MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on March 3rd, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 15, The Feud

Phil Revises His Advice

The Framework
Tonight there was lots of cause for head scratching. Lily brought head lice home from school and Claire catches the head pets. (Cam’s delicate wording)

But there was a lot of the “go figure” kind of head scratching in tonight’s episode too. Alex and Haley get stuck in the basement with a possum. Manny obsesses over what the other kids will think about his squeaky shoes but still saves self-conscious Gloria from some catty moms. Meanwhile, Luke faces Gil Thorpe’s son in a wrestling match, causing Phil’s ongoing rivalry to become a multigenerational feud.

It was the conversations that lead up to Luke’s match that caught and held my attention.
Luke: My match is coming up. Got any “dadvice”?
Phil (smiling): Starting to sound natural, right? … You know what, just get out there and enjoy yourself. You show character trying a new sport. No matter what happens, I couldn’t be prouder. Go get ’em.

But then just before the match begins, the fatherly advice morphs into this.
Phil: I’d like to revise what I said to you in the car about biting…
Luke: But the important thing is I have fun out there, right?
Phil: Okay, let’s go over this again because I feel like you’re not listening.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Phil is overcome with his loathing and fear of the obnoxious Gil. His darkest thoughts and deepest worries are reflected in his revised advice to Luke. Though the situation was far-fetched, the fear Phil felt and his urge to help Luke hit a bit closer to home.

When our kids ask for our advice about something unfinished and messy, our minds start churning. We’ve gone through enough to have a good idea of what’s going to happen next. We can anticipate twists and turns full of additional troubles that our kids are totally oblivious to. We feel we must intervene and make sure they don’t get it wrong. It’s our job to protect them.

At a restaurant following the match…
Luke (setting his pop down on the table): Dang it!
Jay: We don’t want you to beat yourself up because you lost.
Luke: I’m not. I just started wrestling. Sure it would have been nice to win. But I tried my best. I just said “dang it” because I forgot my straw…
Phil: Son of a gun! He’s absolutely okay.

Sometimes what has us worried is not a problem for our teen. Sometimes they’ll already have a solution. At other times, though, they’ll need a bit more from us. But be careful. If you offer advice too readily, expect some rejection. After all, it’s their job to prove to us (and to themselves) that they don’t need our advice anymore. To them, taking our advice – even if they ask for it – feels like a setback.

What’s a Mom to Do
Instead of beginning by giving our teens advice, we might start by offering our presence. Because even when they ask for our advice, often what they really want is our quiet attention and reassurance.

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind the next time your teen asks for your advice.

Acknowledge that it’s a tough issue. Even if the solution seems clear-cut to you, realize that from your teen’s perspective things often seem much muddier. And if you don’t acknowledge the difficulty, they’re likely to feel put-down, less capable, and angry at you for making them feel this way.

Be a sounding board. Restating the key parts of the issue in a calm, neutral voice as if you’re lining up the dots in a dot-to-dot puzzle can guide your teen to new insights and a higher level of thinking.

Ask for their ideas about how to handle the situation. Asking open-ended questions like What have you already tried? What seemed to help? Who else might you talk with? can get your teen thinking and talking about a way forward.

Wait. If they don’t answer your questions right away, don’t rush to fill the silence. Instead stay with your teen and give them your silent support. Sometimes it can help to give them time to go away and connect the dots before providing more guidance.

Underscore their strengths. Like adults, when teens struggle with a problem, they become experts on the problem. Focusing on the difficulty can cause them to lose confidence and avoid doing anything. We can help them switch gears (and calm ourselves) by keeping their strengths and past successes at the forefront of our mind. By reminding them of what they’re good at doing and how they’ve used their expertise in solving problems in the past, we can model for our teens how to refocus and become an expert on the solution.

By supporting our teens as they solve a problem rather than doing it for them, we’re helping them develop wisdom. It’s frustrating, though, not to just come right out and tell our teens what to do. After all we’ve lived long enough to have some wisdom worth sharing. But wisdom is like a college degree – it can’t simply be handed down.

Your Parenting Experiences
Phil (to camera): That might be the best part about being a parent: Whatever is going on in your personal life, when your kid is happy, you’re happy. A happy kid is like an antidepressant.

Is Phil onto something here? If so, might the antidepressant effect of a happy kid further complicate the issue of giving advice? What do you think?

Resource: Staying Connected to Your Teenager by Michael Riera

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on December 16th, 2013, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 10, The Old Man and the Tree

Luke’s Problem Gets Bigger by the Week

The Framework
In tonight’s holiday episode, there were a lot of made up minds – along with the resulting mix-ups, mess-ups, and fess-ups.

Phil is spending this Christmas Eve doggedly determined to complete something he made up his mind to do last Christmas. As Claire explains: Last Christmas Phil got an elliptical machine and vowed to walk the equivalent of our home to Canada in one year.

Jay made up his mind to “save Christmas” after seeing the fiber-optic tree Manny set-up.
Jay: I’m drawing a line in the sand. We’re going to get a real tree, and we’re going to cut it down like I did when I was a kid. … Christmas is real trees and eggnog …Perry Como and Bing on the hi-fi.
Manny: Now you’re just making up words.

Claire is certain her mother doesn’t care about her. She made up her mind about this years ago after her mother kept sending her the same gift every Christmas.
Claire (lifting the lid of a large trunk full of slippers): Would you care to take a visit to the museum of maternal indifference?

