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.

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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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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