MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 19th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 23, The Wedding, Part I

The Teens Save the Day

The Framework
The wedding day gets off to a smooth start with Cam’s sunny greeting to Mitch: Good morning, my almost husband. But things get bumpier as the day goes on.

The first bump comes when Cam discovers that his perfectly tailored tux is not in the bag he’d picked up from the cleaners. The two almost husbands hurry to the cleaners (with Lily in tow) only to find the place closed. A call to 911 ends with this.
Cam (to dispatcher): Well, I guess we have different definitions of emergency. (And then to Mitch while looking at the cleaner’s express drop-off slot cut into the front of the building): There’s no way I can fit there.
But Lily comes through for her dads. After sighing, You two exhaust me, she climbs into the drop slot to retrieve Cam’s tux.

Over at the Dunphys, Claire tells Phil that they’re not going to the wedding without a very specific, turquoise, Italian glass bowl as a gift and asks him to pick it up after his eye exam. Alex is enlisted to do the driving because drops used during the exam will temporarily impair Phil’s vision. Later when buying the bowl and facing a long line at the checkout counter, Phil uses his impairment to his advantage.

Phil (grabbing a bamboo stick from a store display): I’m blind; follow me. Although
Alex insists, I’m not doing that, those waiting let Phil and his stick move to the front of the line.
Phil (to salesman while checking out the bowl and continuing his blind act): Yeah, that doesn’t feel like turquoise.
Salesman: You can feel color?! You gotta be kidding!!
Phil: When you lose one sense, all your other senses become heightened. That’s why you sound so loud and judgy to me.
Salesman: I don’t think [you’re] really blind.
Alex (coming to Phil’s rescue): Excuse me; my father suffered methanol poisoning on a humanitarian mission in Honduras, resulting in permanent neurological dysfunction and irreversible blindness … If he feels it’s not the bowl, it’s not the bowl.

Meanwhile, Claire picks up Luke from wilderness camp.
Claire: I feel bad you have to leave early. What are you missing today?
Luke: Boating.
Claire: Ohhh … I mean, we have a little time.
Luke: You don’t mind waiting in the car?!
The next thing you know, the two are in the middle of the lake in a motorboat going nowhere.
Luke (yanking on the pullchord): Not working.
Claire: And there’s no oar. We are literally up a creek without a paddle … We are never going to get [to the wedding] on time. And I’m the best person.
Minutes later, Luke, with a flash of insight, uses his fishing pole to snag a tree and reel the boat to shore.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
As much as we parents might like to maintain the relationships that seemed to work so well during the first twelve years of their lives, our teens insist that things be different. In the spirit of growing up and developing their own identity, our teens demand more say, more privacy, and less physical closeness. Their moodiness and heightened sensitivity can be particularly tough to deal with during early adolescence.

Case in point is this conversation between Claire and Luke as she picks him up from camp.
Claire: There’s my guy.
Luke: I thought Dad was picking me up.
Claire (looking hurt): Ohh, I missed you too. Come here. (trying to give him a hug) … I wanted to spend some time with you. You’ve been pushing me away so much lately … So did you have fun?
Luke: Yeah.
Claire: What was your favorite thing?
Luke: I don’t remember.
Claire: It was yesterday.
Luke: Hotdogs. Can we go now?

And there’s this from Phil and Alex just after Claire announces that she is picking Luke up from wilderness camp and that Alex can take Phil to his eye exam.
Phil: That’s a bummer.
Alex (hurt after overhearing): Ahh, Dad, I’m touched.
Phil: No, not because of you. I’d just rather pick-up Luke … than go to the eye doctor. I love spending time with you … Honey, don’t be like that. You’re super fun.

Andy (to Haley): I’ve been in this relationship off-and-on for eight years. So I kinda know what I’m doing.

As moms of teens, we can relate to this sentiment. We’ve been in a steady relationship with our teens for over twelve years. So it feels like we should know what we’re doing. But staying connected with our teens in a way that we (and they) welcome and value, is not as easy as the connections we had with them when they were younger.

Yet our connection with our teens is our most important asset as a parent. Because now that our kids have become teens, most of our parental power is in our influence. And our influence over our teens can be no stronger than our connection with them.

What’s a Mom to Do?
It helps if we remember that the diminished feeling of closeness is likely not rooted in a serious loss of love or respect between our teens and us. In fact, the distancing effect of adolescence is temporary and our relationships often become less strained during late adolescence.

In the meantime, needing your teen’s help can build connectedness. Tonight we saw Lily (acting like a six-year-old going on sixteen), Alex, and Luke all save the day by doing something that their parents could not have done as well.

Needing your teen’s help builds connectedness because interdependence is at the heart of parent-teen relationships. Your teen needs to be able to count on you, and you need to be able to count on your teen. Asking your teen for help with a task at which they are more talented or skilled than you are can foster this kind of interdependent connectedness.

My Parenting Experience
My daughter gave me first-hand proof of this when, one summer during her middle school years, I asked for her help with a task with which I’d been struggling for years: organizing the clothes in my closet in a way that would last. Using her artistry and logic she arranged everything in my closet by color like the crayons in a brand new box. She put all the tan items together, then whites, ivories, greens, blues, reds, and browns. Besides being an organizational scheme that helped me find my clothes, it was one that I could easily maintain.

I would not have come up with this idea on my own, and I was thrilled with the arrangement. My daughter delighted in knowing both these things. And, by needing her help, I was building an interdependent connectedness with her.

Your Parenting Experiences
When you have an interdependent connectedness with your teen, it makes everything on your parent to do list – things like making and enforcing rules, helping them learn from their mistakes, and coaxing them to reach their potential – a whole lot more doable and fun. Over the summer while your teen is on vacation and free from homework is a perfect time to need their help with some of your work. What task could your teen do with more talent or skill than you?

