Great quote from a piece on This Is Us, last season’s water-cooler show that had one of the most well-constructed and executed pilots in recent memory.
For over a decade I’ve run summer conferences for teenagers in which a good portion of the time is dedicated to discussing and exploring their own lives in and through relationships. For years, I expected that teenagers would care most about dating relationships with an additional emphasis on matters relating to sex (they’re teenagers, after all). I figured friendships would come in second and family relationships would be a tertiary factor, eventually. But with nearly 20,000 teenagers passing through our program across two decades, one of the true constants amid all manner of variations in the lives of teenagers is that familial relationships are their primary focus. The majority of their joy, pain, confidence, confusion, hopes and dreams1 course first of all through the relationships between their parents and themselves, then secondly through sibling relationships. Friendships are important, dating is important, but these appear like faint moons in a sky that family relationships light up with all the intensity of a summertime sun.
Family matters. Still. That isn’t a surprise to us who know who created it, but, as here, it’s still a surprise to many of us how much it matters. It matters a great deal. But it often matters in ways that are invisible to the members. One of the things that This Is Us has done well is show the seemingly minor things that parents do/say that impacts their kids in completely unexpected ways (good and bad), and also the things that parents go through that kids are clueless about.
A few years ago I used a clip from Sixth Sense in a session I was leading. Afterwards, a mom came up to me and said, “That movie wrecked me!” Really, why? (I’d heard a lot of reactions to the movie, but that was a new one.) “Because I realized that my sons would go through things, sometimes terrible things, that I would have no knowledge of.” That’s an insightful take, one that I suspect it takes a mom to see. (Dads see dead people, moms see terrified kids. Tomayto, tomahto.)
The longer I live, the worse my job as a parent looks as I reflect back on it. Oh, our daughter turned out fine, it was just more in spite of than because of. Almost all of us would do things better if given another opportunity, or hope we would. That’s why God gives us grandchildren, to grant us another shot without the pressure. (Although This Is Us has shown us that you can screw that up, too, if you’re not paying attention. It’s just harder to do, and easier to fix.)
Family matters because it’s the place where we learn that mess-ups don’t have to be fatal, that forgiveness, of others and ourselves, is a necessary skill, and that love matters more than anything: more than good jobs, more than good schools, more than great sports experiences, more than anything. The latter is what is finally grasped in the time between parenting and grand-parenting — love covers a multitude of sins.
Be a better family. Be a better one to yours, if you have one. Be a better one to those who don’t have one, or who have one so dysfunctional they had to (or need to) get out of it. Be a better one to those who need to learn what a better one looks like, so they can go be better ones themselves.
Be a summertime sun.2