her First College Lesson
Alex comes downstairs with a single suitcase and a lone duffle bag.
Claire: Look at my conscientious little girl getting ready to leave for college a whole day early.
Alex: I’m leaving today.
Claire: What? No. No, no. I was gonna make your favorite meal for dinner, and then we were gonna fight because of separation anxiety, and then tomorrow morning, we would make up before you leave for good.
Alex: This is exactly why I didn’t tell you! … I have never felt better about a decision.

Alex gives her parents the wrong move-in date and gets Haley to drive her to school to avoid making it a big deal. And because she feels so ready. As she confides to Haley: Do you know how long I’ve been dreaming about this day? I’m just really ready for this. I’m finally surrounded by smart, curious people.

Then she meets her roommate.
Maisie: Hi! You must be Alex. I’m your roomie. I’m Maisie. My dad says it’s short for Amazing, but it’s not.
Alex: Wait, I picked a different…
Maisie: Roommate? I know. She got sick. She got a panic attack. Anyways, they denied her visa, and she’s still in Norway.
Alex: Uh, how old are you?
Maisie: Oh, I’m 15, but I’ve seen four R-rated movies already.

Things go downhill from there. And as soon as Maisie leaves the room, Alex begins punching numbers into her cell phone.
Alex: This ends now.
Haley: What are you doing?
Alex: What do you think I’m doing? I’m getting rid of her. I’m calling my advisor and getting a new roommate.

(Click here to see how Haley intervenes to teach Alex her first lesson about roommates.)

Freshman year of college may be the only time that our kids will spend a year living with a total stranger in a hundred-square-foot room. As much as we might hope that our student will get along perfectly with the other student who shares their close quarters, it doesn’t always turn out that way. As Alex found out, roommates won’t always be what was hoped for or expected. And even the most compatible roomies will have disagreements.

Until students are in the situation, it’s hard for them to know what it will take to get along. And many students won’t know how to fix things when there is a conflict. So don’t be surprised if your phone rings with your unglued college freshman on the other end, complaining about their roommate.

When that call comes, it’s easy to get caught up in your student’s frustration and pain. But if, instead, you strive to see this as an opportunity for them to learn some things about getting along with others, you’ll be better able to provide the warm, sturdy support they need.

To be most helpful, first ask what they’ve tried. Listen. And then, when the time is right, fill-in what’s missing. The following are some talking points for you to use when you fill them in.

Adjust expectations. It helps if students understand that issues are a normal part of good relationships. Knowing that there are bound to be conflicts can help your student take things in stride.

Address things when they’re small. Talk about what’s bothering you as soon as possible. But don’t confront your roommate when you’re upset or when your roommate is dashing off to class or when you’re in front of others.

Agree on a time to talk. You’ll have a better chance of getting your roommate’s attention if you start with a sentence or two like: There’s something important I’d like to talk about. Is this a good time for you? If not, ask to set a specific time later that day or week.

Try to approach the problem in the way you’d want to be approached. Be assertive without blaming or being angry. Don’t apologize for bringing up the issue. If you do, you may not be taken seriously. But don’t suggest that they’re a horrible person either. That’ll just make them defensive. Instead remind yourself of any good things your roommate brings to the relationship. And strive to come across as a nice, reasonable person talking to another nice, reasonable person.

For example, let’s say the problem is about cleaning (one of the biggest areas of roommate conflict). Don’t begin with: You’re such a slob. I can’t even find my desk because of all your junk. Instead try: I need to stay organized, and I can’t when your stuff is all over. Beginning with “I” instead of “you” will make it easier for your roommate to hear and will connect how your roommate’s actions (or inactions) are affecting you.

After stating your case, listen to your roommate’s side of the story without becoming defensive. Assume your roommate didn’t setout to make your life miserable. Respect their point of view. Try to stay curious about why a nice, reasonable person might act the way your roommate does. And be open to the idea that you may be doing some pretty irritating things too.

Come up with a solution that both of you can live with. Neither of you may leave 100% happy. But if both of you are trying to get along and you’re both being honest and open, chances are you’ll be able to come up with a fair compromise.

Know when it’s time to switch. You’re entitled to a reasonable roommate. So if you’ve tried compromising and tactful reminders, speak with your resident assistant (RA) who is trained and paid to help with problems like this. If that doesn’t fix the problem, it’s time to insist on a new roommate or a new room.

Tonight, Alex gets her first college lesson before classes even start. Chances are it won’t be her last lesson on the topic. But the lessons learned will have enduring value. After all, knowing how to bring up a problem and compromise with a roommate isn’t a skill that only new college students need. Sharing an apartment or a home can be just as complicated.

Connecting Lines:
Tape Modern Family and use it to connect with your kids – whether they’re teens or young adults. You might be surprised how much you’ll laugh together while watching and learn from each other in the conversations that follow.

Below are a few conversation starters for this episode:
Nobody likes to bring up a problem. But relationships are stronger if you talk things out when there’s an issue. So what would the conversation sound like if…
– Your friend borrowed your putter (or favorite pair of earrings) and hasn’t given it/them back.
– Your friend constantly leaves candy wrappers and empty pop cans in your car.

