A list inspired by a parent seeking stress-relief through the movies. This selection of films features drama and comedy, serious issue and slapstick fun; hopefully reminding all parents they’re not alone stressing about raising children.
It’s not easy being a parent. Sometimes raising children can feel like the toughest job in the world. In many ways, it is the toughest job. It’s certainly the most important one most people will ever do. However, from time to time, you’ll want to scream out loud; you’ll feel angry, upset, frustrated, ill-prepared. You might even feel all these things at once. But you’re not alone. In fact, if you didn’t feel some or all of these emotions at one time or another, you’re probably not doing it right!
Film as entertainment can be a great relaxer. It’s the pressure release when the kids have finally gone to bed. But it can also be cathartic for other reasons, not least reminding us that we’re not alone facing these challenges. The “escape” we can get through movies can come through the sharing of anxieties. Within that common ground we discover all the wonderful reasons why our children are the best things in the world.
This list is inspired by my young daughter and aims to remind parents they’re not alone stressing about raising children. Or maybe it’s just to remind me of that fact!
Three Men And A Baby (Nimoy, 1987)
The 1980s featured positive cultural transformation between the sexes; women were rising up the corporate ranks, marriage wasn’t a handcuff to misery, and men were, for the first time, experiencing being a stay-at-home parent. Family life was evolving in Western society and Leonard Nimoy’s Three Men and a Baby is a great, if lightweight, example of fathers enduring – and enjoying – the trials and tribulations of raising a child. An iconic family movie with many memorable scenes, not least serenading the baby to sleep with a rendition of “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight”, Three Men and a Baby is a lovable comedy that will remind parents new and old about those first year challenges.
Parental Guidance (Fickman, 2012)
A delightful – and underrated – film from director Andy Fickman who has a tendency to make knockabout comedy for and about family life and growing up (She’s The Man, The Game Plan and You Again). They’re not all worth seeing but Parental Guidance, about grandparents Artie (Billy Crystal) and Diana Decker (Bette Midler) having to reintroduce themselves back to parenthood after agreeing to babysit their daughter’s three children, is fun, warm-hearted and just the right side of sentimental. The performances from the children, especially Bailee Madison, complement likable turns from the all-star cast.
Captain Fantastic (Ross, 2016)
The idea of the movie started for Matt Ross as he began questioning the choices he and his wife were making as parents. It’s not a film to relieve stress (in the escapist fashion of Three Men and a Baby, for example) but Captain Fantastic underlines the challenges of the parenting journey, valuing the life-affirming qualities for both parents and children. No it isn’t easy; yes, the ups can sometimes feel pummelled into submission by the downs, but there’s reward amidst the obstacles, heartache and tribulations. This is a unique film about a unique family.
Three Men And A Little Lady (Ardolino, 1990)
The lesser sequel to Leonard Nimoy’s Three Men and a Baby might not be as good as its predecessor but still has the odd moment that will make parents of young children chuckle. Mary, now five, is discovering the sorts of new things in life that make for awkward conversations. Who doesn’t laugh when Peter tries to explain what a penis is to the impressionable preteen. The three main male cast members – Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg and Ted Danson – go through the (contractual) motions but still have decent chemistry and the feel-good ending will put a smile on your face. Still, I’m sure the film loses most viewers with its depiction of a female lead who’s genuinely unlikable. She’s such a bad role model to her daughter – agreeing to marry a man who she clearly doesn’t love, whose benefit to her is seemingly about advancing her career and letting her live in his mansion. You’ll be rolling your eyes at the overblown romance – just what does Selleck’s Peter see in her?
Parenthood (Howard, 1989)
Parenthood is an ensemble family movie about a group of parents dealing with the daily challenges of raising children of different ages and in different environments. Ron Howard’s smart comedy remembers to be funny but takes its subject matter seriously enough to deliver some compelling drama concerning the dynamics of family, growing up and work-life balance.
Indeed, Parenthood ticks enough boxes to appeal to a wide audience – there’s the divorcee single mother and her rebellious teens, the vacant single father who requires parenting help from Granddad and Grandma, the working class married couple with multiple children, and the middle class man and wife with a single child.
