Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on October 10th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 2, The Day Alex Left for College

Plotline: Alex Gets Her First College Lesson
Alex comes downstairs with a single suitcase and a lone duffle bag.
Claire: Look at my conscientious little girl getting ready to leave for college a whole day early.
Alex: I’m leaving today.
Claire: What? No. No, no. I was gonna make your favorite meal for dinner, and then we were gonna fight because of separation anxiety, and then tomorrow morning, we would make up before you leave for good.
Alex: This is exactly why I didn’t tell you! … I have never felt better about a decision.

Alex gives her parents the wrong move-in date and gets Haley to drive her to school to avoid making it a big deal. And because she feels so ready. As she confides to Haley: Do you know how long I’ve been dreaming about this day? I’m just really ready for this. I’m finally surrounded by smart, curious people.

Then she meets her roommate.
Maisie: Hi! You must be Alex. I’m your roomie. I’m Maisie. My dad says it’s short for Amazing, but it’s not.
Alex: Wait, I picked a different…
Maisie: Roommate? I know. She got sick. She got a panic attack. Anyways, they denied her visa, and she’s still in Norway.
Alex: Uh, how old are you?
Maisie: Oh, I’m 15, but I’ve seen four R-rated movies already.

Things go downhill from there. And as soon as Maisie leaves the room, Alex begins punching numbers into her cell phone.
Alex: This ends now.
Haley: What are you doing?
Alex: What do you think I’m doing? I’m getting rid of her. I’m calling my advisor and getting a new roommate.

(Click here to see how Haley intervenes to teach Alex her first lesson about roommates.)

Freshman year of college may be the only time that our kids will spend a year living with a total stranger in a hundred-square-foot room. As much as we might hope that our student will get along perfectly with the other student who shares their close quarters, it doesn’t always turn out that way. As Alex found out, roommates won’t always be what was hoped for or expected. And even the most compatible roomies will have disagreements.

Until students are in the situation, it’s hard for them to know what it will take to get along. And many students won’t know how to fix things when there is a conflict. So don’t be surprised if your phone rings with your unglued college freshman on the other end, complaining about their roommate.

When that call comes, it’s easy to get caught up in your student’s frustration and pain. But if, instead, you strive to see this as an opportunity for them to learn some things about getting along with others, you’ll be better able to provide the warm, sturdy support they need.

To be most helpful, first ask what they’ve tried. Listen. And then, when the time is right, fill-in what’s missing. The following are some talking points for you to use when you fill them in.

Adjust expectations. It helps if students understand that issues are a normal part of good relationships. Knowing that there are bound to be conflicts can help your student take things in stride.

Address things when they’re small. Talk about what’s bothering you as soon as possible. But don’t confront your roommate when you’re upset or when your roommate is dashing off to class or when you’re in front of others.

Agree on a time to talk. You’ll have a better chance of getting your roommate’s attention if you start with a sentence or two like: There’s something important I’d like to talk about. Is this a good time for you? If not, ask to set a specific time later that day or week.

Try to approach the problem in the way you’d want to be approached. Be assertive without blaming or being angry. Don’t apologize for bringing up the issue. If you do, you may not be taken seriously. But don’t suggest that they’re a horrible person either. That’ll just make them defensive. Instead remind yourself of any good things your roommate brings to the relationship. And strive to come across as a nice, reasonable person talking to another nice, reasonable person.

For example, let’s say the problem is about cleaning (one of the biggest areas of roommate conflict). Don’t begin with: You’re such a slob. I can’t even find my desk because of all your junk. Instead try: I need to stay organized, and I can’t when your stuff is all over. Beginning with “I” instead of “you” will make it easier for your roommate to hear and will connect how your roommate’s actions (or inactions) are affecting you.

After stating your case, listen to your roommate’s side of the story without becoming defensive. Assume your roommate didn’t setout to make your life miserable. Respect their point of view. Try to stay curious about why a nice, reasonable person might act the way your roommate does. And be open to the idea that you may be doing some pretty irritating things too.

Come up with a solution that both of you can live with. Neither of you may leave 100% happy. But if both of you are trying to get along and you’re both being honest and open, chances are you’ll be able to come up with a fair compromise.

