MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on January 12th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 11, The Day We Almost Died

Claire is Controlling Even When She Tries Not to Be

The kids have Friday off from school, and as tonight’s episode opens the Dunphys are driving home from a trip to the pancake house. Phil is at the wheel, as laidback as ever, while Claire (predictably) acts like she owns all the controls.
Claire (phoning Mitchell): Mitch, hi. What? … (then to the kids riding in the back) I can’t hear him. I can’t even hear myself. Everybody just shut up!!!

With the noise under control, Claire now takes control of her conversation with Mitch.
Claire: I need you to send a gift to Mom for her birthday from the both of us.
Mitch: No, I did it last year.
Claire: I know, and I need you to do it again. Look, I’ve got a conference call at 1:20. Then Luke’s tutor comes to the house, 2:45 sales meeting, and I still gotta get Alex to judo.
Mitch: And yet you somehow find time to bitch at me. Wow! You really can have it all.

Then suddenly a big truck barrels through a stop sign, missing the Dunphy’s car by inches. No one gets hurt, but the brush with death leaves everyone shaken.

Claire and Phil respond to their near miss with death by changing how they think about control.
Phil (to his family): Something hit me this morning – when that truck didn’t hit me this morning. I have not been in control of my own life. But those days are done … And if me getting what I want inconveniences people a little, so be it.

Claire (confiding to Mitch): Do you know what I was doing when I almost died? … Scheduling my life down to the last minute. [But] today made me realize something. We are not control freaks. We don’t [need to] sweat the small stuff. Just let it go.

The Framework
Tonight’s episode is all about control. Parenting teens is too.

Some parents think they own the controls. And they use lectures and threats to try to keep it that way. Teens parented this way are likely to become secretive, dedicating all their energy to sneaking around and outsmarting their parents’ controlling tactics.

Other parents choose to relinquish almost all control. They place few demands on their teens and give them more freedom than they’ve earned or than they’re ready for. Teens parented this way often fail to learn that past behavior matters, and they are likely to get the impressions that they’re entitled to whatever they want.

Claire (to Phil): Oh, honey, you spent the whole day trying to control everything. And I spent the entire today trying not to. And neither way worked.

Neither way – trying to control everything or totally opting out – works when parenting teens either. But often our deepest desire to do what is right for our kids means that we (like Claire and Phil) lean too far in one directions or the other.

When our kids were younger, we controlled all the action. Many of us would like to maintain that same relationship. Like Claire, we’re controlling even when we’re trying not to be. After all those tactics worked really well for the first twelve years of our kids’ lives.

Sometimes, though, we lean too far in the other direction. We so value our close relationships with our teens that we become reluctant to set limits or discipline them. Lots of well-meaning moms fear they’ll lose their teen’s love if they make and enforce rules.

Separating from the control of adults (especially their parents) is the teen agenda. In the spirit of growing up, they cannot allow our old relationships with them to continue. If they did, they’d live with us forever.

Yet teens lack experience and their brains are still under construction. This means that they don’t always prioritize or foresee things the same way we adults do. So even though they’ll almost never tell us directly, our teens are counting on us to provide guidance by making rules, and they’re counting on us to hold them accountable when they mess-up.

What’s a Mom to Do?
We’re at our best when we parent from the middle of the control spectrum. From this sweet spot, we neither act like we own the controls nor relinquish the controls completely. Instead, we help our teens manage the controls.

To help you find your sweet spot, take a few minutes to think about the path you’re currently on with your teen. Then make a list of 10 things that would make the path a lot smoother – things that would make a huge difference for good in your family life.

Now go back and put a question mark next to any of the things on your list that would require your teen or someone else to change. Then put a “C” for control next to the things left unmarked. These are the things on that list that you have direct power to change.

Next look back at the things on the list labeled with a question mark. Which of those things can you affect or sway if you work hard to interact with care, sincerity, and persistence? Mark those things with an “I” for influence.

Truth be told, once our kids become teens we can only really control two things when it comes to their lives: We can control how we spend our resources on them. And, we can control much of what they do in our homes – if we’re there and paying attention.

Yet, as we give up control, we can gain power through our influence. This starts with staying connected to our teens because our influence can be no stronger than our connection with them. Then we must use our influence wisely by focusing on the things that really matter and directing our energy towards affecting those.

Your Parenting Experiences
In general, where do you think you are on the control spectrum? Are you more likely to want to take control, like Claire? Or are you more laidback, like Phil? Are you purposefully more hands-on about some things and more hands-off about others? What do you think your teen would say?

I'd love to have you become a regular reader. Join my mailing list to be notified by email of new blog posts here. And if you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on Facebook below.

MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 5th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 21, Sleeper

The Dads Fall Asleep at the Wheel

The Framework
This week’s half-hour contained at least six subplots – each with a different sticky situation. What caught my attention through all the fast paced action was the interaction between the fathers and their children. Due to a bizarre bout of narcolepsy, Phil literally falls asleep at the wheel while driving – and talking to Alex. Meanwhile the kids in the other two households complain about their fathers’ inattentiveness.