The film deals with multiple themes but successfully underlines it all with the notion that trying to understand your children’s individual fears and anxieties in order to give them the solution is not necessarily the answer to their happiness. Always being there for your children, an ear forever open to listen to them, is actually more important.
What We Did On Our Holiday (Hamilton/Jenkin, 2014)
This likable family comedy-drama will thrill fans of British sit-com Outnumbered as the two take their inspiration from the same source. It sees mum and dad (Rosamund Pike and David Tennant), their relationship on the rocks, travel to the Scottish Highlands for a family gathering alongside their three children Lottie (Emilia Jones), Mickey (Bobby Smalldridge), and Jess (Harriet Turnbull). The strains of parenthood on a marriage are evident here as well as the difficulties of shielding children from relationship turmoil. But there’s also plenty of fun to be had despite the sobering themes.
Mr Mom (Dragoti, 1983)
Written by John Hughes – the writer-director who would become synonymous with the teen movie of the 1980s – Mr Mom sees Michael Keaton assume the role of stay-at-home dad after he loses his job and his wife gets an executive role at an advertising agency. It’s inspired by the evolving liberation of traditional Western society gender roles, the assumption that dad works and mum cooks, cleans and looks after the baby at home now fading into distant memory. If you’ve seen any of Hughes’ films from his teen classics like The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Pretty In Pink to his family-centred work like Home Alone, Uncle Buck and Planes, Trains and Automobiles, you’ll know what to expect. It’s funny, recognisable for both mums and dads, and features another brilliant early-career performance from an energetic Keaton.
Uncle Buck (Hughes, 1989)
John Hughes is often associated with the teen drama but his best films include both stories about adulthood and childhood (consider the brilliant Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Home Alone). Uncle Buck brings both together, the adult of the piece being John Candy’s larger than life title character, the children being 15-year-old Tia (Jean Louisa Kelly), 8-year-old Miles (Macauley Culkin prior to his star turn in Home Alone a year later), and 6-year-old Maizy (Gaby Hoffmann). It’s a story that Parental Guidance would rejig in 2012 with similar success but Hughes’ film brilliantly brings the fish-out-of-water motif to the world of parenting. Here we see an uncle trying his best with the tools at his disposal without any experience of looking after children. What’s genuinely compelling for parents within this story is that raising a child is a “fish out of water” story. Whether you’re a mum, dad or in this case dad’s brother. Uncle Buck captures that sense of learning as you go along with Hughes’ trademark wit and intelligence. It also boasts the charms and warm heart of Candy and many laughs.
Big Daddy (Dugan, 1999)
This sweet-natured story of a man forced into looking after his roommate’s estranged child after the five-year-old’s mother dies, allows fish-out-of-water comedy to ensue as our man-child protagonist tries to be a responsible adult for the first time in his life. It’s one of Adam Sandler’s most widely appealing films, celebrating the innocence of children as well as their wide-eyed imagination. Those persistent questions about the world lead to some amusing sequences, particularly in how Sandler’s Sonny Koufax tries to explain themes of sex, gender and culture for a young, impressionable mind.
Room (Abrahamson, 2015)
Differing from other films on this list by its sobering tone and unsettling themes, Room is nonetheless a fascinating example of how children experience the world around them and innocently question their own existence. In Room, the world is far smaller than the one we take for granted as five-year-old Jack has been held captive alongside his mother throughout his entire life. His experiences come from the TV shows, films and commercials he sees on their small television as well as the stories his mother reads to him from books they keep.
The set-up – a woman kidnapped, raped and held prisoner with the child she birthed as a result of her captor’s sexual assaults – makes for an unsettling, uncomfortable viewing experience. But the child’s reaction to the world around him, even in this context, is as recognisable as any child raised in a more traditional and safe home environment. The questions he asks, the tantrums he displays, the imaginative way he plays, the kinship with his mum – all traits that remind of the childhood journey and a parent’s role within that journey.
Over to you: what are your fave films about children that help out when you’re having one of those stressful parenting days?