MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on July 22nd, 2013, 1 Comment

Season 4, Episode 4, The Butler’s Escape

Phil Hopes to Live Out an Unfulfilled Ambition Through Luke

The Framework
We all have expectations. And it’s simply human nature to project these thoughts and desires on others – especially those that are close to us. This episode gives us a glimpse at what happens when our expectations don’t match reality.

Jay is losing sleep over his new reality now that Gloria is, as he put it, at the place in her pregnancy where she’s, you know, ample. Meanwhile Cam is conjuring up expectations for his first day of teaching that set him up for deep disappointment. But I focused on Phil who is focused on Luke in hopes that his son will live out one of his own unfulfilled ambitions.
Phil (to camera with Luke at his side): Like his old man, Luke is a magician.
Luke: I’m taking lessons from some guy my dad found online.

Luke smiles as he says his line. He seems totally onboard with the plan. But then there’s this exchange.
Luke: Mom, something’s on my mind, and it’s really bothering me. … I want to quit magic. … I’m not really interested any more. But I don’t think Dad’s going to be happy.
Claire: Oh, sweetheart, don’t worry about disappointing your father. He only wants you to do it if you want to do it. Tell you what – I will talk to your dad.

As it turns out, though, Luke has Phil pegged better than Claire does.
Claire: Luke wants to quite magic.
Phil: That’s not happening. … The kid is a natural. … He has everything: the hands, the patter, the outfits.
Claire: Okay. Let’s play this out. Even if he is one in a million, what’s our best-case scenario? He becomes what? A professional magician?
Phil (in unison with Claire): A professional magician! And then continuing, Honey, the boy has a gift! Do you want to just throw that away?

Luke overhears his parents’ conversation. And in the spirit of developing his own identity and growing up, he knows that he cannot and should not let his father control his life this way.
Luke: Don’t I get a say in any of this? I’m sorry I don’t like magic as much as you, but I don’t.
Phil: This isn’t about magic.
Luke: No. It’s about my life – and you controlling it.

With that the tug-of-war for control is on. And Phil is not going to give up easily.
Phil: If you really want to, you can quit magic. You just have to do one thing first: execute the Butler’s Escape.
The next thing you know, Luke has chains wrapped around his torso while a rope suspends him upside-down from his bedroom doorframe.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Phil acted out what the rest of us might just play out in our heads. Like Phil, almost all of us deep down have dreams we’d like our children to fulfill. We take joy in seeing our children succeed. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting our children to be all that they can be. But it’s important to separate our hopes for them from their potential and their desires. Because in truth, they may not have the interest (like Luke) or the ability to be what we dream they will become.

When our teens strive for the goals we have for them, their achievements will almost always feel hollow and meaningless to them. And just as importantly, they may remain unaware of their individual attributes and their own dreams and aspirations.

The BottomLine
As Phil pulls the rope to the Butler’s Escape taut, he reminds Luke (and himself) just why he’s doing this: I think you’re quitting because magic is getting hard. … I’m not raising a quitter. Trust me. I know what’s best for you.

It turns out Phil isn’t the only parent with a dream they want their children to fulfill. A study published in June confirms what has been theorized for decades: Parents (89% of those surveyed were moms) really do want to live out unfilled ambitions through their children. The researchers also found that parents are more likely to hope their kids will fulfill their unrealized dreams when they see their kids as an extension of themselves. (You can read more about this study here.)

We moms want only the best for our teens, and, like Phil, we often believe we know what that is. Yet, at some level, almost all of us know that if our kids are to thrive, they must form goals of their own and focus on fulfilling their own dreams rather than deferring to ours. This is further complicated by the fact that we don’t always realize how different our expectations may be from those of our teens. And when we hold different expectations than our teens have for themselves, it can lead to trouble – particularly when the differences are not discussed openly.

What’s a Mom to Do?
Here are a few questions that might help you prepare for a discussion about expectations with your teen:
– What do you think your teen is better at than most kids her/his age? What do you think she/he is more interested in than other kids? How do you think your teen would answer these questions?
– What do you see your teen doing 10 or 15 years from now? What do you think your teen thinks you expect?
– What do you think your teen sees herself/himself doing 10 or 15 years from now?
– Who do you think has the higher expectations – you or your teen? What are some potential areas of disagreement? How might those be resolved?

As you consider these questions, it’s important to remember that our teens’ ability to differentiate themselves from others (especially us) is a crucial part of their developmental work. To do this, they must learn to follow their own interests and to value their own attributes. We can support this process best by being attuned to and accepting of who they really are – so that we can support them as they develop their own strengths and interests.

