MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on January 12th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 11, The Day We Almost Died

Claire is Controlling Even When She Tries Not to Be

The kids have Friday off from school, and as tonight’s episode opens the Dunphys are driving home from a trip to the pancake house. Phil is at the wheel, as laidback as ever, while Claire (predictably) acts like she owns all the controls.
Claire (phoning Mitchell): Mitch, hi. What? … (then to the kids riding in the back) I can’t hear him. I can’t even hear myself. Everybody just shut up!!!

With the noise under control, Claire now takes control of her conversation with Mitch.
Claire: I need you to send a gift to Mom for her birthday from the both of us.
Mitch: No, I did it last year.
Claire: I know, and I need you to do it again. Look, I’ve got a conference call at 1:20. Then Luke’s tutor comes to the house, 2:45 sales meeting, and I still gotta get Alex to judo.
Mitch: And yet you somehow find time to bitch at me. Wow! You really can have it all.

Then suddenly a big truck barrels through a stop sign, missing the Dunphy’s car by inches. No one gets hurt, but the brush with death leaves everyone shaken.

Claire and Phil respond to their near miss with death by changing how they think about control.
Phil (to his family): Something hit me this morning – when that truck didn’t hit me this morning. I have not been in control of my own life. But those days are done … And if me getting what I want inconveniences people a little, so be it.

Claire (confiding to Mitch): Do you know what I was doing when I almost died? … Scheduling my life down to the last minute. [But] today made me realize something. We are not control freaks. We don’t [need to] sweat the small stuff. Just let it go.

The Framework
Tonight’s episode is all about control. Parenting teens is too.

Some parents think they own the controls. And they use lectures and threats to try to keep it that way. Teens parented this way are likely to become secretive, dedicating all their energy to sneaking around and outsmarting their parents’ controlling tactics.

Other parents choose to relinquish almost all control. They place few demands on their teens and give them more freedom than they’ve earned or than they’re ready for. Teens parented this way often fail to learn that past behavior matters, and they are likely to get the impressions that they’re entitled to whatever they want.

BottomLine
Claire (to Phil): Oh, honey, you spent the whole day trying to control everything. And I spent the entire today trying not to. And neither way worked.

Neither way – trying to control everything or totally opting out – works when parenting teens either. But often our deepest desire to do what is right for our kids means that we (like Claire and Phil) lean too far in one directions or the other.

When our kids were younger, we controlled all the action. Many of us would like to maintain that same relationship. Like Claire, we’re controlling even when we’re trying not to be. After all those tactics worked really well for the first twelve years of our kids’ lives.

Sometimes, though, we lean too far in the other direction. We so value our close relationships with our teens that we become reluctant to set limits or discipline them. Lots of well-meaning moms fear they’ll lose their teen’s love if they make and enforce rules.

Separating from the control of adults (especially their parents) is the teen agenda. In the spirit of growing up, they cannot allow our old relationships with them to continue. If they did, they’d live with us forever.

Yet teens lack experience and their brains are still under construction. This means that they don’t always prioritize or foresee things the same way we adults do. So even though they’ll almost never tell us directly, our teens are counting on us to provide guidance by making rules, and they’re counting on us to hold them accountable when they mess-up.

What’s a Mom to Do?
We’re at our best when we parent from the middle of the control spectrum. From this sweet spot, we neither act like we own the controls nor relinquish the controls completely. Instead, we help our teens manage the controls.

To help you find your sweet spot, take a few minutes to think about the path you’re currently on with your teen. Then make a list of 10 things that would make the path a lot smoother – things that would make a huge difference for good in your family life.

Now go back and put a question mark next to any of the things on your list that would require your teen or someone else to change. Then put a “C” for control next to the things left unmarked. These are the things on that list that you have direct power to change.

Next look back at the things on the list labeled with a question mark. Which of those things can you affect or sway if you work hard to interact with care, sincerity, and persistence? Mark those things with an “I” for influence.

Truth be told, once our kids become teens we can only really control two things when it comes to their lives: We can control how we spend our resources on them. And, we can control much of what they do in our homes – if we’re there and paying attention.

Yet, as we give up control, we can gain power through our influence. This starts with staying connected to our teens because our influence can be no stronger than our connection with them. Then we must use our influence wisely by focusing on the things that really matter and directing our energy towards affecting those.

Your Parenting Experiences
In general, where do you think you are on the control spectrum? Are you more likely to want to take control, like Claire? Or are you more laidback, like Phil? Are you purposefully more hands-on about some things and more hands-off about others? What do you think your teen would say?



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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.

BottomLine
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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