What do you get when you combine a pair of parents, a set of triplets, an adopted child, and a plot that moves from flashbacks to present day? You get a lot of tears, a lot of smiles, a lot of warmth, and a really big cast.
“This Is Us” is NBC’s Emmy Award-winning sitcom, and if you haven’t guessed, “us” doesn’t just refer to the family in the show. The story line follows the Pearson family through the decades, documenting the lives of mom and dad Jack and Rebecca as young parents to their triplets, Kevin, Randall, and Kate, a.k.a “The Big Three” to the present, in which the now 37-year-old triplets are trying to navigate through their adult lives in light of their not so idyllic past.
Sound a little familiar? The more you watch “This Is Us,” you will begin to realize that this is not just the story of the Pearson family, but the story of every family. Here are some life lessons “This Is Us” has delivered in a rare blend of comedy, drama, adventure, and overall, love.
*Featured image editorial credit: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com
Let He Who Is Free Of Sin Cast the First Stone
The first thing we learn from watching “This Is Us,” is that not everything is black and white, and that doesn’t just refer to skin tone. When we first meet William Hill, Randall’s biological father, our impression is less than positive. William lives in a small apartment, is a recovering drug addict, and has had no contact with Randall for years, and seemingly has no desire to do so. But as they say, “Don’t judge me (William), until you’ve walked a mile in my (William’s) shoes,” and it’s a lesson that Randall learns well.
When Randall gets to know his father better, he comes to realize that not all of the choices William made were easy for him to make, and at times, he was more of a victim of circumstance than the cold-hearted criminal he would appear to be. The positive outcome of Randall’s ability to give William a second chance shows that when we judge, we often end up depriving ourselves as well as the one we are judging, and after all, we are not all monsters so much as flawed human beings.
Sibling Rivalry Is Thicker Than Water
If ”blood runs thicker than water,” then it is clear that sibling rivalry runs deeper than all other rivalries, and no show puts that into perspective quite like “This Is Us.” Although we might think of sibling rivalry as something we outgrow in time, when Kevin and Randall mature, their issues grow right along with them. In childhood, Kevin constantly bullied Randall, and as an adult he is constantly seeking Randall’s approval. How do we explain the seemingly contradictory behavior? Real life psychiatrist Amy Cooper Hakim suggests that it was because Jack and Rebecca tried so desperately to make Randall fit in and feel loved, that they unintentionally paid less attention to Kevin. As a result, Kevin developed animosity towards his brother and parents, which only grew with time.
How can you prevent this from happening in your family? Hakim says the key is to focus on each child as an individual. Find something special and unique in each child and use that to encourage your children rather than comparing them. If the problem persists into adulthood, Hakim says the solution is in the hands of the competitors, and cautions that the only way to win the competition is by not competing at all. “If your sibling pressures you to compare successes, simply state, ’This is not a competition. We can both be successful in our own ways.’”
It wouldn’t be about “us” if it didn’t include body issues. Kate’s inner and outer struggle with her weight has been an underlying and disturbing theme in episodes of “This Is Us” from day one. We see it in her childhood desire to emulate her svelte mother, as well as in the way it impacts her relationship with her boyfriend, Toby, and the body conscious among us can benefit from the showing rather than telling that the show helps us to recognize how destructive seemingly harmless words can be.
According to Hakim, “It can be quite difficult for parents of obese children to learn what to say so as to best support their children and encourage a healthy lifestyle.” Hakim suggests that the help of a neutral third party may help to diffuse the pressure. “It’s ideal for a parent to enlist the help of a nutritionist or pediatrician so as to create a healthy lifestyle family plan.” She also reminds parents that children do what they see you do, not what you tell them to do. “It’s important for parents to set the tone for healthy eating and living. Children mirror what they see their parents say and do, so parents should model the way.”
Personal Space and Cyber Space
You may give your significant other personal space, but do you respect his or her cyberspace? When Kate’s interest in Toby’s ex-wife began to rise, so too did her time on social media. Shame on you, Kate – pretending to apply for a job at the boutique Toby’s ex used to work at just to find out information that you didn’t even need to know! You know relationships are all about trust! Couldn’t you just have asked Toby about his ex rather than spend your valuable time stalking her on the Internet?
According to Hakim, that’s exactly what Kate should have done. “At the beginning of the relationship, it is appropriate to ask pointed questions about past relationships…but don’t reach out to the ex or attempt to talk to or stalk him or her. This is unhealthy behavior that will upset your new relationship and destroy the trust you are building.”
