My husband and I have been watching This Is Us with our thirteen-year-old daughter. It is not an easy show to watch. Like the parents on the show -- Jack and Rebecca -- my husband and I have two biological children and one child through adoption.
Our thirteen-year-old was adopted as a baby – not at birth like Randall, but while she was quite young – and there have been times during the season when I have examined her face, searching for flickers of emotion during key adoption scenes. Would it be too much? Was it too intense?
There were people who questioned our decision to have an open adoption, particularly during the rough patches in the earlier years, but as I watched Randall’s agony at missing out on a lifelong relationship with his birth father, I felt immensely grateful for my daughter’s closeness with her birth family.
I am so indebted to the adoptees and birthmothers who first shared their stories of loss and pain with me so many years ago, helping me to remain committed to an open adoption. You were invaluable to me as we navigated our way during the harder times, and you helped me see the long view.
Where and when it is safe, we have open relationships. And yet, even with my daughter’s ability to see her birth mother once a year (twice this year!), I have gained a window into how much sadness she carries at what she doesn’t have.
After the wrenching episode where Randall confronted his mother Rebecca, asking her how she could have possibly thought it was okay to hide the identity of his birth father from him, I asked my daughter if she was okay, if she wanted to call her birth mom.
I’m fine, she said, but when it was time to tuck her in, I found her bereft. I miss them so much, she said. Watching This Is Us is allowing her to access and express her feelings, and it has been healthy for her. She has allowed me to comfort her, to hold her, and this too is a good thing.
Still, there are times when the show is so very painful to watch. Seeing Randall’s isolation from his two siblings plays into my own fears about our girls. The one thing I never want is for the two sisters who are biologically related to be closer to each other than they are to their sister through adoption. Fortunately, there is no evidence of that so far. If anything, the youngest sister would throw the whole family out into the snow to be alone with our thirteen-year-old.
Tonight’s episode will be rough, though. We all absolutely adore Jack, and knowing that he is going to die fills me with dread. We are still trying to process Randall’s loss of his birth father, William, so soon after they formed their beautiful relationship. My thirteen year-old is very close with my husband. He is her dad, the only dad she has ever and will ever know. He introduced her to Star Wars, the White Sox, The Avengers, The Flash, Supergirl, and more. I think that watching The Big Three (the nickname Jack gave his children) lose their beloved father in tonight’s episode will be hard for all of us. My husband has already cleared his schedule of work tonight, so certain is he that he will be too devastated to get anything done after watching this episode.
But we keep watching, even though it hurts, because the show also makes us laugh and smile and feel all the good feelings. It really reflects the balance of emotions that occur in life, the full range of the human condition. I believe that watching This Is Us will help teach our daughter about resilience and survival, about the enduring bond of family, and about the importance of letting those we love know how we feel.
Sometimes it is hard to have discussions about these issues, especially with a teenager, and I’ve found that watching emotionally intelligent shows provides a great way for us to talk about the tough subjects without it feeling too personal. We use the experiences of the characters as metaphors for our own stories. The sharing still happens, yet it feels safer.
I’m so glad that I’m raising an adoptive family during this generation, instead of during a time when adoption was only depicted through comedy shows like Webster and Diff’rent Strokes. It’s better to break down stereotypes and fears by showing nuanced and complex relationships with more than just a comedic twist. Tonight's episode of This Is Us is sure to provoke strong responses in us all.
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