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”.


(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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