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Parents in Films and Parents at Home

According to the article Parents Under Pressure in Films (Rebecca Keegan, Los Angeles Times, Jan. 2012), “parenting – specifically parental guilt and anxiety – is the subtext of a surprisingly large number of the year-end and awards-season movies”. Parents have always been a subject of interest for filmmakers, and the resulting movies have always spoken of the time in which they were created. The “hyper-self-critical, stressed-out parents” of today’s movies reflect a “culture of self-conscious child-rearing”. This is, of course, because of a societal shift in ideas of parenting. Back in the day, parents based their techniques on their own upbringing and on instincts. Today people think, analyze, and worry much more about parenting. In today’s movies, often mothers are out of the picture and fathers are portrayed as inadequate. In one such movie, 2011’s  “The Descendants”, a father has to deal with his problematic daughters while his wife is in a coma. Kaui Hart Hemmings, author of the novel “The Descendants” says of parenting,

“My grandfather would come home and have his martini hour and engage with his kids, but then he clocked out as a parent. You don’t do that anymore. I joined this mothers group, and it was just sort of this absurd culture to me. I was overwhelmed by parenting…. The focus on having the right things and what are they eating … lactation consultants, crib consultants, I swear to God there are curtain consultants. Parenting has become this whole other culture.”

Other recent movies speaking of failed parenting or parent/child relationships include “We Bought A Zoo”, “Carnage”, and “We Need To Talk About Kevin”. The main emotion that can be gleaned from these movies is guilt over parenting and how it should (or should not) be done.

This article connects to the “Anxious Parents” reading (Peter Stearns) in the course reader in that both talk about the shifting views on and anxiety around parenting. Stearns writes that the 20th century was “a century of anxiety about the child and about parents’ own adequacy”, a phenomenon which is clearly reflected in these recent films (2). Stearns also writes that children were seen as more vulnerable, fragile, and in need of protection (3).  Parents feel that they have little control over who and what influences their children, and often believe that children will act out the images they like or are influenced by, which generates more concern about parenting (10).  Also, issues such as new technology/consumer products, fears of diseases, and changes in family structure have caused parents to feel guilty about the environment in which they are raising children (3). Parents feel a huge sense of responsibility, and thus have anxieties about how they should treat their children.

These movies play to parents’ fears of bad parenting, but simultaneously alleviate guilt by showing that other parents are also not perfect.

(Below, Trailer for “The Descendants”, 2011)

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