Tonight, Parenthood, one of my all-time favorite shows, comes to an end. This show has taught me a lot, most importantly, about the enduring nature of family. In the six years that it has been on the air, I’ve come to see the Braverman clan as an extension of my own, and it is with a heavy heart that I bid them adieu.
One of Parenthood‘s greatest (and most lauded) strengths is its wonderful realism, done so painfully well that the characters’ struggles nearly always remind you of something you or someone you know have faced. Their heartbreak feels enormous and raw, the same way that it does in life. Likewise, their moments of triumph feel earned; whether a graduation, a wedding, or a series of tiny moments that they one day realize made all the difference.
I say this because I think Parenthood helped me achieve my own triumph of sorts.
I was nineteen when I watched my first episode of Parenthood, during the summer between its first and second seasons. I remember connecting with it right from the start, and watching all of the first season in about two days. A bit before the second season rolled around, my mom mentioned that she watched it too, something I hadn’t realized because well, we weren’t doing a lot of talking then. We were in a place where talking quickly led to arguing, and I think we came to the mutual understanding that it was just easier to avoid it all together. In retrospect, it certainly didn’t help that we were each going through really difficult times in our lives and keeping most of it to ourselves.
This was not unlike what Amber and Sarah were experiencing in the first season (and to some extent, throughout the entire run of the show). I’ve found that relationships grow and evolve, but at their bones they remain the same. Despite our differences at the time, the night that the second season premiered, my mom and I found ourselves in the family room, watching it together. And for awhile, it seemed like the only time that we spent alone together. For the first few episodes, we barely spoke. But we did have moments where we’d find ourselves laughing or tearing up over something at the same time, and when that happened we’d share a tentative smile. And even I, a proud little baby of an adult, had to admit that it felt nice. It felt nice to share something with my mom again.
So carefully, cautiously, we started talking. First it was during the commercials, about the show. We talked about how Crosby would handle being a father, the beauty of Adam and Christina’s marriage, our mutual appreciation of Joel’s dreaminess. We talked about everyone going to poor Adam to solve their problems, how we couldn’t help but root for Sarah, Mae Whitman’s general awesomeness. And at some point (maybe later that year, maybe in the next) a small, nearly imperceptible shift took place. As I’m sure many viewers have, we began relating the characters to us, to our family members, and to our relationship. I don’t think it surprised either of us that I related to Amber, proud and dramatic, unwilling to forget past disappointments; and Haddie, fiercely intent on showing her maturity, quick to assume that her mom would never understand what she had to say. And I don’t know if she would agree, but I began to see my mom as a combination of Sarah and Christina, clinging a little too much to her oldest child because it was too hard to let go, picking fights over things that really didn’t matter. Seeing ourselves this way, talking about how we related to the characters, it helped, it really did. It helped us understand ourselves and our flaws, and something about seeing it play out on screen with characters that were like us, but weren’t us, made it easier to understand.
But life is never all progress, and we faced setbacks, just like the Bravermans. While not a car accident or a cancer diagnosis, we had a huge fight one night, the significance of it happening as Parenthood aired not lost on me. I’ve long since forgotten the details of the argument, but I know that she stormed out and I was left to watch Sarah and Amber clash over something or other alone, before finally turning it off because that realism that I usually loved simply hurt too much. I went to bed with that slightly sick feeling you get when you realize that words spoken aloud can never be returned, only intensified the next morning when she wouldn’t look at me. That’s another thing Parenthood taught me: there’s no glory in winning a fight with someone you love.
But we were back the next week, she on her end of the couch and me on mine, because, as Parenthood proves, sometimes you just have to push through, even (and maybe especially) in a relationship that has become difficult. And despite that setback (and others that we faced during that time), after a few seasons of watching together, I started to realize that we were no longer limited to discussing the show and our feelings about it. I was sharing things about my day, my job, my classes, my life, things that at some point had gotten really hard to share with her. I re-watched the Parenthood pilot this past weekend (because apparently I wanted the finale to hurt even more), and there’s a heartbreaking scene where Drew has been let down by his father once again, and Sarah says: “For what it’s worth you have me. I’m not going anywhere.” And I think through watching Parenthood I began to realize that I had forgotten that about my mom; no matter how we felt about each other, she was always there.
One Thursday night last year, I found myself staying up with her long after the show had ended, swapping stories and a bag of chips, laughing to the point where my dad came downstairs and lectured us for being too loud. At the time, I was completing my student teaching, and beginning to wrestle with the realization that this career I had chosen some time ago wasn’t the one for me. I hadn’t told anybody yet, whether from fear of disappointing my parents or myself, but something about that night made me tell her. I won’t pretend to remember exactly how she responded, but it was something along the lines of “You know yourself. You know if it isn’t right. I just want you to be happy.”
If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because in an episode that aired last year, Christina says something along the same lines to Haddie. The context is different; Christina learns that Haddie may be dating a (female) friend and asks her about it, but the ending sentiment is the same: “I just want you to be happy.” Through all of the ups and downs in our relationship, that was all my mom ever wanted for me. I just needed someone (or in this case, something) to help me see it.
And as Parenthood has grown up, moved into its fourth, fifth, and now final season, I have to. At twenty-four, I remain proud and a teeny bit dramatic, but like Amber and Haddie, I’ve spent the last five years learning how to be compassionate and level-headed. And similar to the Bravermans, who have encountered countless job changes, breakups, and victorious moments, my life has changed quite a bit in the years since my mom and I watched that first episode together: I graduated college, moved out, switched jobs, and got a dog. All told, this is the first season that my mom and I haven’t been able to watch together. We’ve taken to texting during some episodes, because I’ve found that it feels a little too strange to watch it without her. But during those episodes that we don’t, I do think of her. I think about how family is the most important thing. I think about acknowledging the battles that another is facing. And I think about the simple beauty and relief of rebuilding a relationship that I long thought was lost. And that, thanks to Parenthood, I realized could be fixed.