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 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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