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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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on April 8th, 2013, 0 Comments

The “C” in Claire Stands for Control

Season 4, Episode 19

The Framework

When parents worry, they respond. That’s what knotted the storylines on “Modern Family” together tonight. Mitch and Cam worry that Lily doesn’t have a female role model. And Gloria worries that Manny is losing his cultural heritage. But the storyline that best captured parental worry (and response) was the one that took place in the Dunphy household.

The morning started with Claire in full-on control.

Claire: Luke, please stop taking appliances apart.
Luke: I’m making something.
Claire: You’re unmaking something!

Haley: I’m giving my notice today.
Claire: Wait. What? … What do you mean that you’re quitting?! Your manager just started letting you open and close the store.
Haley: It’s boring…
Claire: Honey, you need to learn to stick with things. And you just got the big keys.

Alex: I need caffeine today.
Claire: How late were you at that party last night?
Haley: She snuck in at 10:00 and spent all night reading under the covers with a flashlight.
Claire: Alex, what have I told you about staying out after your curfew?
Alex: I need to do it more often.
Claire: Exactly! You need to learn to have some fun. You’re going on that spring break trip with Nicole.
Alex: No! I can’t! I have to study for the PSATs.

And that’s when Claire turns to Phil for backup. Instead she got this:

Phil: All right, everybody, listen up. Haley, you’re not quitting; you’re resigning. It sounds better. Alex, you have all of spring break to lock yourself in your room and study. And, Luke, “coffeebots” is a nonstarter. But I do like the idea of popcorn kernels in pancake batter so they self-flip.

Perhaps Claire’s over-the-top efforts to control were due to her fears about the angiogram she had scheduled for later that day. When worried, we moms instinctually tend to hold on to our kids tighter.

Though, as it turns out, Claire’s worries were just beginning. Because while she and Phil are at the hospital waiting for Claire to be wheeled away for the procedure, the older fellow in the bed next to Claire gets a visit from his three kids who look like grown-up versions of the Dunphy brood. And Claire and Phil do not like what they see.

With this unsettling vision of their future kids dancing in their heads, they switch parenting roles – each taking the typical style of the other in phone calls made to their kids.

Claire: Haley, I love you. If you don’t want to work in that store, I’ll help you find something you like better. Alex, you don’t have to go on that trip with Nicole. You can study as much as you want. Just know that I love you.

Phil: Haley, you’re not quitting your job. … Listen to me. You are dangerously close to getting on a path that you can’t get off of. Alex, book down. Run a brush through your hair. You’re going on that trip with your friend.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

So much of parenting teens is about control. And Claire and Phil are at opposite ends of the control spectrum.

Claire is hands-on. She believes she owns the controls. Under this micromanaging regime, teens often superficially comply with their parents’ demands and then dedicate much of their energy to sneaking and lying in order to do what they want.

Phil is hand-off. He often relinquishes control entirely. This permissive parenting style gives most teens less structure than they need and more freedom than they’re ready for.

The sweet spot for parenting teens is in the middle of the control spectrum. From this spot, parents believe it’s their job to help manage the controls – neither owning the controls nor relinquishing them completely. Below is a short list of tips that will help you get to this spot:

Think of control as a swinging pendulum. We’re at our most influential when the pendulum is at the midpoint – when we’re guiding our teens rather than being too hands-on or too hands-off. Parenting from this midpoint means striking the right balance between restrictiveness and autonomy.

Help your teen explore both sides of the situation. Rather than giving ultimatums like Claire and Phil did (You’re not quitting your job!), it’s better to encourage teens to explore both sides of the situation. For example, “Haley, I’d like to hear what’s going on with your job. Please help me understand what’s working for you and what’s not.” Then listen.

Don’t push your point of view. How we say what we say can make a huge difference. So when it’s your turn to share your ideas, don’t make the mistake that Claire and Phil made when they pushed their point of view on Haley: Honey, you need to learn to stick with things. … You are dangerously close to getting on a path that you can’t get off of. Statements like these can force teens to take the other side.

You’ll have a much better chance of getting your ideas across if you think of it as floating them by your teen and if you can offer some information that your teen might not know. For example, Claire and Phil might have gently but firmly reminded Haley that while she’s not in college, she needs a job to cover rent and other personal expenses. And they might have encouraged her to consider securing a new job before quitting her current one, relaying that it’s almost always easier to get a new job when you already have one.

Know where the line is. Know where “guiding” is on the control spectrum and be ready to step back over the line if you find yourself going too far in one direction or the other.

Even when our teens don’t immediately respond as we’d hoped, they are listening. And if we respect their right to have an opinion different than ours and give them some time and space to think about the situation, they’re more likely to see us as someone who can be trusted, to be open to our influence, and to seek us out when they need help.

The BottomLine

Phil: Look, all we can do is give Haley time to find out who she is.
Claire: Or I can save that time, and I can tell her who she is.

We’re determined to do what is right for our kids. But often our deepest desire to do what is right causes us to act like Claire and Phil and lean too far in one direction or the other.

Yet the evidence overwhelmingly links parenting from the midpoint of the control spectrum with healthy adolescent development. By staying connected with our teens and helping to manage the controls, we are:
• Giving our teens self-assurance and adding to their ability to withstand stress and negative influences.
• Helping them develop reasoning skills.
• Making them more open to our influence and more likely to have similar values and attitudes.

So instead of thinking of control as something we say or do to teens or giving up on them (hoping that time will do what we can’t), we’re at our best when we look for ways to stay connected and work with our teens.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

Think of the various topics you communicate with your teen about – topics such as grades, curfew, clothes, friends, attitude, alcohol, drugs, music, chores, sex, and driving.
• Where do you think you are on the control spectrum (controlling, guiding, hands-off) for each of these topics?
• Where do you think your teen would say you are?
• Are you purposefully more hands-on about some things and more hands-off about others?

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