This Is Us, the new TV show that has become my favorite, really messed with me this week. There was a moment in this week’s episode that hit me so hard, I’ll be honest, it took me some time to recover. I was so glad that my kids and husband were asleep when I watched it because I don’t even know how I would explain the puddle that I became while watching the show. The premise this week was that the mother had kept a secret from her adopted son, his entire life, and he discovered it. He was hurt and betrayed and angry…and while he processed all of those valid emotions, with the help of his (deceased) father, he gained the ability to look at the situation in a completely new way, and that the moment was powerful. It really overwhelmed me.
The scene was a flashback to 20-some years prior, (with the (deceased) father and son viewing their younger family thru a window (as if they were the ghosts of Christmas past)). The scene was this mom and dad, in a happy time at their family cabin, with their three 9-year-old children playing a game and enjoying one another’s company…laughing, happy, everything looks perfect. Then, the “Ghost-of-Christmas-Past” dad urged the present day son to look deeper at the scene, he told him to “look through it, it’s right in front of you”…and suddenly the son saw the mother in that same room by herself, her face stricken, fearful, burdened. She ran to the door, paranoid, checked 3 locks, checked and rechecked windows. This mother was panicked and afraid. You immediately understood the message, this mom was leading a parallel life, one half the happy mom loving her life, and the other half, the mom who is filled with fear and doubt.
In that moment, I felt like this mother was all of us mothers. And when the dad had the son look closely at the scene that they were observing, so that he could see that while the mom was taking care of him and his siblings, she was carrying this fear with her, the fact that the dad understood the burden the mom carried with her, that was another moment of ruin for me. All these years I’m over here feeling as though this is the unspoken truth. Parenthood on television is painted with such sweeping generalizations that the realities are buried. And the fact that this show and that moment captured something so overlooked; the duality of parenthood and the complexities of being happy and sad all at the same time, well it made me feel exposed.
It spoke to my reality and that as parent, I am always afraid. While I feel alone in that concept, I’m certain that it isn’t just me. But fear can be isolating. You look around you and things seem normal and you wonder “why do I feel afraid? why won’t it go away?”. And as happy and grateful I am as I mom, there is this monkey on my back that is with me everywhere, and it’s that fear that drove that mom to check the locks on the doors and windows. I too am afraid. I am afraid of my kids getting hurt, afraid of letting them down, afraid of failing them and as they turn into tweens, I am afraid of them encountering drugs, sex, social media, heartbreak, broken bones, concussions. Fear has become my constant companion since I entered the parenthood realm. And while I’m not generally a fearful person, with with my kids, it’s not an exaggeration to say that I feel the weight of my responsibility to them every moment of my life. It is the undercurrent and in the subtext of everything I do…
So here I thought I was suffering in silence, and along comes This Is Us and they blow it out of the water. So to them, I would like to say thank you. Thank you to the writers of this show, for really getting it, for letting the mothers pain be seen and also getting to a place where the son, with the guidance of his father, in a huge display of empathy, which we all need more of these days, got it, really truly saw and understood what the mom was feeling. I feel often as a mom, we aren’t seen, so this fear that we carry it can make you feel slightly invisible, isolated…a little lonely. You minimize it because it seems extreme, you feel silly, maybe you get push back from your children, or your partner so at times you feel misunderstood. But the fear is driven by the love, and therein sometimes lies the misunderstanding. There wouldn’t be one without the other. They are the parents cross to bear.
At the end of the show, when in “real life” and real-time the son went to confront the mom about her secret, he ended up saying, “that must have been really lonely”…Wow.
Oh to be seen, and further, to be understood. Now that is powerful.
So, This Is Us, you’ve gone and ruined me again…Well done. You nailed it.