Sources and Resources: “Roommate Relationships” from BWell Health Promotion at Brown University, Picture from ABC

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on April 7th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 19, A Hard Jay’s Night

Phil Gets His Teens to Open Up

The Framework
Tonight most of the clan is gathered at Jay’s for the traditional Jay’s Night – a time when the grandkids come over to watch a movie they’d never choose on their own. The evening began with this:
Jay: Our feature presentation [tonight is] “The Great Escape.” Speaking of which, Haley…
Haley: Don’t worry, Grandpa. I’m not leaving. I have no plans for tonight.
Alex: Me either.
Haley: But when I say it, it’s news.
Alex: When you say any complete sentence, it’s news.

This time Luke is the one set on skedaddling. But the grandkids’ escapades aren’t what made Jay’s night hard. It was how he squabbled with Claire and withheld praise – especially for how she handled things during his week away from the office. It turns out, he’s more anxious about handing over control of his high-end closet company to Claire than he can admit.

Cam and Mitch are at Jay’s Night too – adding to the mayhem with their out-of-control need to be the one in control of their upcoming wedding. This time the issue is a cake topper.
Cam: My dad made this. He’s a world-class soap carver. Once when I was a kid, I cussed and my mom washed my mouth out with the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Mitch isn’t happy with his kicky-leg likeness and is determined to do-away with it. But by the end it’s clear that the whole thing is Cam’s ploy to give the boot to Mitch’s choice for a wedding singer.

Meanwhile Phil finds a buyer for the space Gloria and Manny lived in before she met Jay. While Gloria dithers about selling the place, she and Phil stop by the neighborhood’s hair salon where she used to work. The salon is short-handed, and the two pitch right in.
Gloria: I don’t want to ruin my nails. Phil, will you do my shampooing.
Phil: Well, I guess so. … Just a warning, I haven’t shampooed professionally since college and that was only part-time to pay for my cheer gear … What we got, double sinks? What’s the nozzle sitch?

Later Gloria admits that she’s ashamed about selling the apartment. As she puts it: I used to work for every penny. I would stand on my own two feet. Now I just stand on expensive shoes that Jay buys for me … It’s the last piece of the old me.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Tonight Jay battles Claire with the makings of a spaghetti dinner for the kids. Mitch and Cam go round and round over a cake topper. While Gloria beats herself up about letting her old apartment go even though it’s been years since she lived there.

These things all seem pretty inconsequential in the bigger scheme of things. But they don’t feel small to those doing the fighting. Because it feels to them like they’re fighting to maintain who they are.

And these folks are adults. They’ve had years to form and solidify their identity. Imagine for a minute how much more difficult things must be for teens who are in the middle of figuring out what makes them unique and different than others.

In fact, identity formation is a key task for teens. It ranks right up there with battling for independence. So it’s little wonder that our kids sometimes clam up to keep their distance. Or treat us like we’ve become the enemy if they get any inkling that we’re putting our interest before theirs. They fear losing themselves before they’ve even figured out who they are.

Claire (at the computer): Oh what the hell!
Phil: What’s going on?
Claire: The kids unfriended me again! How am I supposed to know what’s going on in their lives if they never talk to me?!
Phil: Honey, I got this.

With that, Phil jumps into action, giving salon-style shampoos, one-at-a-time, to all three kids.

What’s a Mom to Do?
I’m not suggesting you go corral your teen with shampoo and towel in hand. But Phil was on to something tonight when he decided to wash his kids’ hair to get them to open up. Here are some Phil inspired tips for getting your teen to talk to you.

Put the spotlight on your relationship. Build times into your everyday routine that are just about connecting with your teen. It takes perseverance and creativity, but when you develop regular ways for spending time with your teen, they will come to depend on them and gain a sense of security from your consistent connection. And there’s something in it for you too: parenting will become more manageable and a lot more fun.

Do something out of the ordinary. You might plan a dinner at a nice restaurant – one fancy enough to require a little dressing up. There is something about this unfamiliar setting – the formality, the leisureliness, the lack of their friends and yours – that encourages teens to share more about themselves. But don’t expect your teen to open up during the first course. As I recall from my kids’ teen days, the best conversations typically began over dessert and sometimes continued as we walked to the car and all the way home.

Be available when they’re most likely to talk. Teens often open up when minimal eye contact is required. This includes on walks, when riding in the passenger seat of the car, or in the dark. My teens were most likely to share their doubts and worries when I’d come into their bedrooms and sit on the edge of their bed to say a final goodnight after the lights were off.

Pay attention to your teen’s indirect signals that they want to talk. It can be really tough when you’re working on a demanding deadline or it’s 1 AM. But to teens our availability in these times is an indication of whether they can count on us when they need us. And these conversations are often much more important to our connection with our teens than the ones we try to initiate.

If you reach out and get rejected, try not to take it personally. It helps to remember that our teens see their job as extending away from us. And they haven’t matured enough to always be gracious as they go about this. Still it can hurt when they reject our offers to connect. Instead of responding angrily, you might softly say “ouch” to let them know that it doesn’t feel good to be pushed away. Later, let them know how much you want to be connected with them. And then don’t let their initial rejection keep you from trying again.

The chief complaint of parents with teenagers is that their teens won’t open up and talk with them. And it’s our job as their parents to do something about this. Because our teens need someone in their lives who they can talk with about their doubts and worries. Someone who helps them feel stronger and more confident than before they opened up and shared. Someone they see as a trusted ally. It’s our job to court this type of relationship with our teens so that we can help make up for what they’re lacking.

Your Parenting Experiences
The work it takes to stay connected with a teen feels a lot like courting – the creativity, the perseverance, the potential for rejection. What kinds of things do you do to court your teen?

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