Every week for the past few months, I've spent Tuesday nights weeping and feeling and relating and nodding my head 'yes' as tears stream down my face and I use another tissue to wipe my eyes clean so I can properly see the next scene.
So yeah, you bet I didn't hesitate to ditch my own family and haul myself (past my bedtime, by the way) to the special "This Is Us" finale screening event in Hollywood this past Tuesday night. Thanks to the TODAY show's Parenting Team, I had a sweet little spot on the celebrity arrivals carpet to ask all sorts of questions I've been curious about for months.
What happens when a mom gets an unexpected night out to ask some of her favorite stars from one of her favorite shows a few questions? For starters, she snaps a selfie.
Before I knew it (and before I had my little recorder all cued up on my iPhone) Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore (Jack and Rebecca!) swished by and stopped in front of a small group of us.
Not a fan of wasting time (hello, moms don't have time to waste), there was one question I've had on my mind all season for these adorable two who aren't parents yet. I cut to the chase:
Has this show -- with all of its issues and everything that you guys have felt through your core as actors -- has it made you scared to actually become a parent?
(Slight pause. They looked at each other.)
(Uh-oh. Did I just scare them?)
Then they answered together, Milo taking the lead: "No. No... not at all."
You're a better man than me, Milo. Because, let me tell you: If I weren't a parent yet, This Is Us would probably scare the you-know-what out of me about ever becoming one, only because there is A LOT when it comes to raising kids and maintaining a marriage. It ain't easy, am-I-right? (Hey, I was petrified to become a parent before this show existed -- so much that I wrote a whole book about facing my mommy-fears and bouncing back.)
"I kind of feel like it's been training wheels for parenthood," Milo continued. "Although Mandy was really good at it, she was really good with the babies -- swaddling, changing, getting dressed." Mandy's expression tuned giddy and humble. "Yeah, because he showed me how to do it!" she clarified. Apparently Milo had all sorts of child-rearing experiences banked prior to shooting thanks to a bunch of nieces and nephews. (Mandy also spilled that he read a bunch of articles about swaddling babes like burritos... good work, man.)
PARENTING LIFE LESSON? Even if you don't have experience, pretend like you do and you just might be a hit!
Fun interview. Cute couple (even though they are NOT a couple in real life.... but you know what I mean). Coming to me next? The kids -- Mackenzie Hancsicsak, Lonnie Chavis and Parker Bates. I was ready for some grown up, real-talk with them.
OK you all, you're huge TV stars now... but I want to know if your parents still make you do chores at home and what are they?
Nine year old Chavis, who plays young Randall, didn't hold back. "Make up my bedroom, wash the dishes, clean down the refrigerator, clean down the counters, clean the floor... I love it actually, it's actually pretty fun."
PARENTING LIFE LESSON? Yes, you can insist your kids do chores even if they are wildly popular television stars on a hit show that everyone can't stop talking (and weeping in the most wonderful way) about. (I'm using this example on my own 6-year-old the next time she tells me she doesn't like fixing her own bed...)
Next up? The teen actors -- Hannah Zeile, Logan Shroyer and Niles Fitch.
When you watch this show, how does it make you feel to see parents fighting and struggling with kids?
Shroyer jumped in first. "You've got to give them (parents) some slack -- because they're figuring it out too. It's cool to see insight..."
"And 'Jack' (Ventimiglia) sets a high bar for, if any younger kids watch, how a man should treat his wife... he's such a good father and really good husband," Zeile pointed out.
PARENTING LIFE LESSON? The kids are watching and learning. Our mistakes and our efforts to sort things out can help them understand life and prepare them for their own futures as spouses and parents. (I suddenly don't feel so bad for arguing with my husband in front of my own kids that time...)
And then came... Justin Hartley. (Sigh. Swoon. Too immature? You know you feel the same way.) Guess what: He's a dad in real life!
How has being a part of this show affected the way you parent your own little girl?
"It reminds me of what I should be doing when I'm not doing it the way I should be doing it." (Got that? It actually makes total sense. Parents, you get me?) "They grow up so fast -- my daughter is twelve years old and it feels like she was born last week. It reminds me to cherish the tiny little moments. Our conversations [with daughter] are slower and more meaningful now because of the show..." Awwwwww.... I can't. I can't! (Swoon. Sigh. Too immature again?)
PARENTING LIFE LESSON? Slow down. All of us. Even the toughest days with toddlers or attitude-y teens will be gone in a heartbeat and will most likely turn into memories that we will pine about one day...
Raising kids and being a family can be challenging at times -- mentally, physically, emotionally. Why have so many become obsessed with "This Is Us"? Because it's real, raw and doesn't hold back all the things most of us have felt or experienced and have thought, 'Is this freaking normal?!?!"
By now (SPOILER ALERT!) you've probably watched Jack and Rebecca fight in a way (on the finale episode) that I don't think we've ever seen couples fight on TV before. It was raw. It was real. It was a moment in the show this married mom of two related with instantly -- things were said about having resentment over being a sole provider (him), feeling like a ghost of a person that once was (her), one asking the other one what it is they truly love about them now (her to him) and feeling the onscreen pain bubble to the top at the very second the question itself breaks.
I cried watching it in a theater full of hundreds of strangers, press and the cast. Know who else could relate? Jacqui from Mrs. MuffinTop (fellow TODAY #ParentingTeam contributor). Check out our video here (pardon the sound funkiness, it was loud).
PARENTING LIFE LESSON? Most everything you might question about whether or not something is 'normal' most probably is normal -- fights with your spouse, doubts about child-rearing choices and skills, questions you can't seem to answer about who you are anymore. If you're going through it, someone else (and maybe even a lot of people!) are too. Breathe. Because each season of family life brings phases, triumphs and challenges. Seasons change and the kids will usually be fine, as long as we show up, slow down, do our best and keep pretending to know what we're doing. Jack even said so in the finale. (I happen to believe him.)
Catch up or re-live all of Season 1 of This Is Us with the NBC app or On Demand.
Jill Simonian is a TV/digital Parenting Lifestyle Personality and mom of two young daughters. Her blog, TheFABMom.com, aims to keep life focused after babies (f-a-b). Jill's debut book, The FAB Mom's Guide: How to Get Over the Bump & Bounce Back Fast After Baby (Skyhorse) is a frank and motivating read -- with celebrity stories and expert lifestyle tips sprinkled between -- to boost any first-time mom's mind, body and spirit.