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on March 4th, 2013, 0 Comments

The Teen Stage

Season 4, Episode 17

The Framework

Tonight on Modern Family the four teens are on stage. Luke has a case of adolescent-stage fright about sending a message to a classmate he has a crush on, but he eventually lands a first date with her when his dad helps out by on-line chatting as him. And Manny is crushed when the romantic dinner he planned for the new nanny – a dinner complete with candles, love poems, pizza, and tiramisu – doesn’t even make it to first bite.

Meanwhile, Haley accepts her mom’s invite for a dinner date, bails on her, and then rejoins Claire to watch Alex play in her new band. But after the concert, just when it looks like Claire might get to have a double daughter mom-date, Alex (acting just like a teen) blows her off instead:

Claire: We’re going to get some dinner. Do you want to come with us? You can bring your friends from the band.

Alex: Ummm, no thanks. We’re (pointing to the band) actually going out. And I have a ride home. So see you guys later.

Alex (to her band friends): Oh, my God! Sorry about that.

Haley (to Claire): Did she just apologize for us.

Claire: Yep.

Haley: But we were just being nice.

Claire: Sucks doesn’t it?

Claire has a theory about the teen stage and what makes teens act the way they do. Actually it’s an analogy that Phil gave her:

Raising a kid is like sending a rocket ship to the moon. You spend the early years in constant contact. And then one day, around the teenage years, they go around to the dark side, and they’re gone. All you can do is wait for that faint signal that says they’re coming back.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

I can get onboard with Phil and Claire’s rocket ship analogy – at least as far as the moon. I can envision the soon-to-be-launched teen rocket being fueled as our kids’ physical maturation, their increased thinking capacity, and the intensified expectations placed on them all combine for their blastoff into adolescence. I can even use the Dunphy’s analogy to picture our kids extending away from us as they form their own identities. Our girls tend to extend away by revving their rocket engines in our faces while our boys tend to takeoff to their bedrooms and stay there for so long that they might as well have gone to the moon.

So I was right there with Claire and Phil on their moon mission for the firing of the rockets, the revving of the engines, and the takeoff. But when we got to the part about teens going around to the dark side and that all we can do is wait while they’re gone, I had to bail out.

We used to think that the Dunphy’s analogy pretty much described how things worked. For years psychologists told us that teens needed to separate from their parents so they could establish their own identity and become independent. We believed that during their early years kids were dependent on us – we were in constant contact as Claire put it. We thought of adolescence as a time when kids form their identity by venturing out on their own (to the dark side, so to speak) to discover who they are. And like Claire and Phil, we thought that about the only thing parents could do was wait, and if we waited long enough, our kids would eventually come back to us as fully individuated and independent adults. Sounds just about as plausible as when Claire described it, doesn’t it?

We now know that this theory about growing up is way too simplistic. Today experts agree that connection – not separation – is the foundation for strong parent and teen relationships. And this connection is not based on the dependence of a young child or the independence of a mature adult. Instead the connection is based on an in-between stage of interdependence.

Don’t get me wrong, though. If our teens are to do their job of forming an identity of their own, they have to keep us at arms length (hence the revving of their engines in our faces and the takeoffs for their bedrooms and beyond). If they didn’t work hard to extend away from us, they couldn’t be sure that the identities they’re forming are truly theirs and not just a copy of our opinions, values, and ideas.

So just to be clear: Our teen’s job is to extend away from us. And it’s our job to stay involved and connected to them– even as they extend away.

The BottomLine

Tonight Claire lamented to Haley: When you were little, we used to do everything together. And I thought maybe you were coming back around, and we could be friends again. I miss being part of my daughter’s life.

Take heart, Claire. Adolescence is a stage. It has an end. And while it’s true that conflict within families is particularly evident between daughters and mothers, it’s also true that the conflict typically increases and peaks during the early years of adolescence – around the age of thirteen or fourteen. So Haley is on her way back around.

Our kids do change. And it’s almost always for the better. It takes time, but they’ll eventually be friendlier on a more regular basis. They’ll be more cooperative, more responsible, and less argumentative. They’ll no longer criticize us constantly and disagree with all our ideas just because we happen to be in the same room with them.

Tonight Claire notices the transformation beginning to take place in Haley, remarking to Phil: Did you hear that?! First she complimented my fashion sense. And then she told me I did something right. I think it’s happening. Although Haley is not yet fully independent, we’re beginning to see glimpses of the adult she is becoming.

Flipping the Frame: From My Life as a Parent

We too can sometimes get a peek at the young adult our teens are working to become. Our best chance is often late night because that’s when teens tend to be most reflective and most able and willing to give us a window into their lives.

Even though I’m not quite the night owl my kids were as teens, I did find it was worth my while to occasionally make myself available late at night to connect with them. One word of caution though: I found that this was not the time to lecture or to probe them about some upcoming event in an attempt to calm my worries. If I did, the window into their lives quickly got slammed in my face. But if I stayed quiet and receptive, I was often rewarded with insights into their thinking and sometimes even a glimpse at the adult they were becoming.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• Claire and Phil talk about their kids going to the dark side of the moon during adolescence. When you think about the distance your teen has put between you and them, what kind of words or analogies do you use?

• Think back to your teen years when you were extending away from your parents. What kinds of things did you do to put distance between them and you?

• Have you noticed your teen actively extending a way from you? What kinds of things are they doing to keep you at arms length?

• Have you ever tried connecting with your teen late at night to get a glimpse into their lives? Have you found other times when you can get this kind of glimpse into the adult they are becoming?

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