MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on December 9th, 2013, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 9, The Big Game

Space Matters

The Framework
Tonight’s episode reminds just how much space matters – the space between the letters in graffiti as well as the space between individuals that helps each of us define and protect who we are at our core.

The kids are busy trying on new things and new priorities as they do the work of defining who they are.
Haley is back in school. She seems to be taking it more seriously this time around while putting a little space between herself and Dylan in the process.
Dylan: We should see a midnight movie like old times.
Haley: Oh my God! I’m so in! Ohh… ooh. Could we do it earlier? I have a midterm tomorrow.

Alex is rethinking the status of her social life.
Haley: Wow! You really are invisible, huh?
Alex: I could not be more fine with it.
Haley: You’re like the guy from that movie who wishes he was never born.
Alex: “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Haley: You say that, but do you mean it?
By the show’s end, it seems that Haley may be on to something here.

Manny is trying on football. Coach Cam wants Manny to be a competitive player but ends up giving Manny a little space to figure out for himself what’s most important. Jay, who seems to have less respect for boundaries, too has hopes for Manny.
Manny: If you’re at the store later, could you pick up some ice? I’m gonna need it after the game.
Jay: My little athlete…
Manny: I want to try out the gelato maker I traded my bike for.
Jay: …Lures me in every time.

And precocious Lily (with a little help from Gloria) is learning some lessons about personal space and boundaries. As her teacher reports: One of the boys, Patrick, said that Lily pushed him down and tried to kiss him.

Meanwhile the adults are dealing with space and boundary issues of their own. Claire is still trying to define who she is at her new job: I want them to see me like a coworker – not somebody who is getting special treatment because she’s the boss’s daughter.
Mitch is letting his boss walk all over him with lines that have a familiar, parental ring. Lines like: You really let me down. And I expected so much more of you.
And Cam shouts I won! I won! I mean, we won! We won! as he struggles to juggle his desire to be the coach his freshman team needs with his own need to be the winningest first year coach in the school’s history:

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
We are all a part of various collectives – including our relationships at home as well as at school or work. But we are also individuals. And having space and boundaries that separate who we are as a person from everyone else helps keep us from becoming resentful, overbearing, or unhealthily dependent on others.

Children’s identities are extensions of their parents. But teens begin to recognize their uniqueness and to develop a sense of self. In fact, this is one of the most important tasks of adolescence. If all goes well, teens emerge from adolescence knowing and trusting themselves and valuing their own attributes. Of course, having an overbearing boss (like Mitch’s), working for a parent (like Claire is), or simply going home for the holidays can sometimes require even the most mature adult to step back and set some limitations to keep their identity intact.

Jay (about Claire): Your own kid, embarrassed to be seen with you. I mean you spend your whole life… (and later to Claire as he holds up a mug with “#1 Dad” inscribed on it): You gave me this. Look how adorable you were.
Claire: I want you to try really hard to hear what I’m saying. When I need your help, I’ll ask for it. Until then, just butt out.
Jay: Well, you’re still my daughter. … You’re the only one I carry home in my arms.

Although our teens are hardly ever this polite as they do it, Claire’s lines capture their sentiment as they push us away to create the space they need to disentangle their identities from ours. And as Jay’s lines attest, it can hurt to be a parent and to be so pointedly pushed away. It can be even more painful as our teens, in the process of extending away, point out what they see as enormous flaws in our mannerisms, our beliefs, and our decisions.

What’s a Mom to Do
Our teen’s job is to differentiate themselves from us and develop their own identity by trying on new things and extending away from us. Our job is to stay connected to them while giving them enough space to do their job. Here are some tips to keep in mind as we do our job:

You can and do make a difference. When our teens declare they are not a little kid anymore and no longer need us, we might respond with a gentle reminder, “I know, but I’m still your mom.” Study after study confirms that parents are a crucial source of information and feedback about relationships, values, decision-making, and consequences of one’s actions. We have more influence than anyone else.

Rather than focusing on all the things in your teen’s life that you’re concerned about, try to focus on the things that you can influence. When we focus on our worries, we tend to lecture, criticize, and blame. This kind of negative messaging diminishes our influence with our teens. On the other hand, when we focus on the things that we can actually do something about, we tend to listen, to be curious and more creative, and to look for ways that we can collaborate – all things that add to our influence with our teens.

To parent well takes some faith in the learning process. Although our influence can and does make an enormous difference, there is a limit to our influence. We now have less knowledge about their lives and less control over their actions than when they were younger. Plus, even when we can intervene, it’s sometimes best to observe watchfully from a distance as our teens experience and learn for themselves. Because sometimes when we stay out of the process, our teens learn more with outcomes that are both better and more long-term.

Your teen’s expressions of dissatisfaction are not a good gauge of the job you’re doing as a parent. Being a parent requires that we take on certain obligations – like setting limits, making rules, offering guidance, and holding our teens accountable. It’s our job to say “no” and to mete out consequences when we need to. So sometimes doing our job well means that our teens will be unhappy with us and our decisions. You can almost guarantee it.

Although they’ll almost never tell you directly, your teen cares deeply about you and your opinions. Especially during tough times or transitions (like second semester senior year), it’s helpful to stay focused on maintaining our connection with our teens. We need to keep reaching out to them and inviting them to do things with us even if they keep turning us down. Because our reaching out strengthens our connection with them. And the stronger our connection, the more influence our opinions will have.

Adolescence is a stage. It’s easy to forget when you’re in the middle of a dispute with your teen, but someday things will be different. As your teen grows-up, your relationship with them will evolve. If you stay connected to them now – despite the hassles and heartache – while giving them the space they need to figure out who they are, chances are good that you’ll feel close again one day. You can almost guarantee it.

Your Parenting Experiences
Tonight Phil’s effort to reach out to his kids is met with little enthusiasm. But he seems unfazed by the rejection.
Phil (to his kids): I’ll see you guys at the game!
Luke: Unph!
Phil: There is no “unph” in “Dunphy!” …Different spelling.

How do these scenes play out at your house?

Sources: Staying Connected to Your Teenager by Michael Riera

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