The Best Shows That Show Just How Hard Parenting Really Is

By Sckylar Gibby-Brown | Published

Parenting is a journey filled with highs and lows, a rollercoaster of emotions that often leaves us questioning our choices and abilities. While the joy of watching your children grow and thrive is immeasurable, the challenges and complexities of parenthood can be equally overwhelming.

To shed light on the multifaceted nature of raising children, we’ve curated a list of 10 exceptional TV shows that depict the trials and tribulations of parenting in all its glory. 

From heartwarming dramas to side-splitting comedies, these shows offer a candid and often unfiltered look into the world of parenting.

This Is Us (2016-2022)

This Is Us is an emotionally charged drama that intertwines the lives of the Pearson family across different timelines. The show explores the challenges faced by three siblings, their parents, and their interconnected stories, delving deep into themes of love, loss, and family bonds.

The series boasts a talented ensemble cast, including Milo Ventimiglia (who some might remember as Jess in Gilmore Girls), Mandy Moore, Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz, and Justin Hartley.

This Is Us is renowned for its raw portrayal of parenting challenges. It tackles issues like adoption, teenage pregnancy, and the loss of a child with remarkable sensitivity. The show’s unflinching examination of the complexities of parenthood, from the joys to the heartaches, resonates with audiences.

It reminds us that parenting is an emotional rollercoaster filled with unexpected twists, and that sometimes, the most profound lessons are learned through life’s toughest moments.

Modern Family (2009-2020)

Created a few years after the world-renowned comedy series The Office blew audiences away with its knee-slapping mockumentary-style sitcom format, Modern Family was released following a similar style. Modern Family is a hilarious mockumentary-style sitcom that follows the lives of the Pritchett-Dunphy-Tucker clan.

The show provides a comedic look into an extended, multi-generational family, exploring the ups and downs of their relationships, marriages, and parenting experiences.

The series features a hilarious ensemble cast, including Ed O’Neill, Sofia Vergara, Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, and Eric Stonestreet.

Modern Family may be a comedy, but it doesn’t shy away from portraying the challenges of parenting. From raising a blended family to dealing with rebellious teenagers and navigating quirky family dynamics, the show cleverly highlights the humorous yet often demanding aspects of modern parenting.

It reminds us that laughter can be a coping mechanism, and sometimes, all you can do is embrace the chaos and enjoy the ride.

Parenthood (2010-2015)
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Parenthood is a heartwarming drama series that revolves around the Braverman family. It delves into the everyday trials and tribulations faced by the four generations of the Braverman clan, tackling issues such as autism, teenage rebellion, career challenges, and relationship dynamics.

The series showcases a memorable ensemble cast, including Lauren Graham (who is also featured in another show on this list), Peter Krause, Craig T. Nelson, and Dax Shepard.

Parenthood authentically portrays the complexities of raising a family. Taking inspiration from real life, the series doesn’t shy away from the messy, emotional, and sometimes heartbreaking aspects of parenthood (hence the name of the show).

As each character faces unique challenges, the show teaches its audience that parenting isn’t about having all the answers — it’s about navigating the unpredictable journey of raising children.

Black-ish (2014-present)

Black-ish is a witty sitcom that revolves around the Johnson family, led by Dre, an advertising executive, and his wife, Rainbow, a doctor. The show delves into their experiences as an upper-middle-class African-American family, addressing topics such as cultural identity, race, and parenting.

The series is anchored by an exceptional cast, including Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laurence Fishburne, and Yara Shahidi.

Black-ish offers a unique perspective on the challenges of parenting within a culturally diverse world. Dre and Rainbow grapple with how to instill a sense of cultural heritage and identity in their children while navigating modern American life. 

The show’s humor and thoughtful storytelling shed light on the difficulties of raising children in a society that constantly presents new cultural and societal challenges.

It encourages its audience to have conversations about these important issues and underscores the complexities of contemporary parenting as a person of color in the United States.

Gilmore Girls (2000-2007, 2016)

Gilmore Girls is a beloved dramedy series that has remained one of Netflix’s most popular shows more than 20 years after the series’ original debut.

The show follows the lives of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, a mother-daughter duo living in the charming New England town of Stars Hollow. The show explores their close-knit relationship, their aspirations, and the quirky community they call home. 

The series features Lauren Graham (who later led the cast in Parenthood), Alexis Bledel, Scott Patterson, and a talented ensemble cast including one of the comedy genre’s favorites, Melissa McCarthy, Milo Ventimiglia (This is Us), Jared Padalecki of Supernatural fame, Matt Czuchry, and Sean Gunn.

