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When "Raising Dion" premiered on Netflix in 2019, it achieved its goal of becoming a beloved kids' superhero show. The series follows the story of widowed mother Nicole (Alisha Wainwright) as she struggles to safely raise her superpowered son, Dion (Ja'Siah Young). While the show's first season depicted a coming-of-age story, season two - which arrived on Feb. 1 - largely focuses on the importance of family and community.
Much has changed for "Raising Dion" since its debut - mostly because of the pandemic, which largely impacted the show's second season. "COVID kind of prevented a lot of what we were used to doing," Wainwright tells POPSUGAR. "It would've been awful if we had started out that way. But thankfully, we had a foundation from season one where we were doing rehearsals, play dates, stuff in the park, and arcades to kind of help [Young] get comfortable with me."
"I really struggled with the fact that we couldn't have the sort of camaraderie that we used to have in season one."
In season two, Dion is still adjusting to his special developing powers. The young superhero encounters The Crooked Man yet again, but as a slightly more mature version of himself - something Wainwright had to get used to in real life. "I feel dumb looking at him and being like, 'You're so grown.' I'm sure kids hear that all the time, and especially him because he's on camera a lot and people are really seeing him grow," Wainwright explains.
The biggest challenge for Wainwright was finding a way to maintain the bond she and Young established while filming season one and making sure that chemistry still translated onscreen as mother and son. "I really struggled with the fact that we couldn't have the sort of camaraderie that we used to have in season one," she says of COVID's impact. "But then towards the end of the season, when things started looking a little bit better, we were able to see each other outside of work and feel like we were still the same cast."
"Raising Dion" is Young's first big breakout TV role, and according to Wainwright, starring on the show has given him a solid foundation to strengthen his acting skills. "It's kind of like this tricky fine line when you have young kids that have no real training, you do get these little pure gems of truth from them because they're just being themselves and reacting honestly," she says. "I think between season one and season two, he's benefited from having a lot of experience, even outside of 'Raising Dion.' But between then and now, you can really see him appreciate the craft of acting." Young and the other children actors in the series - including Esperanza (Sammi Haney), Jonathan (Gavin Munn), and Brayden (Griffin Robert Faulkner) - have all grown in their careers, and the consistency from their performances on the show is quite noticeable.
"I felt so much love from my family and my community of people that my mom put around me, and I can definitely see the benefit of that."
Wainwright's character has done quite a bit of growing up herself, maturing into a more confident single mother than we saw in season one. This time around, Nicole has found stability in her work life as a self-employed graphic designer, as well as her home life now that she's more understanding of Dion's supernatural abilities. But her lesson to learn in season two is all about managing her parenting style to allow Dion to navigate the world his own way. "By the middle of season two, she realizes, 'Oh, maybe I'm not this person who has control over everything. Maybe I really have to learn again that it's about relinquishing control,'" Wainwright says. "Because at the end of the day, your kids are going to grow up and be their own people."
Part of Nicole's parenting in season two stems from having to find support for Dion when a crisis hits, building a small village to look after him in case she's ever absent. Wainwright found part of Nicole's instincts reflective of her own family dynamic growing up. "My family immigrated from the Caribbean and so they were very insulated and took care of each other because they were in a new place," she shares. "So I found myself often growing up alongside my uncle, his wife, and their two kids that are pretty close in age to me. I felt so much love from my family and my community of people that my mom put around me, and I can definitely see the benefit of that. I think the point of letting your kid be exposed to other people is that everyone has good intentions and everyone's goal is to infuse their perspective inherently onto these kids. So you end up with a very well-rounded child who is getting a lot of different ideas and experiences . . . Getting exposure to that outside of your own house creates a space for gratitude in your own life. You can't really get that if you're not having a community-based experience as a child."
In season two of "Raising Dion," Nicole isn't the only parent still learning how to parent a powered child. Viewers also meet new characters Janelle (Aubriana Davis) and her mother (Tracey Bonner), who leave their home in Chicago to seek help from the BIONA facility. Unlike Dion, who's had the privilege of having help with his superpowers, Janelle struggles to be understood by BIONA trainers and her mom. The obstacle she and Simone face together is creating space in their relationship that allows the teen to be independent - a similar dilemma between Dion and Nicole. Though Wainwright has no children of her own, the actor firmly believes her "Raising Dion" character is a mirror for a lot of other parents' "universal struggles" when it comes to loosening their hold on their kids.
"What I can only imagine is that parenthood is a lot about doing everything you can to create the space for your child to thrive knowing that, at some point, they're going to leave the nest and you just kind of have to accept that and be proud of whatever happens."
"I can't speak to it personally, but I can only imagine the reality of losing the grip you have on your children must be very daunting," Wainwright remarks. "Dion's character is very young, so these kids are still very much within your control. But I can't imagine mothers who have children that are Janelle's age. That must be so challenging as they have their own individual identity and you maybe don't understand it because you're still thinking about them when they were 8 years old and needing you for everything. So I don't necessarily blame Janelle's mom on the show at all for her just wanting to rip her kid away from the experience and just protect her because that's kind of what Nicole's character does in season one. But at the end of the day, what I can only imagine is that parenthood is a lot about doing everything you can to create the space for your child to thrive knowing that, at some point, they're going to leave the nest and you just kind of have to accept that and be proud of whatever happens."
Portraying a single mom on "Raising Dion" has offered Wainwright some of the most sound parenting advice she's ever received - even if she's not actively putting it to use. For her, playing Nicole has helped her find the beauty in her role, which gives her a "very objective, step-back view" of different parenting styles. "I have such an easy way out because my child is not based in reality, it's a show," she says. "But it does give me so much perspective on all the ways you could go about being a parent. I hope to have children of my own one day and I think I have such an incredible toolbox of things that I've picked up along the way - 'Raising Dion' gave me that."
"Raising Dion" is now available to stream on Netflix.