Twelve Excellent Movies About the Pain (and the Joy) of Parenting

When we are expecting, we have this idea that our babies will bring us happiness. I maintain that starting a family does not make a person “happy” (whatever that means). Parenting is painful and scary. Parenting hurts precisely because we love our children so much. As parents, we are capable of so much strength and love, even in the hardest of circumstances. The following movies about parenting depicts both the highs and the lows.

Despite the pain of parenting, having and raising children brings a sense of purpose, and that is so much more important than happiness. In the following movies about parenting, we see characters who are sometimes lost or struggling. But they find their reason for getting up each day in being the mom or dad their child needs them to be. (Or in some cases, being who they THINK their child needs to them to be!) Some of these parents need to focus a little more on their own self-care; some of them need to focus a little less on themselves. Our children grow and that dance changes over time. We don’t always know how much to help, and how much to step away and attend to our own needs.

How to Read the List

Speaking of growing children, the following list of movies about parenting is organized roughly in order of age of child. So parents of young children will find something of value at the beginning of the list, whereas parents of older children might want to skip to the middle and the end. (In order to gain the most therapeutic value from your movie watching experience, I suggest you read my other post about how to watch a movie mindfully.) In this list of movies about parenting, I have included everything you might find helpful when trying to choose what you want to watch tonight.

  • Where I found it (in summer 2020, given what services and platforms I have access to): You may have other streaming services, and this information may change over time. Renting off iTunes is usually a good last resort if you are having trouble finding it elsewhere.
  • Year: How old is it? Movies here were made between 2009 to 2018.
  • Running Time: Sometimes you have time for something longer, sometimes you don’t!
  • Rating: Sourced from Consumer Protection BC (British Columbia), who have the task of rating everything shown on the big screen in our province. So, movies not made for the big screen are not rated here.
  • Reviews: Sourced from Rotten Tomatoes. I have tried to go a little deeper than just whether it is “fresh” or “rotten”. You will find information about critics’ vs the audience, top critics vs all the critics, some qualitative comments, and more.

Twelve Movies About Parenting

A Kid Like Jake

(Netflix, 2018): In New York City, a four-year old’s mom and dad struggle with their child’s gender identity as the time for entering Kindergarten approaches,. Their child was assigned male at birth, but identifies as a girl. Starring Claire Danes and Jim Parsons (from Big Bang theory).

  • 92 minutes runtime. Made for Netflix, so not rated in BC.
  • Received 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, with 48 critics giving an average rating of 6/10. Generally, critics found that the movie took an “overly cautious approach”.

The Lighthouse of the Orcas 

(Netflix, 2016): In trying to help her autistic son find an emotional connection, a mother who has a “special relationship with nature” travels with him to Patagonia (“the end of the world”) to meet a ranger and wild orcas. This is an Argentinean (Spanish language) movie.

  • 110 minutes, made for Netflix, so not rated in BC.
  • Listed on Rotten Tomatoes as “The Lighthouse of the Whales”. Not enough consensus to receive a rating. However, three out of four critics liked it.

An Audience of Chairs 

(CBC Gem, 2018): A young mother in the throes of both manic and depressive symptoms, endangers her children safety and then has them apprehended. She is reunited with them twenty years later. Set in Newfoundland.

  • 94 minutes, rated PG in BC.
  • Unrated by Rotten Tomatoes, but two out of three critics liked it. One stated it was “a movie about empathy … an experience to be shared”.

Wonder

(Netflix, 2017): The story of a little boy entering grade five who lives with facial differences, and how his parents, his classmates, and the larger community all struggle with compassion and acceptance of his disability. Starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson.

  • 114 minutes runtime, rated PG.
  • Received 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, with 187 critics giving an average rating of 7/10. Critics found it sentimental, but “but this well-acted and overall winsome drama earns its tugs at the heartstrings”.

My Sister’s Keeper 

(Netflix, Crave, 2009): Based on a book by Jodi Picoult, and starring Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin. Two parents, desperate to save the life of their fragile and ill child, resort to desperate means.

  • 110 minutes runtime, rated PG.
  • Received 48% on Rotten Tomatoes, with 136 critics divided approximately in half on whether it was worth watching. But the audience score was significantly higher, at 72%.

No Letting Go 

(Amazon Prime, also available in full for free on Youtube, 2015/2016): Parents struggle to come to terms with their young teen’s mental illness. Based on a true story. “There is no letting go when you have a sick child.”

