11 Mar

Throughout my career of working with youth in various capacities, I have always said that when you see a child who is not on the path to success, you can most likely find an adult who has failed the child. The adult could be a parent, caregiver, teacher or family member. But in most cases the child did not just end up that way.

I wholeheartedly believe that when any adult takes on a role in a child’s life there has to be a level of sacrifice in the name of ensuring that child is ready to compete to succeed. This becomes even more important when we are talking about children who are susceptible to the achievement gap, are living in poverty, or are not able to access the privilege that is afforded to others. The goal should be to make sure that the child is able to access more opportunities than the generation before. And what I find that stops this progression is the lack of self-sacrifice. Regardless of the reason why self-sacrifice does not happen, the impact can be deleterious. We saw this in the most recent episode of This Is Us.

This Is Us is a show that has captured the hearts of so many. Brilliantly written with captivating stories, it is one of the most talked about shows of the year.

The most recent episode gave the viewer an inside look into the backgrond of Deja, a girl we have come to know as a foster child with a mother who is in and out of jail. We learned more about Shauna, Deja’s mother, and how her actions came to impact Deja. Shauna seemed to be dealing with issues in her own life where she had been failed. We don’t know all of the details but we know Shana is 16 when she birthed Deja and she seems to be unable to provide her with the support that she needs. The support not just to live but to thrive.

Living versus thriving is key. As parents or caregivers we are at the very least responsible to provide a safe environment, provide food and clothing, and to ensure that our kids get an education. And that’s all well and good if we just want them to live. But the goal is to thrive- to flourish and prosper. This can not happen if we do just the bare minimum. Well it can with some level of intervention. But imagine how much further a child can be if the parent or caregiver ensures that they thrive and they still receive additional supports on top of that.

So when Shauna admitted in a moment of reflection, “I have failed Deja,” she was absolutely correct. And I love that the writers put that specific line in this episode. In the earlier episodes, Deja may have come across ornery, angry or even disrespectful and unappreciative of the household where she was placed. However, the reality is that someone, specifically her mother, had failed her and had altered the life of that once precocious helpful and loving child. Remember how she loving she was with her grandma? Remember how she cut her hand trying to fix a wonderful birthday meal for her mom? Remember how she took responsibility for keeping the house clean and looking out for her mother? Remember how she went to school and was involved in extracurricular activities?All of that was being diminished by her mom’s actions or lack thereof. She consistently failed Deja.

Yes, for a time they had food and shelter and a clean apartment to live in. But Shauna was not involved beyond the minimum requirement. So Deja was living but at some point she stopped thriving.

So thank you This Is Us for highlighting such an important topic. I hope parents, caregivers, aunts,grandparents, teachers and neighbors everywhere are able to grab hold to the important lesson in this episode. And no you don’t have to live in poverty or be homeless for this to apply to you. We can all do better in ensuring that our children thrive and not just live. Ask yourself what more can you do to be present in your child’s life. I know I will.

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