The new television season is bringing to light parental anxiety.
First, I saw This is Us (Spoiler Alert for those not finished watching the first episode). What makes the show interesting is its storytelling: the show intercuts scenes of three siblings living in the present with past moments from their childhood.
While this structure may be simply a clever plot device, the consequence is that the show implies the actions of the characters in the past scenes influence what’s happening in the present. This has become a parenting nightmare for me.
In the second episode, the siblings’ mother attempts to help her seven year-old daughter deal with being overweight. She gives her daughter a serving of cottage cheese while giving her sons bowls of cereal. In the present scenes, the adult daughter is now obese and struggles with her weight. We are left to wonder whether the mother is, in part, the cause for her daughter’s unhappiness with her weight and life circumstances. If her mother had accepted her daughter for who she was, would she be happier now? Would her life be different? In my previous blog posts, I’ve referred to some new studies about how parents can influence the self-esteem of their children, and, in particular, of their daughters. This show taps right into parental anxiety and blame.
This is Us is not the only show to do so. I watched the program Frequency, where (second Spoiler Alert: stop here if you have not seen the first episode), the daughter, living in the present, communicates with her dead father living in 1996. She saves him from his early demise, only to realize that she accidentally changed the thread of time, which results in the murder of her mother instead. Throughout the show, the power of parents to impact your life seems to resonate. Her life is different growing up with a father in place of a mother, and viewers see the different possible outcomes. Implied is the idea that the choices you make have a strong influence on your future happiness.
Speechless is a comedy about a family with a child who has a disability. The mother’s strong advocacy for her son often results in the mother being thought of as crazy, the other children sometimes feeling neglected, and the family having to sacrifice ideals of normality. While I think the show has a really interesting perspective on living with disability which alone warrants watching it, the show also raises questions about many mothers’ struggles of deciding when to intercede on behalf of her children, and when to hold back.
During a period of parenting when the label of helicopter mom is still natural for some but abhorred by others, when movements within minority populations show moms who lament that they can’t protect their children from violence, when new studies often demonstrate how often genetics or epigenetics influence people’s futures, it seems that the television season is finally reflecting the challenges, fears, and anxieties of this new age of parenting.
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