Lily has her mind made-up too; there’s only one thing she wants for Christmas. But as Mitch laments: There are no Puppy Pounds anywhere. It’s like trying to find a Cabbage Patch Kid on Christmas Eve, 1983.

It’s the storyline about Luke, though, that caught my attention. He has a problem that won’t go away. Instead it’s getting bigger by the week.
Luke (to camera): I’m in charge of the recycling. I’m supposed to bring it from the garage to the curb by 6:00 every Thursday morning. I may have missed a few weeks – maybe more than a few weeks. After a while, the pile just got so big I couldn’t bring it out the night before or people would ask questions. …I don’t need people asking questions.

And with that, Luke makes up his mind to do something about it.
Dylan (standing in the Dunphy’s garage looking at a mountain of garbage): That is a lot of product you’re moving.
Luke: Just bring it to the recycling place.
Dylan: Not until I get paid.
Luke (handing Dylan several skyrockets from a large stash of fireworks): This is six weeks allowance.
Dylan: You have the coolest parents ever!
Then later, as the three families celebrate Christmas together, there’s this.
Luke (in a voiceover): A lot of times it’s only after we get rid of something that we realize how much we miss it. …And things that seem worthless suddenly turnout to be super valuable. Maybe even precious.

Luke’s monologue smoothly slides into a conversation with his parents as the three stand in the garage next to the garbage heap with a bandaged Dylan standing nearby.
Luke: Which is why I thought getting rid of this stuff would be a huge mistake.
Phil (smiling faintly and nodding): Uhhh.
Claire (with a knowing smile): Nice try. You still owe us six week’s allowance.
Phil: And the fireworks.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Regardless of how they’re parented, teens see their job as getting to do what they want. And they all have a tendency to think that nothing really bad is going to happen. So for them, getting to do what they want basically boils down to dealing with us – their parents. Add to this the fact that most teens also want to please us. And it’s easy to see that there’s going to be some stuff they’d prefer we not know about.

What’s a Mom to Do
To stay in the loop and be the sturdy presence our teens need, we must master the art of interacting with them. Although Claire and Phil missed a couple things that they might have noticed earlier had they been paying closer attention, they handled some things well as they dealt with Luke. Here are some tips we can learn from the Dunphy parents tonight.

At the back of your mind, remember that the conversation you think you’re having might really be about something else. Luke started off by talking about things that were easy to hear. Our teens often start out the same way. Sometimes they talk about things of little consequence. Other times they begin with their successes. Whether they know it or not, they’re testing us by talking about these easy things before shifting to things that are more difficult for us to hear – things like a speeding ticket, a failing grade, or a conflict with a teacher or coach.

Listen and let your teen know you hear them. Not all teens are as smooth as Luke. Typically teens relay things that are difficult for us to hear in a slow, piecemeal way. And as they talk, we quickly see all the possibilities for trouble. And, often, well before they’re finished, we feel compelled to interrupt and give advice about what they should do or scold them for getting themselves into such a mess. But Claire and Phil didn’t immediately jump in and begin to lecture Luke. Instead they listened first.

Listening to our teens – and letting them know with our facial expression, body language, and tone of voice that we’ve heard them – doesn’t mean we agree or condone what they did. Instead listening tells our teens that we care about them, and it helps them hear us when it’s our turn to talk.

Present a united front to your teen. Claire and Phil demonstrated a solid confidence tonight as they stood together looking at Luke and the garbage heap behind him. Presenting a united front is especially crucial when it comes to important family expectations. So make up your mind not to argue in front of your teen. Even if your spouse says something you don’t agree with, unless it’s way out of line, go with it for the time being. You can come to an agreement later when out of your teen’s earshot.

Have rules based on a structure of reward. If teens had their way, most of them would choose to live a life of entitlement: They’d do whatever they please and then look to us to pay their bills and bail them out of trouble. So unless we want them to never grow up and just live with us forever, it’s a good idea to set up family rules based on rewards – like allowance, their phone, new clothes, car use, and concert tickets. Our teens get these privileges when they follow the rules. But just as Claire and Phil did tonight, we need to follow through and take rewards away when our expectations aren’t met.

Strive for a strong connection and peace of mind. Claire and Phil dealt with Luke’s mess-up in a fair and objective way. They didn’t accuse or label Luke or even raise their voice. They kept their thoughts and feelings under control and did what was needed to hold Luke accountable without unduly damaging their connection with him in the process.

And we didn’t see Claire and Phil engaging in woulda, coulda, shoulda. Yes, if they would have noticed the heap of garbage growing in their garage, they could have done something about it sooner. And they probably should have been keeping tabs on how Luke was spending his allowance. But instead of looking backwards and beating themselves up, they put their energy into doing what they could do now.

Claire (as she licks the cookie batter left on the beater – a treat that Gloria has been denied by her own mother): I don’t make the rules.

Most of us don’t like confrontations – especially confrontations with our teen. Sometimes we’re too busy or too overwhelmed to deal with all the battles. And sometimes we become reluctant to set limits or discipline them because we so value our close relationships with them. Lots of well-meaning moms fear they’ll lose their teen’s love if they make and enforce rules.

But teens don’t always prioritize or foresee things the same way we adults do. They lack experience and their brains are still under construction. So whether we like it or not, they’re counting on us to provide guidance by making rules. And just as important, they need us to hold them accountable when they mess-up. Because if we don’t give consequences when they’re needed, our teens won’t see us as a guide worth following. And they’ll be on their own without our guidance.

Your Parenting Experiences
Can you think of a time when the conversation you thought you were having with your teen was really about something else?

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