  • 104 minutes, not widely released.
  • A mental health professional writing for HuffPost reviewed this movie. Audiences on Rotten Tomatoes rated overall “fresh”, but no critics scores.

World’s Greatest Dad 

(Rent on AppleTV/iTunes or on YouTube, 2009): A middle-aged single dad, struggling with depression, undergoes the accidental death of his teenage slacker son. In his grief (and subsequent choices) he learns that “the things you want most may not be the things that make you happy and that being lonely is not necessarily the same as being alone”. Starring Robin Williams, only five years before his death.

  • 99 minutes runtime, limited box office release and not rated in BC.
  • Received 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, with the “top” critics assigning it 97%. Critics described it as a “risky, deadpan, dark comedy”. It may have been too risky, as it tanked at the box office!

The Descendants 

(Rent on AppleTV/iTunes or on YouTube, 2011): A movie for all Dads of daughters. An indifferent Dad is forced to re-examine his priorities, and his relationships with his children, when his wife dies unexpectedly. Starring George Clooney.

  • 116 minutes runtime; rated PG.
  • Received 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 8/10. Rated even higher by “top” critics (which is unusual!)

Beautiful Boy

(Amazon Prime, 2018): This story chronicles the heartbreaking and inspiring experience of survival, relapse, and recovery in a family coping with addiction over many years. It was based on the best-selling pair of memoirs from father and son David and Nic Sheff. Starring Steve Carrell.

  • 121 minutes, rated 14A.
  • Received 68% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, with 170 critics assigning an average 6.5/10 rating.

Ben is Back

(Netflix, 2018): A 19-year-old son (who struggles with addiction) returns home on Christmas Eve morning. Over the next 24 hours, relationships are tested, new information is revealed, especially as his mom (Julia Roberts again) struggles to keep her son safe.

  • 103 minutes, rated 14A.
  • Received 81% on Rotten Tomatoes, with 213 critics giving an average of 7/10. Generally described as “understated … subverts family dramas”.

The Land of Steady Habits 

(Netflix, 2018): While this movie is mainly about a “deeply flawed”, lonely and depressed middle aged male, the story centres around how his mistakes impact everyone around him. Importantly, we see his efforts to be the Dad his young adult son, struggling to find his independence, needs him to be.

  • 98 minutes, made for Netflix, so not rated in BC.
  • Received 83% on Rotten Tomatoes, with 40 critics giving an average of 7/10. Critics consensus: “finely layered performances … one mid-life crisis worth watching”.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi 

(Rent on AppleTV/iTunes or on YouTube, 2011): You don’t have to care about sushi to enjoy this documentary about anxiety, perfectionism, parenting and aging. A story of a world class chef and his relationship with his eldest son and heir, “who is unable to live up to his full potential in his father’s shadow”.

  • 83 minutes runtime, rated G.
  • Received 99% on Rotten Tomatoes!! 94 critics assigned this movie an average of 8/10. Even audiences liked it, giving it 92%.

Finally …

Our children were not created to love us. Rather, it’s our job to love them without condition. After watching one of these movies about parenting, check out the riveting and emotional TED talk “Love, No Matter What”. You will learn more about how deeply parents love their children, even in the most difficult of circumstances. I highly recommend it!!

So what about you? You came here for a reason. If you are interested in watching movies about parenting, and how painful it can be, chances are you are a parent. Parenting is one of the most important jobs you have taken on. It may be that on some days, you’re beating yourself up, because it feels like you keep screwing up your job, when all you want to do is help. You might even be coping with your own issues, in addition to trying your best to help them with theirs. You would do anything for your child. But as a parent, you are scared of the future, and sometimes angry at this person you love more than anything. You might be lonely because others don’t understand. Regardless of whether your child wants their own help, you want to learn more about how to help them.

I’ve been there too, and I know we can’t do this alone. Need help? First, watch one of these movies about parenting. (Before you start watching, remember to read this.) Then, what are you feeling? We rarely watch a movie without feeling something. Last – need help with that? Get in touch with Rainstorm Counselling today.

