The ‘Masterpiece’ TV show that reminded me not to give up on family togetherness

The PBS show, The Durrells in Corfu, offered me some unexpected mom wisdom: to have faith, even on days when I feel like family chaos has won.

The Durrells in Corfu on Sundays, October 16–November 20 on PBS Pictured. John Rogers | Sid Gentle Films & MASTERPIECE | PBS

PBS’Masterpiece programs are a traditional part of my weekend “me-time.”As I suspect is true for most fans of PBS—the co-producer of shows like Downton Abbey, Sherlock, and more—I watch their shows (faithfully) as a means of escape.

After a weekend of errands and events, of social outings and family togetherness, on Sunday nights, I’ll grab a basket of laundry and take my tired, introverted self into our bedroom to catch an episode or two of whatever is on. (As I’m folding laundry, I can be assured my kids will stay the heck away.) But most times, the escape isn’t just about closing myself off in my own space for an hour, it’s figurative. I long to escape from our world (one currently rife with Political tensions), into one of Edwardian aristocrats or of London-dwelling super sleuths, or even off to the Himalayas for a summer in India.

So when I tuned into Masterpiece’s recent offering, The Durrells in Corfu, the story of a widow who moves her quirky family from 1930s English suburbia to a crumbling house on the sun-soaked Greek island Corfu, I expected nothing more than another delightful escape. But what I encountered was a reassuring lesson in parenting.

I look at a family, seemingly running wild, in a million different directions, and long for a way—any way—to reconnect, to unplug, to be family once again.”

The show, loosely based on the memoirs of famed British naturalist, zookeeper, and writer, Gerald Durrell, introduces a family and a world that felt hauntingly similar to my own—even as our lives differ greatly. I am not (thank God) a widow. And my three children are not (thank God) nearly as wild as Louisa Durrell’s four kids: oldest son and inspiring writer Larry, second son Leslie, who spends most of his time shooting things, only-daughter Margot, and animal loving youngest son, Gerry. And her situation is certainly more dramatic than mine: at the beginning of the show Louisa sells everything to pay off the family’s debts, and move to a remote Greek island to restart their lives. (As much as I’d love to pay off our mortgage, I don’t think I’ll be going to that extreme anytime soon.)

But I get why Louisa does. The purpose of the move is to “rescue her family.” To save them. And what mother doesn’t want that? At times, I look around at a family, seemingly running wild, in a million different directions, and long for a way —any way—to reconnect, to re-establish themselves, to unplug, to be family once again.

Early on, Louisa has two mom moments that I identified with: First is a scene of family chaos when Louisa, in her exasperation, wonders aloud when her children became “so vile.” But it’s later followed by another more peaceful moment when she smiles over her children as they each sleep on the deck of a boat, sun full on their faces. It’s the dichotomy of parenthood.

Some days, the bickering and teasing and running and whining take over. And it feels we have lost the parenting battle.”

That chaotic moment is one every parent has lived through (and if you haven’t gotten there yet, trust me, you will). It represents the moments or days when life—and our children—feel out of control. Because, well, they are out of control. Though we do our best to raise our kids with manners and compassion and love and kindness, they don’t always show it. Some days, the bickering and teasing and running and whining take over. And though we have great influence in who they will become and how they will behave, in that time it feels we have lost the battle. (Recently, a viral Facebook post from an ordinary mom, Kate Douglas, was shared thousands of times because it expressed this very same feeling: Douglas said that she was “defeated” and “the kids had won.”)

For any parent, that’s a scary feeling. It makes us feel like we are not being “good parents.” And often it’s hard not to blame the modern world, which often feels like the biggest obstacle to the manners and attitudes I want to teach my children. Today, our children are surrounded by so many influences beyond our control. From the way they communicate to Apps to video games to a whole new world of bullying to easy access to porn and to drugs, in many ways it feels that parents have less control than ever. Certainly it feels that parenting is harder than ever.

MORE TO READ: 3 things I learned from banishing my cell phone

But The Durrells in Corfu, stands to remind us this is not necessarily so. Yes, our kids have a whole new world of potentially troubling options we’ve never had before. But so did the families of the 1930s—growing up between two world wars and during a global depression. The Durrells may be completely unplugged (they don’t even have electricity) but issues such as financial stress, over-scheduled families, and kids behaving badly are not new things. They just take on new forms.

As do the everyday and sometimes drastic measures many of us are willing to take to rescue our families. Even if the word rescue is a little more dramatic than some of us are inclined to use for actions like confiscating cell phones, or moving to a new state for a job that can better provide for the family. But with every family or parenting decision, we are trying to rescue our children’s brains and hearts.

So whether you decide to watch The Durrells in Corfu or not, I hope that we can all find reminders to press on, even when we feel like we’re struggling or failing. Because this simple TV series reaffirmed for me that when fighting siblings or outside influences of the world make us feel weak, we can lean into our family, and keep pushing to raise our children the best way we know how in a troubling world.

Even if we never run off with our families and move somewhere exotic like the Durrells, we can find our own ways to step out of all the routines and schedules, for little vacations and reconnecting. Those are the times we help shape each other into who we’re meant to be. Because amidst all the bad days and hardships, our connection to one another and our faith in one another, are the most important things in life.

Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira

Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of five books and is a columnist for Her.meneutics and ThinkChristian. She lives outside Chicago with her husband, three kids, and one red-nose pit bull. Visit her at

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