Editor’s Note: This post contains spoilers from season one of This Is Us.
Last night, my social media feeds were filled with pictures of wine and tissues as moms around the country prepared for the season one finale of This Is Us.
Those of us who have followed the show know by now not to go in unprepared, because one thing has become certain — there will be tears.
And after I set my alarm for 5 AM to get up early to catch the finale on Hulu (thanks to my children who refused to go to sleep in time for me to watch in real time), I finally let myself peek at the Internet and found that many people were disappointed that the finale was not really a tearjerker.
“What a disappointing finale,” complained one disgruntled fan on the show’s Facebook page. “I could have skipped it and not missed a thing. I didn’t even cry, not one tear! And usually I’m a complete mess.”
But with all due respect to any disappointed fans, I have to disagree. Because the show delved into one of the biggest issues that so many women face — the fear that they have disappeared in their roles as mothers and wives.
As Jack and Rebecca dug into what was the most heated fight of their marriage — made only more painful to watch as their early love story flashed before our eyes — Rebecca accuses Jack of sabotaging the one thing she finally had for herself: her singing career.
Usually the calm, cool, and collected one, we see Rebecca completely lose it when Jack accuses her of thinking that he and the kids haven’t “fulfilled” her.
“I have no life!” Rebecca screams at her husband. “I have zero life, Jack. I am a housewife to three teenagers who do not need me anymore, and I have a husband who waltzes in every night at at 8 o’clock, if I’m lucky, goes to the kitchen, recaps his day for me and then passes out upstairs at 10 o’ clock. I have no life. I am a freaking ghost.”
I felt every bit of Rebecca’s deepest frustration, left raw and exposed with her words, because oh my gosh, could it be any more real?
Her fear that she has disappeared as a person in the roles of mothering and being a wife, the fear that she sacrificed everything she loved about herself for kids; kids that — let’s be honest, she wasn’t even sure she wanted early on in her relationship — is the same fear so many women understand.
We tell ourselves that there will be time, someday, after the kids are a little older, a little more independent … but by the time we get there, we wonder if it’s too late to pursue our own dreams. Like Rebecca, whose own husband mocks her for being a mom singing in her 40s, we come face to face with the stark truth that sometimes, as a parent, you don’t get to have it all.
Rebecca obviously wasn’t the only one who sacrificed for their family, because it’s clear that Jack gave up his own dreams of living a different life than his father, one where he had more freedom from a “real job, the kind with a salary,” in order to provide financially for his family.
Both husband and wife seemed trapped at an impasse, where they both feel like they are the one who sacrificed more for their children.
Having a family almost feels like an impossible force, like no matter how hard you try to find a balance, something has to give. And the show really doesn’t shy away from how that reality can affect a marriage.
There are so many of us parents, who start out our relationships and our journey into parenthood with these visions of what it’s going to be like. We won’t let kids slow us down! we declare. Parenthood is an adventure! we proclaim. We will stay committed to our marriages! we vow.
We go in all giggly and wide-eyed and hopeful, until one day, we’re the ones sitting at an empty dining room table with a cold cup of coffee wondering how we got there.
And yet, Jack’s impassioned speech listing all of the reasons why he loves his wife made me break down into big, ugly sobs, because his words hit on exactly what so many mothers, those of us who feel like a stretch-marked, exhausted, disheveled shred of our former selves, are desperate to hear.
That we are seen.
That those reasons that our partners first fell in love with us haven’t disappeared along with our pre-pregnancy jeans.
That under the hat covering up our unwashed hair, or last night’s mascara, or the leggings we now live in, we are still us. A person who exists beyond just someone to pick up the kids or cook dinner or fold the laundry.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, actor Milo Ventimiglia (who, if you weren’t aware, plays Jack Pearson in the show) summed up what he thought the season finale encompassed and what, ironically enough, also sums up parenthood in general.
“With the light, you got to have the dark,” he said. “With the good, you got to have the bad.”
As if we needed another reason to love Milo, that darn wise man with the adorable crooked smile.