'This Is Us' Biggest Strength Is How Well It Understands Moms
Like most people I know, I've become a sort of rabid This Is Us fan. I seriously can't remember the last time I cared about fictional characters so much. (And admittedly, I care about a lot of fictional characters in general.) I just relate to so much of This Is Us' storylines, especially to Randall's anxiety and to the beauty and pain of motherhood as Rebecca experiences it. Rebecca has had to adjust her whole life so many times. From the decision to start a family to the reality of raising three children at once. Of course, she had to put her dreams on hold in doing so. In fact, when she and Jack discussed having children, she was really hesitant to give up their childless life. Her biggest hang-up was the fact that her biggest passion was music.
I mean, if Jack Pearson wanted to start a family with me, I'm not sure I'd hesitate for even half a second. (To be fair, I feel this way about my partner too. I do have three children, after all.) But singing was that important to Rebecca. Throughout the first season, we've gotten to see how all-consuming raising triplets was for Rebecca. She's spent all of this first season (and so much of their lives) constantly putting out various fires. She's struggled to parent each of her children who are all so wildly different. As her kids grow and become teenagers, we see that they don't need her like they used to. And as a mom with creative passions, I was so happy that she decided to follow her dreams once again.
Of course, being a parent means a lot of sacrifices. It can mean putting dreams on hold. But I love that, in the show, Rebecca found ways to put herself first again. There's no need for moms to be martyrs. I feel like so often we hear conflicting advice: "Your children have to be your priority!" "You have to fill your own cup first!" Like a lot of things in life, there's probably a happy medium between the two, but finding that is tough.
It wasn't the perfect time for Rebecca to start a family when Jack proposed it. But is it ever? Is there ever a time when you are truly ready for that big step? Will you ever have the right house? The right job? And similarly, with three teenagers in her house, it wasn't the perfect time for Rebecca to go on tour with her band.
Rebecca's children, especially her daughter, should get to see their mom following her passions. Life doesn't end when you have children. Any parent wants their own kids to follow their passions, and the best way to encourage that is to follow your own.
And, well, to be honest, I take issue with the Rebecca-shaming. She has a perfectly capable partner who can take over more of the parenting and domestic duties. Her kids are old enough to not need her as constantly. To me, it's a clear example of sexism. If Jack was a talented singer, would people be as quick to jump on him for going on tour? And more than it just being "OK" for Rebecca to go on tour as a mom, I think it was important. Rebecca's children, especially her daughter, should get to see their mom following her passions. Life doesn't end when you have children. Any parent wants their own kids to follow their passions, and the best way to encourage that is to follow your own.
Even when Rebecca struggled with caring for her babies and herself, her love for them was obvious. Even when she and Jack have rocky spots in their marriage, so much of their interactions are infused with joy. This Is Us just really nails how emotionally complex being a mother can be.
No matter how much you love your children, it doesn't keep you from loving all the things that came before them.
From the very first episode, This Is Us didn't shy away from portraying the realities of motherhood. The storylines were never going to be neat and sunshiny. I knew that the moment Rebecca lost one of her babies during delivery. Not many shows tackle pregnancy or infant loss, or if they do, that's the conclusion, the sad end to a storyline of a character who'll fade to the background. But with This Is Us, that profound loss was just the beginning. Somehow Rebecca had to mourn the loss of her child while tackling the monumental task of parenting triplets. As a mom who has suffered a pregnancy loss, I know how difficult that can be. In my case, I was parenting a single child while losing a pregnancy early on. And not that you can totally compare one loss with another, but my situation seemed easy in comparison. And as a show that set expectations of nuance and reality early on, This Is Us continued that trend. Just as Rebecca's storyline could have been over when she lost her baby, her singing career could have been over when she became a mom. But no matter how much you love your children, it doesn't keep you from loving all the things that came before them.
Motherhood is messy. It's sad and it's painful and it changes how we see the world and our place in it. This Is Us certainly gets that right. But it also portrays the joys. Even when Rebecca struggled with caring for her babies and herself, her love for them was obvious. Even when she and Jack have rocky spots in their marriage, so much of their interactions are infused with joy. This Is Us just really nails how emotionally complex being a mother can be.
I'm not a perfect mom, but I think I do a pretty good job of balancing my own needs with my kids'. I could focus on all the ways I am failing (messy house, letting my kids watch TV so I can work, etc.), but I really try to see all the things I am doing. My kids are nurtured and loved. And they get to see me being a creative person with my own interests. I'm happy when they see me reading a book for pleasure, because I hope that they'll enjoy reading. They understand to be careful around my various art projects, and sometimes they'll set up an easel next to mine. And they know that the thing I love to do most is write.
They know I love them, but they also know they aren't the only thing in my life that I value.
If my kids choose to have their own children one day, I hope they don't put their own interests aside. I hope they find a happy and balanced life. I think Rebecca is trying for that on This Is Us, and I'm happy for her. I'm happy for her just as surely as I am going to cry my eyes out in the upcoming finale. (Oh god, am I going to cry.)
Can we all please lay off mothers who decide to put themselves first once in a while? Rebecca is just filling her own cup — and so am I.