Know when it’s time to switch. You’re entitled to a reasonable roommate. So if you’ve tried compromising and tactful reminders, speak with your resident assistant (RA) who is trained and paid to help with problems like this. If that doesn’t fix the problem, it’s time to insist on a new roommate or a new room.

Tonight, Alex gets her first college lesson before classes even start. Chances are it won’t be her last lesson on the topic. But the lessons learned will have enduring value. After all, knowing how to bring up a problem and compromise with a roommate isn’t a skill that only new college students need. Sharing an apartment or a home can be just as complicated.

Connecting Lines:
Tape Modern Family and use it to connect with your kids – whether they’re teens or young adults. You might be surprised how much you’ll laugh together while watching and learn from each other in the conversations that follow.

Below are a few conversation starters for this episode:
Nobody likes to bring up a problem. But relationships are stronger if you talk things out when there’s an issue. So what would the conversation sound like if…
– Your friend borrowed your putter (or favorite pair of earrings) and hasn’t given it/them back.
– Your friend constantly leaves candy wrappers and empty pop cans in your car.

Sources and Resources: “Roommate Relationships” from BWell Health Promotion at Brown University, Picture from ABC

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 25th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 24, American Skyper

Even the American Skyper Phil Can’t Solve Everything

The Framework
Tonight Alex graduates from high school. Phil, who can’t make it home from a business trip, is forced to attend the family celebration by a robot on Skype.
Phil: How great is this thing, huh? It’s so convenient. It’s like I’m right there in the room with you guys.

The house is especially full with visitors tonight – including Andy’s girlfriend Beth. And it really does feel as though Phil is right there in the house with them. In fact, practically everyone (except for Jay who shuts him in the bathroom) seeks Phil out to dump their problems on him.

Claire: [I got Alex] a key chain with a picture of me and [her] on her first day of school. I wanted her to have something that reminded her of how much I love her.
But later there’s this.
Claire: Honey, the key chain was a bust. I need something else. Quick.
Phil: Why don’t we just sing that song I wrote her … Good thing I brought my ukulele on the trip.
Claire: Trip! Oh! When Alex was little, I took her for brunch at that cute little Dutch town up north. I-I could take her there again. A trip for just the two of us. It’s perfect.
And then there’s this.
Claire: You’re never gonna believe what my dad did.
Phil: Lock you in the bathroom?
Claire: No. He gave Alex a trip to Europe for her graduation present. There’s no way I can now give her a weekend of Dutch pancake balls after that.

Cam: Phil, I need to talk to you, man to man. I think Mitchell’s having an affair.

Mitchell: We had some budget cuts at the office, and a bunch of us got laid off … I didn’t tell Cam because I was embarrassed, but also because I knew I would get another job like that. But it’s been a month …
Phil: Mitchell, you can talk to me. I’m a realtor.

Andy: Hey, Mr. D. Can we talk? … I’ve been getting some signals from Beth that she wants me to propose. I even have a ring. [But] there’s this other girl, and I feel like I have a serious connection with her, but I just don’t know how she feels.
Phil: It’s natural to wonder about a different path, but if you truly love Beth, you should propose.
Andy: You’re right. I’ll do it. There’s this place she loves by the ocean. I’ll take her there and propose at sunset.

Haley: Hey, Dad, can we talk? … Everyone thinks Beth is so great, but I think she’s crazy. She’s been after me all day … [because] she thinks I’m in love with Andy.
Phil: Are you?
Haley: No. I mean, I care about him. He makes me laugh. I like spending time with him.
Phil: Well, do you think about him when he’s not around?
Haley: I guess. Sometimes, I see something funny and I think, “Oh, Andy would love that. I wish he were here so I could share it with him.”
Phil: Honey, I know I’m just a robot, but that sounds like love to me.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Modern Family has just been renewed for another season – which means that the show will have to deal with tonight’s guest of honor going off to college. And Phil gets a lot of practice tonight at the long-distance relationship that will be required.

Of course, there have been other, earlier transitions in kids’ lives – like starting kindergarten and going off to their first summer camp – but no transition is bigger than that of graduating from high school and leaving home for college. And the leaving for college thing is not just a transition for our kids – it’s a transition for us as well.