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Cinematherapy Revisited: 95 Movies (and TV Shows) about Depression, Anxiety, Grief & Loss, Divorce, Disability, Parenting & Other Really Tough Things You Might Need Counselling For

While they are probably not considered “Cinematherapy,” I love superhero movies, time travel and other fantasy and science fiction. In fact, I love them as much (usually even more) than the next middle-aged woman. Give me Doom Patrol, X-Men, and Star Trek: Discovery any day. Yes, escape has its own therapeutic effect; escape is my jam. I am a true movie buff and a tv fangirl. At last year’s latest Terminator movie, I literally pumped my fist in the air and cheered when Sarah Connor showed up!

But sometimes you need a movie that feels a little too “real”. Those movies can be hard to watch. But they’re important, because they get you out of your comfort zone. For more reminders of why they are important, read my post from two and a half years ago. (I can’t believe it’s been that long!) In that post, I said I was starting a new series … then never came back to it. … Well I’m back!!!

One of the ways my collecting hoarding tendencies takes shape is in my Netflix “to watch” list. I wish I could sort it into categories the same way I do my Pinterest boards.One of the categories would be called “Cinematherapy”. I haven’t seen most of what’s on the following list myself. (More posts to come on that!) It reflects my interests (both personal and professional) in parenting, aging, illness and more. In this post I’m re-starting my blog series, and sharing my complete “to watch” list.

One Idea To Get Your Cinematherapy Journey Started

Right now, my husband and I are halfway through “The Land of Steady Habits” (2018, on Netflix). It’s about male depression, loneliness, divorce and family breakup, parenting, and addiction. It feels very real, and it got 83% on Rotten Tomatoes. And it’s funny! When we started it, I was really hoping the family in the movie would get back together, but I don’t think it’s heading that way. However, it’s working for us is because we can watch something that feels so close to home, while staying at a safe arm’s length distance. We can get uncomfortable, but not too uncomfortable. Getting brave about being uncomfortable is imperative for personal growth and development. That’s what watching movies mindfully (ie. Cinematherapy) can do for us.

95 Movies (and TV Shows) on Tough Things to Help You Grow

So put the escape aside for one night, and be brave! Get a little uncomfortable. Additionally, know your limits and do your own research. (For example, if you just had a parent die in the last six months, you may (?) not want to watch a movie about a parent dying.) Finally, if you are wondering how to make the most out of your movie watching experience, check out my first Cinematherapy post and scroll down to “How to Watch a Movie with Mindful Awareness”. (And don’t forget to scroll to the end to see what’s next on this series!)

MOVIES TO STREAM ON NETFLIX

  • The Leisure Seeker (Aging, Dementia)
  • Sister Cities (Family estrangement, aging, suicide)
  • The Meyerowitz Stories (family estrangement, men aging)
  • Our Souls at Night (aging, loneliness)
  • Marriage Story (divorce)
  • The Fundamentals of Caring (Physical disability)
  • A Kid Like Jake (gender nonconformity, parenting)
  • Brain on Fire (seizures, psychosis)
  • Wonder (stigma, parenting)
  • Like Father (family estrangement)
  • Ben is Back (addiction, parenting)
  • 6 Balloons (addiction, parenting, caregiving)
  • The Last Laugh (aging)
  • To the Bone (eating disorders, body image)
  • The Land of Steady Habits (divorce, midlife, depression, parenting)
  • What They Had (Caregiving, aging, dementia)
  • Concussion (brain disorders, concussions of course!)
  • Kodachrome (aging, family estrangement, grief)
  • Nappily Ever After (perfectionism, anxiety)
  • Phil (depression, suicide)
  • 100 meters (terminal illness)
  • Paddleton (terminal illness, euthanasia)
  • Irreplaceable You (terminal illness)
  • The Discovery (death, afterlife)
  • The Lighthouse of the Orcas (parenting, autism)
  • Asperger’s Are Us (Autism, documentary)
  • Crip Camp (disability, documentary)
  • Cracked Up (Childhood abuse, PTSD)
  • Unrest (chronic fatigue, documentary)
  • Silver Linings Playbook (Bipolar Disorder, anxiety)

