This Is Us, ep. 2 - The Mother/Daughter Dynamic
Episode 2 of This Is Us aired and I have so many questions. Why does the director of The Manny have it out for Kevin? Why does Toby want to dip pigs in a blanket in a nut cheese sauce? How does Beth’s hair stay so fly? I mean, who’s natural hair YouTube channel is she watching? Why are Sophie and Kevin kind of adorable? But most importantly, who do I need to contact to discuss Jack?? Does Julian Assange wikileak TV scripts too? I’m Randall-ing out over here because I need to know all the things!
This episode we learn more about Jack’s battle with alcoholism. Not only is he trying to survive a job he deeply dislikes, but we learn he has been drinking to self-medicate his anger and sadness from life with his emotionally neglectful and uninvolved father who was an alcoholic himself. We also get a glimpse of what appears to be some traumatic incidents Jack may have faced while in combat. When he goes cold turkey and can’t bring himself to verbalize his struggle in an AA meeting, he uses the local boxing gym to get release. This would be the perfect time to get himself some therapy, but, well, rigid gender roles and a limited definition of masculinity got in the way. Jack says he has given up alcohol to keep a promise to his wife. But we have to assume he has some extra motivation from the unconditional love he gets from Kate. That is one of the most beautiful father-daughter connections ever. Jack gets such deep empathy and unfettered acceptance from little Kate, and Jack becomes a place where Kate can find self-worth, confidence and a sense that she is perfect and loved just as she is.
On the contrary, Kate does NOT experience that same sense of acceptance from her mother. We have seen all through season 1 the dynamic between Rebecca and Kate. We see what looks like an accepting mother, but learn that she is fundamentally not attuned to her daughter’s needs and emotional experiences. This episode gives us a bigger glimpse into their strained relationship when they have a confrontation after Kate’s first gig. Mothers and daughters will always bring out some interesting dynamics. Let’s take a look at 3 hallmarks of a mother-daughter relationship that show up for Kate and Rebecca.
1. Unrealistic Goals and Expectations
Parents want a lot for their children. They want them to be successful, happy and healthy in all ways - emotionally, socially, physically, financially, spiritually and more. There is an acute awareness that their actions are linked to their child’s future success, so parenting is as much about raising a child as it is validating one’s ability to do so. Parenting is also an exercise in hope and optimism – you have the chance to create a better life for a child than the one created for you. Sometimes in trying to create that better life, a parent can blur the lines between their life and their child’s. The mother daughter dyad is a common place where this can happen. The result is a mother creating unrealistic goals and expectations for her daughter that are fueled by the mother’s unmet needs. The child can never meet those goals because they are always rooted in someone else’s past – the mother’s.
I once worked with a mother of an 8yr old girl. She would spend her hard earned money to buy her child clothing from more expensive brands, plan her outfits and hairstyles and then anxiously grill her daughter each day after school on how many of her friends complimented her look. The daughter was entirely indifferent to her clothes or her peer’s approval and would be scolded for not wearing the clothes “right” or for ruining her clothes during recess. That mother was desperately trying to gain status and popularity through her daughter. After living a childhood of peer rejection and extreme poverty, this mother felt her daughter could resolve her own pain because her daughter would be “better.” It just doesn’t work that way.
Kate seems pushed into this role as well. In the kitchen Kate begins to sing her talent show song for the family at breakfast. Rebecca is smiling and clearly moved to see her little girl’s budding singing ability. At the end of the song, mother says if Kate were to hold the last note a little longer it would be “perfect.” We immediately see Kate’s crestfallen face as she reminded she has not measured up to her mother’s standard. Kate is 9 years old. She wants to enjoy singing rather than sing to please her mother. She later explains to Jake that her mom makes singing feel like “a job.” In a way, Rebecca has given Kate a job. Kate’s job is to resolve her mother’s unsuccessful singing career by being better, by being perfect. The result is Kate feeling micromanaged, insecure and helpless. After her gig, adult Kate says “You wanted me to be the you that you never became.” I give it to Kate for finally saying what she probably could sense from childhood. It was not the most compassionate way to say it, but it probably needed to be said. Kate has been battling never being good enough for her mom and had finally figured out why. It wasn’t about her.
