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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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on November 25th, 2013, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 8, Closet-Con ‘13

Two Sisters and One Mister

The Framework
The title for tonight’s episode comes from the annual closet conference that Claire and Jay are attending. And closets and the space for conversation created by confining places help tie the storylines together tonight.

A lost reservation means that Jay and Claire end up sharing a hotel room and dealing with some skeletons while at the conference. There was the literal skeleton hidden in Claire’s closet – a traditional prank played on the newest sales rookie. But the close quarters brought some figurative skeletons out of the closet as well.
Jay: Before you turn that [light] out, have we talked about everything we need to? Cause I want everything in the clear here.
“Everything” turns out to include Jay’s attempt to thwart Claire’s marriage to Phil, Claire’s efforts to interfere in Jay’s plans to marry Gloria, and Jay’s confession about a gal named Rita.

Meanwhile Mitch and Lily go to Missouri (pronounced M-I-S-E-R-Y if you ask Mitch) with Cam to visit his family’s farm. Adding to the misery is the fact that the couple has to keep their relationship closeted while there. As Cam explains: We never told Gram about the gay. You know, after they reach a certain age, it could be the thing that sends them over the edge. And she’s been over the edge for a long time. We’re actually on deathbed number two. But when a tornado confines them all to the farmhouse basement, the resulting conversation causes Grams to soften, admitting: I guess there’s nothing more important than family.

Back at home, Phil, Gloria, and the kids have their own close encounters after Phil discovers Jay’s secret trove of antique model toys in a walk-in closet off the kitchen. Toy mishaps lead to some family bonding – especially between Haley and Alex who both have a crush on the pizza guy from last night.
Alex: He’s shy and thoughtful and wears a Princeton sweatshirt. Hardly Haley’s type.
Haley: I’m telling you the way he looked at me when I came to the door – it was so on.
Alex: It kind of seemed like he was just delivering pizza, and you were giving him money.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
What ends up happening between Haley and Alex tonight gives us a window into the ranting route we all tend to jump onto when we get upset with anyone. The route almost always looks something like this: 1) We notice something. 2) To explain what happened, we tell ourselves a story. 3) The story creates harsh feelings. 4) And we act on our feelings.

Early in the episode, Haley notices something she doesn’t like.
Haley: I’m starving! What are we going to do about supper?
Alex: I checked with Dad and ordered a couple pizzas from Tejas.
Haley: I knew it! You’re stalking my pizza guy!
Alex: He’s not into you, okay! Does he call you brown eyes and give you extra mozzarella sticks?
Haley: Stalker!
Alex: Trollop!
Haley: Ha! Ha! Don’t know what it means.

Things then go from bad to worse: The propeller of the toy plane Alex is holding suddenly starts to spin, and Haley’s hair gets caught in its blades. As soon as she senses what has happened, Haley begins to create a story to explain it.
Haley: Ahhh!!! What did you do?!!
Alex (alarmed): Nothing!
Haley: Yes you did! You turned it on and now the propeller is all tangled up.

Based on her story, Haley creates harsh feelings towards Alex, and she translates those feelings into judgments and accusations.
Alex: Why would I do that?
Haley: Cause my pizza guy is coming over, and now I have airplane in my hair!

The next thing you know, Alex too has her hair tangled up in the plane’s propeller. And because she also has been busy perceiving, thinking, and feeling, she reacts with anger.
Alex: Get her off of me!!! I’m getting dumb through osmosis!
Haley: I don’t have osmosis!

And Haley retaliates.
Haley: How have I never noticed how loud you breathe?!!
Alex: Oh, don’t beat yourself up. That would require you to notice something that isn’t about you!
Haley: Oh my God, you’re such a loser!

When our kids mess-up, we act a lot like Haley did tonight. We too tend to jump into the middle of a ranting route. Our thoughts run wild as we try to figure out what happened. Then to explain it, we tell ourselves a story filled with pretty ugly thoughts, and, in response to the story, we create harsh feelings towards our teen. We then translate those feelings into judgments and accusations and act on them as fact. We rant at our teen.

Meanwhile our teen is also busy perceiving, thinking, and feeling. And they often react to our rantings by becoming resentful and defensive – like Alex did tonight. In response, we create more harsh feelings and rant more and louder, setting up a vicious cycle.

Gloria (kneeling next to baby Joe): Oh, did you find a little toy?

Tonight as the camera pans away from the tangled-up sisters to another corner of the room, we are let in on the rest of the story: Baby Joe has the remote control for the model plane and is randomly pushing buttons to make the plane’s propeller spin.

We moms could benefit from one of those panning cameras when our kids mess-up. Because we often jump into the conversation, explaining the problem with our own version of the events. And often within the very first seconds we communicate to our teen that they’re the problem and warn them to defend themselves or attack back.

Of course, we get upset when our teen messes-up. How could we not get upset? This is our kid! But as Haley and Alex’s plight reminds, we are often reacting to an incomplete story.

What’s a Mom to Do
Have you ever wondered how the folks who work with youth gangs sometimes manage to get the kids to stop fighting and retaliating? They’ve learned that showing respect for the position of the kids by listening makes a crucial difference. Only after the kids believe that they’ve been listened to and that their ideas have been understood, can they give others’ ideas a fair hearing.

Our kids aren’t all that different. Our willingness to listen – even when what we’re listening to sounds crazy, is the first step to helping. Almost always a greater awareness of our teen’s story will change how we feel. And this, in turn, will affect how we act and their response.

Your Parenting Experiences
Being bound together eventually created space for a conversation that helped the two sisters – who were arguing over one mister tonight – understand each other a bit better. And sometimes a confining place can help create space for conversations with our kids too. I found that riding in the car with my teens – sitting side-by-side with them – often seemed to provide just the kind of space they needed to let their guard down a little bit and open-up. How about you? Have you found a particularly good space for catching-up with your teen?

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