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on June 24th, 2013, 1 Comment

Let Them Use Responsibility to Negotiate to “Yes”

It’s our job as parents to draw clear lines for our teens between what is safe and respectful and what is not. Having a curfew that is usually followed and chores that are done on a regular basis help us draw those lines. (To read more about three simple rules that will help you draw clear lines, click here.)

Of course, our teens are going to push against these boundary lines. And much of the time their pushing is classic adolescent resistance to unwanted but necessary rules. When that’s the case, it’s best to respond by restating our position and walking away. However, it’s wise to be open to letting our teens renegotiate these rules when they’ve earned it. Here’s why:

Staying flexible and saying “yes” to their attempts to renegotiate rules about curfew and chores – when we can do it and still be a responsible parent – helps our teens see us as fair. And a sense of fairness helps to strengthen our connection with our teens. On the other hand, being rigid about our limits leads to a disconnect between our teens and us. And when we’re disconnected, our teens are likely to outwardly comply and then sneak and lie to get around us and do what they want.

Plus if we routinely say “no” when our teens ask permission to do something, we may miss out on some crucial conversations that can help them grow. However, if our more typical reaction is, “I’m willing to think about it if you can show me how you’re going to do this (whatever “this” is) in a way that still allows me to be a responsible parent,” we’ll get lots of chances to help them hone planning, negotiating, and problem solving skills.

So when we’re faced with a teen who’s asking for special permission to extend a curfew or to delay doing chores, it’s often best to hold off on making a decision about their request. Instead hand the problem back to them and give them a chance to use responsibility to negotiate to “yes.” These negotiations might look something like this:


Them: There’s a party I want to go to on Saturday night. It’s after the game. So can I stay out until 1:00?
Us: What!? 1:00 in the morning? That’s way after your curfew.
Them: I know. But it’s going to be an awesome party. And everyone is going!
Us: I don’t know, sweetie. That’s really late.
Them: C’mon. I’m a good kid. And you know I almost always get home by my 11:30 curfew.
Us: That’s true. But there are reasons why you have an 11:30 curfew – most of them having to do with your safety.
Them: Yeah, but remember the couple times you’ve let me stay out past my curfew? I handled everything just fine. I think I’ve earned this by following the rules and being responsible.
Us: I’m willing to think about it. But if I let you stay out that late, I still need to be a responsible parent. And 1:00 is after curfew – not just ours but the city’s too. So what are you willing to do to assure me that you’ll stay safe and follow the law if I let you stay out that late?
Them: How ‘bout this? I’ll check in at 11:30 just so you’ll know I’m okay. Then instead of driving home after the party, I’ll get a ride with Sam – he always gets picked up by one of his parents. That way I won’t be breaking the city curfew law. I won’t mess-up. I promise. And if you want, I’ll even come home two hours early on Friday night so you won’t have to stay up late on both nights.


Them: I just got a call from Ben. A bunch of guys are over at the gym playing ball. I’m heading over there.
Us: Have fun! You finished your chores, right?
Them: All but the garbage. And I’ll take it out as soon as I get back. I promise.
Us: Sorry. You know the rules. And the kitchen trashcan is nearly overflowing.
Them: But the guys are waiting for me. C’mon, let me finish when I get back!
Us: It’s your responsibility to get your chores done before you go.

Them: But I don’t have time now. I told the guys I’d be right there!
Us: It’s your choice. But know if you go before you finish-up your chores around here, there will be some consequences when you get back.
Them: But I have most of my chores done. And I’ve been really good lately about getting up and getting at my work right away.
Us: That’s true. But finishing the job is important too. How can you go play now and still be respectful of the agreement we made about you helping out around here?
Them: How about this? What if I take the kitchen garbage out to the garage right now – that’s what’s in your way. Then as soon as I get back, I’ll take the rest out – I’ll even sweep out the garage. C’mon, you know that’s a pretty good deal for you!

Being open to these interactions does more than help us stay connected to our teens. This kind of give and take can also help us strike the right balance between restrictiveness and autonomy – as we gradually become less hands-on and widen the freedom we give our teens as they earn it. Plus our willingness to consider our teens’ negotiations helps them learn that past behavior matters – something that all kids need to learn.

Next Monday we’ll take a look at “Snip” – Episode 3 from this season’s Modern Family lineup. This show deals with another common cause for battle with our teens: their friends that we don’t like.

See you then!

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