No mother daughter duo would be complete without competition! A mother has put great effort into making her daughter’s life better than her own. But as they say “be careful what you wish for!” At the same time that mother is pushing her daughter to excel, she must grapple with her insecurities when her daughter has the potential to be better than her. A mother wants her daughter to make her proud – not make her feel insecure or inadequate. So when insecurities arise, mom may try to reassert herself and her abilities in front of the daughter in a sort of an unspoken battle. Of course daughter can see this and will fight back for recognition of her achievements, or give in and feel defeated.
In this episode, Rebecca corrects Kate’s singing of “Lean on Me.” Very soon after we see mom humming the same song to herself. I said to my tv screen, “Here we go. You just couldn’t find your own song to hum, huh?” And sure enough, we not only see Rebecca humming the song Kate wants to sing for her talent show, but she also decided to belt out a heartfelt version of the song in the shower. This is mother-daughter competition at its core. Rebecca sees little Kate has a talent, but rather than affirm her daughter and be a source of support and encouragement, she needed to reaffirm herself. She needed to remind herself that she could still sing, and that she could sing “Lean on Me” better than Kate. Of course she did not know that Kate heard her in the shower, but seeing how Kate stood in awe of her mother’s voice and her later decision not to sing at all, there was a definite sense of victory in that shower song.
The competition continues 28 years later when mom finds out Kate is singing. In addition to being excited for this new endeavor – mom’s insecurities were also triggered. She needed to explain what it was like for her when she first sang in a club – in essence saying “I already did that long ago.” Again, Kate sees the competition and tries to fight back by insulting her mother. This doesn’t go over well. After watching Kate’s first gig, the uninvited Rebecca gave a compliment and added “in time you will learn how to power through a crowd like this.” Gut punch. Her mother couldn’t stop herself from reminding Kate that she still wasn’t good enough and that she also could have done it better. This was the last battle move and Kate chose to fight back rather than accept defeat.
While many mothers can be envious of their own daughters (and perhaps Rebecca is envious of Kate in some way) we see Kate feeling envious of her mother. All children will idolize their parents and wish to posses certain qualities they have. This can be often most apparent between children and the parent with whom they share a gender identity. The idolization will shift as the child hits adolescence and begins to understand their parent also has flaws. However, Kate’s idolization of her mother turns to envy. We should not be surprised that Kate at 9yrs old thinks her mother is beautiful, thin, graceful, talented and desirable. But we see that she also draws the conclusion that she is none of those things, that she deeply desires to have these traits, and this longing causes her deep pain.
Envy is a powerful emotion and none of us are immune. Envy is self-destructive. Envy creates inferiority. Envy is crippling and holds us back from what we want to accomplish. It leads to resentment of the person who has all that you wish you had. Envy plays a role in Kate’s self esteem, and blinded her from being able to see her own strengths. Thankfully, Kate is slowly freeing herself from her paralyzing envy and it’s amazing to watch! As Kate sang “time makes you bolder and children get older…” hopefully mom is realizing she is “getting older too.” They both have a long way to go, but at least there is an opportunity for healing now that it is more out in the open.
So those are three common traits we can see in a mother-daughter relationship. And believe me, we could talk about many more! Mothers and daughters are really something else, I tell you. Just when you think you might have untangled their nest of communication, you find yet another layer. So this means we certainly haven’t seen the last of Kate and Rebecca’s story and I am so here for it. I’ll just be over here with Toby – on #TeamKate for life. We all need to be Team Kate “foh eva.”
Can we please give a standing ovation with a slow clap to Mackenzie Hancsicsak for her portrayal of 9y Kate?? She owned all of her scenes from this episode!
What do you think about the relationship between Rebecca and Kate? Should Toby have stopped Rebecca from going to watch Kate sing?