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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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on March 10th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 16, Spring-A-Ding-Fling

Claire “Broke” Luke’s Date

The Framework
Tonight’s show begins with Phil dressed to the nines.
Phil: Hey, guys! For my opening number… Be honest – does it look like I have anything on under this?
Phil is set to be the first three-time host in the history of SCARB – THE annual banquet for Southern Cal realtors. And he’s got five, planned, real-time, hit-performance wardrobe changes underneath that tux.

Meanwhile it’s Mitch’s first day on the job at a legal aid firm, working for Wendy (a friend from law school). The day begins with Wendy dressing down her intern for the outfit he’d picked out for her.

Over at Jay and Gloria’s house there’s an argument about who knows how to get what they want out of people best. The dispute begins like this.
Jay: I do love it in leather.
Gloria: Well learn to love it in silk. It’s too hot to be wearing leather.
Jay: I was talking about this car… Oh by the way, I do the negotiating today at the dealership.
Jay claims that his business experience gives him the edge. But Gloria is certain that her curves and cleavage make her better at working people – and she has Jay’s fancy watch, a pair of designer shoes, plus a huge diamond bauble to prove it.

And tonight Cam is in-charge of the high school’s Spring-A-Ding-Fling (the “A-Ding” is Cam’s addition). He turned this two-bit dance into the event of the year, and he dresses-up for the occasion.
Fellow teacher: Fancy shirt, Coach Tucker.
Cam: Oh, thank you. You know what I like to say – I might be a coach but I travel first class.

Suffice it to say, there is a lot of focus on appearance and clothes in tonight’s episode. But it wasn’t until there was more of the same back at the Dunphy household that my attention got caught.

Luke and his date for the Fling are tussling on the front lawn as Claire arrives home.
Claire (to Luke): Honey, it’s getting close to time for the dance. Shouldn’t you go in and get changed?
Luke: I did already. The guys are coming by. We’re going to ride from here.
Claire: What about you, Rhonda? Do you wanna go in and get cleaned up?
Rhonda: I’m good.
Claire (waving Rhonda inside): Luke you wait here. Ride with your friends. I’ll bring Rhonda [when I come to help chaperone the dance].

Later at the dance there’s this.
Luke: What did you do to Rhonda?
Claire: I cleaned her up.
Luke: No! You broke her! I hate her like this.
Claire: She looks fantastic!
Luke: To you!!

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
As our teens work to figure out who they are and who they want to become, they try on new looks and new ways of dressing. In fact, their choice of clothes and accessories is often one of the first ways that teens determine and express their individuality. Some teens experiment with new looks on a weekly basis.

So how do we deal with this in a way that lets us be respectful of our teens’ new expressions of who they are? How can we guide them as they search for their own image – rather than forcing them to grow into our image of what looks good (as Claire did with Rhonda tonight)?

And how do we guide their search without using up all the emotional capital in our goodwill relationship account with them? Imagine if we each had just $1 a day to spend from that goodwill account. Some mornings we might spend most of it dealing with what they’re wearing before they’re even out the door, leaving us little for the rest of the day and night.

End of show voiceover: We all want people to think the best of us …

And we all want people to think the best of our kids.

In order to build their own identity, our teens have to differentiate themselves from us. The changes they make in their appearance and how they dress are part of that process. And we need to honor that. But we also need to stay involved enough to let them know that we care and that it is our responsibility to help shape the image that they project and help them understand how they might be viewed.

What’s a Mom to Do
Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind the next time your teen is trying on new looks and ways of dressing.

Look for and reinforce the aspects of their wardrobe choices that you like. As they flit by in the fifth outfit of the morning, causing you to wonder just how many times they’re going to change, it’s tempting to ask, “What was wrong with the first one?” Instead, you might try something like: “Nice choice. You look great in that color!”

Sometimes it’s better to say nothing. If your teen wants to dye their hair blue, paint their fingernails black, or wear funky clothes, think hard before you object. You don’t want to squander your goodwill account trying to remake your teen with inflexible demands about their looks. It may make you cringe, but if it’s a harmless, non-permanent change, and if it doesn’t cross your limit of respectability, then consider letting your teen conform to their own idea of what’s right.

If your teen’s appearance doesn’t meet your standards for decency, say so. There are bound to be some looks that will cross over the line into what you consider disrespectful. It will probably be “too” something – too tight, too teeny, too low, too short, or too graphic. When this happens, you’ll want to tell them that while you know it’s a look for some kids, it’s part of your job as their mom to let them know when what they’re wearing doesn’t meet your family’s standard for respectability. If it makes you uncomfortable to see so much (bare skin, underwear, whatever it is) tell them that. Add that if it makes you this uncomfortable, you feel certain that it’s going to make other people uncomfortable too. Or if you’re concerned that they’ll make a poor impression or attract the wrong attention, say that.

Then negotiate with them to come up with a compromise that will work for both of you. It might be that they can wear it around the house but not to school. Or maybe they can add something to the outfit to make it acceptable.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that your teen won’t change again before they arrive at school. But at least they’ll have heard your point of view and the values that your view is based on.

Your Parenting Experiences
Alex and her date are dressed and ready with time to fill before the Fling. Their conversation also focuses on appearance.
Date: My dad has three tattoos. I’m like, “Why? You’re a dad.”
Alex: Ew! It’s so sad when parents try. My mom doubled pierced one of her ears, and I’m like, “Hello! You’re 50!” It’s so old – like ancient to have an ear piercing when you’re 50.

Do you think it pushes teens to be more extreme as they try on new looks when parents accessorize or dress like the young crowd? This could be an interesting topic to discuss with your teen. And if you do, I’d love to hear what you learn.

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