Academic Writing

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

This Is Us and Building Resiliency

This is Us has been teasing us with Jack’s death for a season and a half now.  Every episode we seemed to have been getting a little closer to finding out how he died and why the kids are so screwed up over it.

Last week we finally found out.  In a self-referential post superbowl episode we find out that patriarch, Jack Pearson died from a heart attack following excessive smoke inhalation after not only rescuing his entire family from a fire, but Kate’s dog and a pillowcase full of family mementos.  

The entire series has painted Jack and Rebecca as amazing parents. They parented each kid according to their own needs.  They pushed them out of their comfort zones when they needed pushing and above all loved each one so wholley and individually.  So of course it's fitting that Jack's death occurred as one final act of selflessness in service to their children. Knowing his daughter would be crushed at the loss of her beloved dog, of course he went back to get him. Of course he would do anything to spare his daughter the hurt of losing a pet. Of course he went back to get Katie-bear her audition tape as a reminder of how much faith he had in her abilities of a singer. Furthermore, as the diligent husband he was, of course he went back to grab a necklace, a photo album, and other trinkets of their lives together. 

But maybe that's not what he should have done. 

Maybe he should have put his own life first in this instance and taught his family a different lesson. That pets aren't people. That trinkets can't replace the love of a husband. In what was his last act of fatherly and husbandly valor he lost sight of what was actually important - himself.  His presence in their lives. 

Jack was an amazing dad, but this was his fatal flaw. It's was made him mortal and imperfect. Thinking he could be all and do all for his family. Thinking he could forever shield his kids from pain and suffering is what caused the most pain and suffering. 

Seemingly, as a result of this final act which caused him more smoke inhalation and ultimately led to his death, he caused his family immeasurable sadness. Intentional or not, the show is saying that love and selflessness in service of your family is not ultimately what a good parent makes. I've been asking myself, how could two loving, emotionally stable and supportive parents produce such emotionally unstable children?  Kevin, Randall and Kate are all rife with different issues.  Kate’s obesity is linked with emotional eating, depression, feeling a lack of self-worth.  Kevin’s addiction issues that he’s inherited from his father is coupled with his narcissistic personality and impulse control issues.  Randall struggles with his own anxiety disorder. 

So what happened to these three kids whose parents loved and supported them?  They had a dad who did love them and wanted the best for them, but he also overestimated his mortality and by doing so, for instance, didn't teach his daughter that suffering a loss of a pet is easier to overcome than suffering the loss of a parent.  They didn’t allow their children to struggle with the small stuff to build resiliency for when the big stuff hit.  It’s those relatively small moments of despair and sadness in our lives that what strengthen us for the big ones and it’s a parent’s job to help children through the small(er) tragedies and to give them the support and resilience so that when they have to face the big ones – either alone or with said parent – they have the tools to do so.

In an age of television where parenting has become a contest of who can be the most selfish (see: Blackish, Modern Family, and others) THIS IS US offers a glimpse into a different model of parenting where the kids needs are actually put first. For the most part it's beautiful and refreshing, but it also reminds us that parents need to remember that teaching resilience through allowing their kids short term pain will give them the tools for emotional stability later on. 

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