Family Blending and How To Do It Seamlessly
When Rebecca decides that she’s going to marry Miguel, the best friend of her deceased husband, it’s pretty clear that she does not have Kevin’s blessing. Remarriage of parents is always difficult for children at any age, however there are ways to soften the blow. Hakim advises parents that talking to their child before introducing him or her to your new partner may help ease the transition. “Sometimes, having a grown-up dialogue is a good start. Most likely, the child may resent the new spouse and wish that his parent were still alive. At the same time, the child is likely to want his living parent to be happy, too.”
Hakim suggests trying to find a common ground between the new partner and the children as a way to help form a solid relationship. “When Rebecca’s second husband helped Kevin with his personal situation, that relationship improved.” When it comes to the children, Hakim says give it a chance. “Unless you see a serious issue with the new relationship, try to embrace it. And if you can’t embrace it make sure to tell your parent what and to emphasize that it does not mean you love your parent any less.”
Reunited and It Feels So …Wrong?
Avid watchers of “This Is Us” will know Kevin to be sort of fickle when it comes to ladies. His intentions are good and his heart seems to be in the right place, but his relationships tend to burn out almost as quickly as they ignite, as we see with his former flames, Olivia and Sloane. However, when it comes to his reigniting his relationship with ex-wife Sophie, there’s some history there, and when there’s smoke, there’s bound to be fire.
Hakim urges caution when you’re looking to restart an ended relationship. After all, there must have been a reason it ended in the first, and it’s important to make sure that reason won’t crop up again. “Sometimes,” she says. “ we may rush too quickly and end a solid relationship before giving it a chance to be successful,” but she also adds that you need to be willing to work through the issues that caused the initial breakup. “If you are serious about getting back together, consider attending couples counseling to go over the key issues that drove you apart the first time. Understand important triggers and gain the tools to communicate more effectively in future times of inevitable conflict.”
Explaining Terminal Illness to Children
We never want our children to be exposed to the harsher realities of life, but we don’t want to pull the wool over their eyes either. When children are confronted with a tough issue like cancer, it can be hard, and even scary for them to accept. So how can we keep our little ones aware without causing too much upset?
When William’s entrance into Randall’s life is further complicated by William’s cancer diagnosis, Randall’s wife Beth is unsure of how to break it to her children, but when she does so, she does it honestly and age appropriately by allowing each daughter to choose her own way of honoring their grandfather’s memory. Hakim supports her candid approach. “Terminal illness,” says Hakim, “impacts all members of the family, and it’s always important to tell the truth. As a parent, do not fabricate information or cover up details. Consider using an example about a toy that stops working…Share that you don’t have all the answers and that it is normal to feel sad.”
If there’s anything that most of us have a hard time doing is forgetting that life is full of hard times. The world is unpredictable, and Kate and Toby’s relationship is so unstable that it sort of reminds us of how important it is to live in the moment. When Toby has a heart attack and ends up flat-lining on Christmas Eve, it serves to remind the couple of how important it is to seize the day. When Katy ends up blurting out her deepest feelings at the foot of what may be Toby’s death bed, the hospital room becomes an odd setting for a marriage proposal. In its traditional truth-is-stranger-than fiction style, “This Is Us,” ends with Kate confessing her desire to want to spend the rest of her life with her near-dead partner, only to have him open his eyes in time deliver the one-liner mike drop, “I’ll marry the hell out of you, Kate Pearson.” And they say true romance is dead.
Honor Thy Parents
We know they won’t be here forever, but we tend not to think about that when they’re telling us to get our lives together. Jack, the patriarch of the family, dies when the kids are teens, and that seems to resonate with Randall, when he meets his biological father, William, who is in the terminal stages of cancer. Randall’s devotion to William becomes apparent; even missing important work meetings to go to his father’s side, recognizing how precious the little time he has to spend with him will be. The lesson: no one’s around forever, so make the time count.
Make the Best of It
When we first meet Rebecca, we learn that one of the triplets she was pregnant with died in childbirth. Although losing a child is one of the worst tragedies a family can suffer, with sage advice from Dr. Katowski Rebecca and Jack took “the sourest lemon that life had to offer and turn it into something resembling lemonade.” In this way they adopted Randall, and ended up taking three babies home that day, and giving us the premise for a wonderful show that has taught and will continue to teach us valuable lessons that we won’t soon forget.
If you love “This is Us” as much as we do, let us know what valuable lessons it has taught you. Or just dish the dirt with us. Which character on “This Is Us” are you most like? If “This Is Us”, who are you?