Alex: Hey, Mom … I wanted to give you a present.
Claire: Me? No. Honey, I want to give you a present. That’s what I’ve been trying to do all day. You are the last person who should give me anything.
Alex: You got me here. You got me to graduation. To Caltech. You did it. And you’re done. … I want you to go to Europe with me.

Truth be told, it’s Phil’s experience tonight – not Claire’s – that better foreshadows the interactions to come as our teens get set to take off for college.

For starters, a soon-to-be college kid’s focus is likely to be outside the family. So don’t count on yours inviting you to tag along to Europe (or anywhere else they happen to be going) this summer. And although you’ll probably invite them to do all kinds of things with you before they leave, they’re likely to say “no” almost every time.

Plus, while Alex assured Claire that she was now “done” at her job as a parent, it’s likely that things couldn’t be further from the truth for most of us moms. In fact, the dumping-on that Phil got tonight should help prepare us for the almost inevitable calls from our distraught teens during their freshman year at college.

What’s a Mom to Do
Here are some ideas to help make the college transition easier on you and your teen.

Invite your soon-to-be college kid to do things with you, but don’t be surprised if they say “no.” Your teen’s focus is likely to be elsewhere this summer. But the extent to which they stretch and extend themselves in healthy ways over this transition time is largely dependent on how connected they feel to home. So invite them to do all kinds of things with you and the rest of the family. But don’t guilt-trip them into doing something they don’t want to do. And don’t let yourself feel hurt when they say “no.” Because then you’ll stop asking just when your teen needs you to reach out more than ever. Instead, be content with knowing that the reaching-out and inviting is what deepens the connection – especially during this huge transition time.

Establish some guidelines for regular communication while they’re away. Before they leave for college, come up with a communication plan that will work best for both of you. Decide together about how often you want to connect, what method you will use to communicate, and what time is best. Many families decide on a once-a-week phone call and set a regular time and day of the week to check-in. Sunday afternoons often work well. These might be FaceTime or Skype calls with the entire family.

In between these scheduled calls, you can keep in-touch by email or texts. But don’t be hurt if the correspondence is one-sided. In fact, it’s best to not expect an immediate reply or any reply to every one. Trust that the connection is being made. Like the invitations to do things together this summer, it’s the overture that counts.

Remind them that you’ll still be there for them if they need help.
When our kids take off for college, we have less oversight than we’ve ever had before. However, we still have lots of influence. And if we create an atmosphere of open communication before they leave, they’re more likely turn to us for guidance if they need help. So set some time aside this summer to discuss your new role and theirs. Below are some talking points to help get the discussion started.
– What choices, decisions or problems do you expect them to handle (at least at first) on their own?
– What decisions do you expect to have input on?
– At what point should your teen ask for help?
– In what situations would your teen want a friend or roommate to call you or the counseling center?

At the end of tonight’s episode as Andy gets set to take Beth for a drive to catch the sunset and propose, Phil tries desperately to get his attention.
Phil: It’s Haley! Haley’s the girl! You love Ha– (no audio) love each other! Where are you going? You guys love each oth– You’re making a huge mistake!

When the audio fails, we’re left dangling with no resolution about whether Haley and Andy will end up together. Perhaps this is just the writers’ way of making sure we tune-in for Season 7. But it’s also true to life. Because in reality, even if we have the most sophisticated telecommunication system available and the best parenting skills possible, we still can’t fix our kids’ problems for them.

This is never truer than when they’re away at college. But we can still be there for them – caring about them, remembering them, listening to them, and influencing them – from a distance.

Your Parenting Experiences
Have you found a particularly good source of advice for launching college kids? One of my all time favorites is The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College by Harlan Cohen. It gives a great behind-the-scenes look at campus life – for college freshman and their parents. No topic is taboo. A new, 6th edition just came out.

Sources and Resources: by the Jed Foundation; Staying Connected to Your Teenager by Michael Riera, PhD; The Launching Years by Laura Kastner, PhD and Jennifer Wyatt, PhD; The Naked Roommate by Harlan Cohen

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