Mitchell complains that his dad doesn’t notice him.
Mitchell (playing a player piano): I’m pretty good, huh?
Jay: Yeah. But you were always good. I’m just glad you stuck with it.
Mitchell: Seriously?!
Jay: What?
Mitchell: It’s playing itself!
Jay: Well, I didn’t know.
Mitchell: You honestly thought I just became a piano virtuoso, Dad? You’ve know me my whole life. Have you ever seen me take a lesson?
Jay: I thought maybe you were self-taught.
Mitchell: I’m sorry, you’re right. Like when I taught myself to play the clarinet.
Jay: Exactly!

Mitchell: I never played the clarinet!
Jay: Can we drop it? Let’s go get an ice cream.
Mitchell: What about my lactose intolerance?!
Jay: Oh, I’m not loving this game.

Manny also feels that he has to compete for Jay’s attention.
Gloria (to Manny who comes into the house limping): What happened?
Manny: It was something stupid I was trying out. And I don’t know why. Since it’s basically impossible.
Jay (entering the house with his dog Stella riding a skateboard): Gloria! Gloria! Check it out! Is this the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?! She did it on her first try.
Manny: Sure rub it in, Jay! … Now she’s just showing off.

And Lily insists that she too has been forgotten by one of her dads.
Claire (to Cam): I’m so sorry it took me so long to get you these clothes. I left them in the back of my car and completely forgot about them.
Lily: Sounds familiar.
Cam (to Lily): I was in the pharmacy for three minutes. You had a cracked window and a juice box. Can we retire that story?!

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Tonight we got a window into the importance kids place on their relationships with their fathers. While there is no single right way for fathers to be involved, the research is clear that children with involved fathers have an advantage – socially and academically – over kids with distant or no relationship with their dads. When the dad is involved, kids have higher self-esteem and are less likely to be depressed. In addition, quality father and child time means kids have fewer behavioral problems, more confidence, more social competence, and higher grades in school.

In short, fathers who are involved with their kids, have kids with fewer problems. This holds true even when the father doesn’t live in the same home as the child. And, of course, someone other than the birth father – an adoptive father, a stepdad, an uncle, grandfather, good friend, or other close acquaintance – can provide a beneficial male influence.

Jay (to Mitchell): If it seems sometimes I don’t notice you, it’s because [I’m] focused on [my] own stupid problems.

Some fathers seem to withdraw from their role as a father during their kids’ teen years. As Jay explained, sometimes fathers withdraw due to the stresses and busyness of their own lives. Sometimes it’s in response to a teen’s pushing away as they battle for independence. But sometimes dads are less involved because we moms have convinced our co-parent that we know best and that we’re in-charge.

Regardless of the reason, a reduction in a father’s availability and guidance during the teen years can put kids at a disadvantage.

What’s a Mom to Do?
A few years back a study in the Journal of Family Psychology described the impact moms have on a dad’s fathering. The researchers found that when mothers criticized their co-parents’ efforts, it caused them to lose confidence, become discouraged, and even withdraw from helping. But when moms encouraged and praised the fathers’ efforts, they took a more active parenting role.

Although the study looked at day-to-day care of an infant, similar dynamics play out in households with older children. Of course there are exceptions, but by and large we moms are the gatekeepers by either encouraging or curtailing how much fathers are involved in parenting. Even when dads think they should be involved, if we are highly critical of their parenting efforts, the fathers’ beliefs about the importance of his involvement don’t matter.

Kids with highly involved dads have an advantage, so we moms need to be careful about how we’re shaping the role of fathers. Below are a few tips to help us open the gate to our co-parent’s involvement in our kids’ lives:

Point out the positive results you see from their father’s efforts. For example, when he juggles his schedule to fit into the kids’ lives (even if you’re of the mind that this is just part of his job as a dad), let him know that it was appreciated. And when he’s not able to be at some event in your teen’s life but calls or texts to let your teen know he’s thinking about them, make sure he knows how much that meant to your teen.

Give him advice and hints in a non-threatening way. When differences in parenting styles come up, we moms are often viewed as the “expert.” And sometimes we send the message to dads that we want them involved but only in a specific way. Instead of responding to what you think is the “wrong way” to parent with exasperated sighs or rolling eyes, consider asking Can we talk about this? Or Would you like me to tell you what I’ve learned that seems to work in situations like this one?

Don’t disagree in front of the kids. If you disagree with a decision your children’s father makes regarding the kids or something he says to the kids, discuss it with him later in private. Unless it is something way out of line, support him in front of the kids.

Beginning when our children were newborns, we moms are likely to have done more of the explicit nurturing. Even now that our kids are teens, when something goes wrong, our first instinct is still often to sooth and comfort. A father’s first instinct is more likely to be about helping them learn a valuable lesson. So our kids will tend to gravitate to us when they are upset or ill; in the middle of the night they call our name. But they tend to listen more closely to their father’s advice.

Your Parenting Experiences
Our parenting style is often quite different than our co-parent’s style. Many times our differences complement or balance each other. So with some work, we can turn our differences into an asset. How have you worked out differences in parenting style with your co-parent?

I'd love to have you become a regular reader. Join my mailing list to be notified by email of new blog posts here. And if you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on Facebook below.

© 2024 Roxane Lehmann, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.