Warning: this post contains spoilers from the first season of This Is Us.
I, like millions of other viewers, was hooked on NBC's This Is Us from the end of the first episode. (Raw emotion, relatable, deeply drawn characters, and twist endings!? Sold!) While there's much to love about the hit, heart-wrenching drama, which comes back for its second season on Sept. 26, as a mom, the show hits especially close to home.
Not only have I found myself nodding my head and taking mental notes as young couple Jack and Rebecca work through the challenges of raising not one, but three kids (and somehow become parenting goals every single time), but the pair — especially Rebecca — also shows that even the best parents still struggle with balancing their own needs and desires while prioritizing those of their children. It's freaking tricky even for the best of us.
When we're handed our new babies, their need for us is immediate and overtly obvious. Yes, it's hard to meet their seemingly endless demands, but we do it because that's the job we signed up for. So what if you don't get a shower or a minute to yourself and no longer have time to return calls or even go to the dentist? You are caring for a baby, then a child, who needs you more than you need a full face of makeup or a gossip session with your best friend.
But before you know it, your kids get bigger and their need for you becomes smaller. And maybe, like Rebecca, you realize that in the years that you've told yourself you're doing what you're supposed to be doing — focusing all your energy on your children instead of yourself — you've lost something very important: your own identity.
When, at 40 years old, Rebecca returns to her old band to join it on a multiple-city tour, the decision is made with much internal conflict. She knows that her absence will be a burden on those people she loves the most, but after more than a decade of pretending she doesn't need anything beyond her children's happiness, she feels desperate to reconnect with her old self.
Fans of the show know that things don't go exactly as planned. Her husband, Jack, can't cope with the jealousy he feels about the romance Rebecca once had with her bandmate, so he drives drunk to a gig to confront them both, and his wife is forced once again to put the needs of her family above her own to get them both home safely. The couple returns to their house together, and Rebecca finally releases the years of frustration. She says returning to the band is "the first time in years that I had something for myself. I have no life. I have zero life. I am a housewife to three teenagers who don't need me anymore. I am a friggin' ghost."
The fight — one of the most realistic depictions of marital strife I've ever seen on television — continues, and the next morning, the couple decides to separate, temporarily at least. It's sad because, as a viewer, you're rooting for the pair, regardless of the fact that you know about Jack's eventual death and Rebecca's remarriage to his best friend. Yet, while their separation is inevitable, the love between them is obvious. They've just let things go too far in the wrong direction.
I can see how that could happen even in the strongest marriage. As the lead parent to two kids (ages 6 and 3) in my household, I've struggled, like Rebecca, with finding a balance between being the best, most present mom possible and not giving up my own passions completely. It can seem like an impossible task, and perhaps it is. There will always be days when work has to come second to a sick child and days when I leave a crying, clingy child with a sitter to go to work. Neither situation feels good.
But as a mom, I'm aware that as much as I'm now the center of my children's worlds, that won't always be the case. There will be a day, and it will probably arrive faster than I think, that they would rather hang out with friends than me, when they're not desperate for bedtime stories and couch snuggles, when they don't want me to get on the floor and play games with them. And when that day comes, I don't want my life to be empty because of that loss.
So, like Rebecca, I struggle to make room for everything, even when it's complicated (and it always is), even when it feels like I'm making my life harder than it needs to be, even when it comes with a side of guilt. Because I want to be a great mom to my children, providing them everything they need to live happy, productive lives, but I also don't want to lose myself in the process.