MOVIES TO STREAM ON AMAZON PRIME

  • The Age of Anxiety (doc, 51 min)
  • After Everything (terminal illness, relationships)
  • The Sabbatical (burn out, depression)
  • Jacob (suicide, grief and loss, post traumatic strength)
  • Melissa (parenting, cyberbullying, suicide)
  • No Letting Go (parenting, anxiety and depression)
  • Beautiful Boy (parenting, addiction)
  • Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (disability, addiction)
  • A Big Love Story (body image, relationships)
  • The Descendants (grief and loss, parenting)
  • Cake (chronic pain, depression, parenting, grief)
  • Little Miss Sunshine (depression, family dynamics) *Also on Crave
  • The Soloist (Schizophrenia, burnout)
  • Robot and Frank (Dementia)
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (anxiety, men) *also on Crave
  • An Unfinished Life (men and depression, grief and loss) *also on Crave
  • My Sister’s Keeper (parenting, illness, anxiety) *also on Crave

STREAM NETFLIX TV SERIES

  • Love on the Spectrum (reality show, autism and dating)
  • After Life (grief and loss)
  • Atypical (autism, adolescence)
  • Living with Yourself (Burnout, Depression, self-improvement)
  • Special (LGBT, disability)

RENT ON ITUNES/APPLE TV OR YOUTUBE

  • World’s Greatest Dad (depression, suicide, parenting)
  • The Hours (depression, women)
  • Helen (depression, women)
  • It’s Kind of a Funny Story (depression, anxiety, perfectionism, adolescence)
  • A Separation (Dementia, caregiving)
  • Inside Out (Anxiety, Childhood) *also on Disney+. Highly recommended!
  • Anomalisa (depression, men)
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Anxiety, adolescence)
  • A Beautiful Mind (Schizophrenia, anxiety)
  • A Fantastic Fear of Everything (anxiety)
  • Jiro Dreams of Sushi (anxiety, perfectionism, parenting, aging)
  • Forgotten Plague (chronic fatigue, documentary)
  • Ordinary Love (terminal illness, marriage, caregiving)

STREAM ON CRAVE (Mostly Movies)

  • Away From Her (Dementia, caregiving)
  • The Wife (Divorce, aging)
  • The Tale (childhood trauma)
  • Diagnosis Bipolar (parenting, bipolar, documentary)
  • Bipolar Rock n Roller (documentary, men, bipolar)
  • I Know This Much is True (schizophrenia, caregiving) *an HBO miniseries, not a movie, based on the book by the same name
  • Pain and Glory (chronic pain, aging)

MOVIES TO STREAM ON CBC GEM APP (or https://gem.cbc.ca/)

  • Love, Scott (Disability, LGBT, documentary)
  • An Audience of Chairs (bipolar, child apprehension, parenting)
  • Away From Her (dementia, caregiving)
  • Empire of Dirt (childhood trauma, Indigenous)
  • Goalie (chronic pain, addiction, family breakup)
  • Hector & The Search for Happiness (depression, men)
  • How She Move (addiction, grief and loss)
  • Man Running (euthanasia)
  • Meditation Park (infidelity, divorce)
  • Minding the Gap (family violence, childhood trauma)
  • My Life Without Me (terminal illness)
  • Mouthpiece (grief and loss, women)
  • Pretend We’re Kissing (anxiety, loneliness)
  • Still Mine (dementia)
  • The Other Half (bipolar, grief and loss, relationships)
  • Tom at the Farm (grief & loss, LGBT)

MOVIES TO STREAM ON CTV APP (or on https://www.ctv.ca/movies)

  • Stepmom (divorce, parenting, grief and loss)
  • Reign Over Me (PTSD, grief and loss)
  • Girl Interrupted (anxiety, adolescence)
  • The Skeleton Twins (depression, attempted suicide, siblings, childhood trauma)

What do you think? Is there anything on my list you want to warn me off of?

Where should I start? Is there anything you’ve seen here that was amazing?

What’s missing? Anything I should add?

What’s Next?

Next, follow up posts will be broken into categories. Examples might be “Movies about Autism Spectrum Disorder” or “Movies about Parenting”. I’ll share the Rotten Tomatoes Rating, the year, where you can find it, and a sentence or two on what each is about.

Then, I’ll start watching! When I do, I’ll let you know, from a therapeutic standpoint, my thoughts and impressions. In other words, how might I approach the issues raised by the characters, if they were my clients? Exciting, right? My hope is to deepen your Cinematherapy experience. I’ll keep you posted. (Follow Rainstorm Counselling & Consulting on Facebook to stay notified of upcoming posts.)

Ten Questions to Help You Think Differently and Feel Better

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) in its very basic form is based on the idea that our mental health is like a three-legged stool. Each of the three legs stand for a different aspect of health: thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. Make a change in one leg (like learning how to think differently) – the other two legs are changed as a result!

