“This Is Us” and the Tiresome Character of the No-Fun Mom


why do dads have all the fun

As usual when it comes to the hit drama “This Is Us,” the February 12 episode was chock full of poignant moments and Messages with a capital “M.” You know when you sit down to watch it that you’ve signed on for lots of feelings. But I’m pretty sure the writers didn’t intend the reaction I had to this particular installment of the Pearson family saga: anger.

My annoyance centered on the flashback storyline within the episode, “Songbird Road: Part Two,” in which patriarch Jack is meant to be watching two of the family’s three children, Kate and Randall, while they make Valentines for their classmates. Instead, burdened by a recent encounter with his estranged brother, Jack goes off to brood while the kids, left to their own devices, make a mess. Mom Rebecca, meanwhile, is schlepping third child Kevin to the mall so he can get a baseball card autographed.

Fine, fine, fine. The problem for me came near the end of the hour when Jack snaps out of his funk and decides — as his character often does —to go back to being the “fun, spontaneous” dad who wins all the popularity points. To make up for yelling at Kate and Randall for their mess, he sets in motion a raucous sequin fight that has them running around the living room throwing fistfuls of decorations at one another. What a cool dad, right? He is the best!

Then Rebecca and Kevin get home and the air is immediately sucked out of the room. Rebecca gives a Look, and after a pause, states that she’s not going to be the one to clean up later. Nodding at Kevin, she allows him to enter the fray, but she remains on the outside, observing with her hands planted on her hips. Well, at least mom didn’t spoil the whole thing like she usually does!

The message I got from this scene wasn’t that we parents should remember to loosen up and allow for unplanned moments that will be forever cemented in our kids’ brains (to adult Kate and Randall, the sequin fight is legendary). Instead, I was struck by the tired trope of the “rigid, downer mom” who might allow fun things to happen, but only grudgingly and not as an active participant. She remains on the sidelines, her primary concern the question of who will clean up.

Yes, I realize “This Is Us” is a fictional TV show, and the scene I’m talking about was a minor one. But as a mom of three kids who finds spontaneity and a carefree attitude nearly impossible to achieve while also keeping those kids fed, clothed, somewhat clean and, well, alive every day, it unexpectedly hit a nerve. It feels sadly predictable that moms on TV and in real life are often stuck in the role of counterbalancing the Fun Dad, Fun Grandparent, Fun Uncle, etc. It’s one-dimensional in a way that no mom I know actually is.

I’d like to see more credit given to moms not only for the countless things they do daily to care for their families but also for laying the groundwork for moments like the “This Is Us” sequin fight to even happen. I mean, who do you think bought the Valentines decorations in the first place? I can almost guarantee it wasn’t Jack Pearson.



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