Lessons in Parenting
What to Expect From Hollywood
Published on May 16, 2012 by guest author: J LeBlanc

The new film "What to Expect When You’re Expecting" caught my eye the other day. It shares its name with a book known as the “pregnancy bible” and I wondered what, if anything, the two had in common. So, I watched the trailer. It appears the resemblance ends with the name. Far from having the desired effect of making me want to watch the movie, it made me wonder how it is possible that Hollywood is still beating to death the same tired stereotypes about birth and parenting.

A large part of the trailer features a group of morose dads saddled with babies and their bulky paraphernalia telling the new guy about how parenting means your life is over — stereotype number one. They also inform the newcomer that his girlfriend is really running the show; in this case, if she wants to look at houses, they will get a house —enter stereotype number two. To cap off this optimistic lesson, they inform him that within their group of “dudes” there is “no judging” – no matter what heights of incompetence or neglect they may reach. Thus we come to stereotype number three: the incompetent father. To the credit of the fathers out there, I don’t think this one is merited. 

The final stereotype involves the birth process. The several-second clip told me that it was the same comedic birth scene I’ve seen so many times before. Woman in labor verbally and/or physically abuses significant other while screaming for drugs. How about a woman who toughs it out for once? Or even one who genuinely tries? Or one who gives in out of exhaustion rather than because the pain is too much for her delicate feminine sensitivities? These fictional women must have super human energy — most of the actual births I watched on video involved a lot of moaning, but not a lot of yelling, except perhaps at the final pushing stage.

When trying to show the funny side of parenting Hollywood tends to focus on all the bad things. I can, however, think of some exceptions. I enjoyed the movie "Three Men and a Baby." Yes, the guys are incompetent, but, unlike the Hollywood fathers who apparently spend nine months ignoring the fact that they are about to have a child, these bachelors have the excuse that someone left the baby on their doorstep. It has been a long time since I’ve seen it, but I seem to remember some nice tender moments as well, drawing comedy in a subtler way from seeing the suave bachelors (Ted Danson, Tom Selleck, and Steve Guttenberg) cooing and bouncing the baby.

I was also mildly impressed by the way Pam’s delivery was handled on "The Office." Jim was the appropriately nervous dad scouring his books for the correct information on the interval between contractions before they went to the hospital. The action in the hospital focused more on Pam’s difficulties with breastfeeding than on the labor and delivery. Jim’s jealousy of the handsome male lactation consultant was a stretch, as was Pam accidentally nursing the wrong baby, but at least it was different.

Another show, "Up All Night," focuses primarily on the challenges of parenting. It features a stay-at-home dad and a career mother. In one episode I watched, the dad is disappointed that his wife dresses up for work, but dons spit-up stained sweats for him at home. Another stay-at-home father counsels him on how to reignite the spark in his marriage by making himself more alluring.  This scored points with me for the “aha” moment that maybe the dad should make an effort in this department as well, especially as Will Arnett seems to be genuinely trying and not secretly thinking he shouldn’t have to. However, I was disappointed in the flashback-to-the-birth episode—same old screaming for drugs bit, although at least I think she planned for them in advance.  

I think it must be difficult to write a show or film with parenting as the focus. The funny things about parenting make much better anecdotes for the dinner table or even viral YouTube videos because parenting is about the combination of all the little moments - laughing at the dumb things you do, the funny things your child does, and the sweet, tender moments as a family. But I give credit to the shows and films that at least make an effort to capture this rather than inundating the viewer with the same stereotypes we’ve seen for years.

J LeBlanc is a former high school teacher who resides in Lebanon, N.H. She is currently taking a break from teaching to stay home with her 8-month-old son.

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