Want even more good news? You can start with any leg of the stool!

  1. THOUGHTS: Keep reading and start learning how to think differently. Like weight training with increasingly heavy weights, changing how we think takes a lot of practice. It can help us feel better, thereby making a difference in our behaviour.
  2. ACTIONS: Many people choose to start here. What we do impacts how we feel. How we feel impacts how we think! (Watch for my upcoming post on Behaviour Activation.)
  3. EMOTIONS: In my last blog entry I talked about “bottom up” techniques, such as mindfulness in order to learn how to self-regulate our physiological responses to stress and anxiety. Most distressing emotions have an accompanying physiological response. When we can manage those responses, we can help our emotions lessen in their intensity, which will better equip us to work on our thoughts and behaviours.

Learning to Think Differently: An Example

We know that “Thoughts Are Not Facts”. The facts are what happened. Often, even that is in dispute! Our thoughts are only our interpretation, or “take-away” about what happened. Here’s an example.

SITUATION: Lucia’s 17 year old daughter is spending a lot of time in her room with the door shut. She almost never comes out to hang with the family anymore. When she does, and Lucia tries to engage her in friendly conversation, she will respond with irritation and impatience.

THOUGHTS: This could mean any number of things. In Lucia’s case, she’s thinking that her daughter must be hiding something illicit. Because Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) come and go so quickly, without us really taking time to put them under a microscope, her counsellor recommends that she sit down and journal all the distressing thoughts that are in her head – getting as detailed as she can. By slowing down through her writing, she realizes that she’s also been ignoring a few more thoughts – because they feel even more personal. Lucia is thinking about her friends that seem so close to their daughters, and wondering if her daughter must hate her. In turn, this leads to more thoughts about what a terrible mother she must be, and what a crappy job she is doing as a parent.  

FEELING: Lucia has had a whole bunch of emotions about this state of affairs. Worry, anger and hurt standing out as the strongest.

If Lucia continues down this path, her behaviours are going to get in the way of her relationship with her daughter, and her own self image as a mother. If she thinks her daughter must be hiding something illicit, she may choose to search her room when her daughter is at school. She may make accusations. If she thinks she’s a crappy mom compared to her friends (or at least, that her daughter thinks of her that way), she may go into her own fight or flight response. She might spend a lot more time in her own room. Or she might feel the need to defend herself.

Is There Another Way to Think About This?

These ten questions will help Lucia think differently, which in turn will decrease the intensity of her distressing emotions. Once she feels better, she will be in a better space for problem solving.

  1. What might I tell a friend who was in this situation?
  2. How do I think about this when I am feeling my strongest/best?
  3. Could more than one thing be true here?
  4. What’s the worst thing that could happen? How likely is it? Will it matter in five years?
  5. What’s the best thing that could happen? What is most likely to happen?
  6. Are there any exceptions to this rule? (Do I have different rules for myself than others?)
  7. If this thought is true, is it really so bad? Can I cope? Can I do anything about it?
  8. Is there anything good about this situation?
  9. What can I learn from this that will help next time?
  10. What way of thinking will help me to best serve my health and well being?

Through this questioning process, Lucia will probably come up with some other possible meanings for her daughter’s behaviours. Is it likely that her daughter is hiding something illicit, or is it perhaps that she needs more time to herself as she is growing up and feeling overwhelmed? Is she seeing all sides of her friends relationships with their daughters? Or is it possible that she is only seeing what they tell her and put on social media? Could some of what she is noticing in her daughter and their relationship be in fact, normal?

She might not fully believe any of those possibilities (yet) … but even by noticing them, and admitting there is a small chance they could be “true” … she is opening a crack to let some light in. The emotions don’t go away, but they don’t feel quite so intense, so that she can better problem solve and function as a parent.

Finally, remember that …

It’s not about seeing the world through rose coloured glasses, or looking on the bright side. Rather, it’s about learning how to step back and look at a situation from all angles, even when it feels personal and hurtful.

Imagine your thoughts are the ocean. It’s the difference between drowning in the ocean, versus sitting on the shore and watching the waves roll in. Remember, thoughts are not facts. They are only our interpretations of the facts. Learning how to think differently takes a lot practice, and it often takes a lot of help. I have a lot of experience (and more tips and tricks) to help others learn this new skill; reach out today!