Gilmore Girls provides a unique lens on the complexities of single parenthood and the challenges that arise when trying to balance friendship and motherhood. After getting pregnant at 16, Lorelai makes the difficult choice to raise Rory on her own, navigating the challenges of being a young single parent while forging a strong bond with her daughter. The show emphasizes the sacrifices parents make for their children’s well-being and dreams. 

Launching off the series’ incredible popularity and huge fan base, Netflix released an original mini-series special in 2016, showcasing where the characters ended up 10 years later in A Year in the Life.

A Year in the Life revisits the show’s original themes as Lorelai faces new challenges with Rory now an adult. The series beautifully captures the enduring love between mother and daughter while portraying the difficulties of parenting, even as children grow into adulthood.

The Fosters (2013-2018)

The Fosters is a drama series that centers around the multi-ethnic Adams Foster family, a mix of biological, adopted, and foster children being raised by lesbian couple Stef and Lena Adams Foster. The show delves into their lives as they navigate the challenges of family dynamics, relationships, and social issues.

The series features a talented ensemble cast, including Teri Polo, Sherri Saum, Maia Mitchell, and David Lambert.

The Fosters shines a light on non-traditional families, showcasing the complexities and rewards of parenting in diverse circumstances. The show addresses topics such as LGBTQ+ parenting, teen pregnancy, and the foster care system, offering a thought-provoking perspective on the challenges of modern parenting.

The series highlights the power of love, resilience, and the importance of creating a supportive environment for children who may not have had a stable upbringing.

Atypical (2017-2021)

Atypical is a coming-of-age dramedy that follows the life of Sam Gardner, a teenager on the autism spectrum, as he navigates the challenges of high school, dating, and growing up. The show also explores the experiences of Sam’s family members as they support him and deal with their own individual struggles.

The series stars Keir Gilchrist as Sam Gardner, along with Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Rapaport, and Brigette Lundy-Paine.

Atypical provides a poignant portrayal of parenting a child with autism. Sam’s parents, Elsa and Doug, grapple with the unique challenges of raising an autistic child while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy.

The series offers insight into the emotional and practical difficulties of providing support and understanding for a child with special needs. It emphasizes the importance of patience, communication, and unconditional love in parenting.

Shameless (2011-2021)

Shameless is a darkly comedic drama series that revolves around the Gallagher family, led by the neglectful and erratic patriarch, Frank Gallagher. The show explores their turbulent lives in the gritty South Side of Chicago, where they face poverty, addiction, and various challenges.

The series features an ensemble cast, including William H. Macy, Emmy Rossum, Jeremy Allen White, and Cameron Monaghan.

Shameless provides a stark and unfiltered look at the struggles of dysfunctional parenting. Frank’s reckless behavior and alcoholism force his children to fend for themselves, taking on adult responsibilities at a young age. The series highlights the harsh realities of poverty and the impact it has on family dynamics. 

The Crown (2016-2022)

The Crown may not be the first series to come to mind when thinking about the different series that showcase the challenges of parenthood. However, this historical drama series that chronicles the reign of Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family is a show about family at its heart.

The show spans several decades, depicting the political and personal challenges faced by the monarchy and its impact on family dynamics.

The series features a rotating cast, with Claire Foy, Olivia Colman, and Imelda Staunton portraying Queen Elizabeth II at different stages of her life. Other notable cast members include Helena Bonham Carter, Tobias Menzies, Matt Smith, Dominic West, Lesley Manville, Charles Edwards, and Elizabeth Debicki.

While The Crown primarily focuses on royal duties and political intrigue, it also delves into the complexities of royal parenthood. Queen Elizabeth II must balance her roles as monarch and mother, often making difficult decisions that impact her family.

The show explores the strained relationships between parents and children within the royal family, shedding light on the isolation and expectations placed on them. 

The Americans (2013-2018)

The Americans is a gripping espionage thriller that revolves around the lives of Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, a seemingly ordinary American couple who are, in reality, undercover Soviet spies during the Cold War. The show follows their covert operations, the strain it puts on their marriage, and the impact on their two unsuspecting children.

The series stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, along with Holly Taylor and Keidrich Sellati as their children, Paige and Henry.

The Americans provides a unique and intense perspective on the challenges of parenting while leading a double life. Elizabeth and Philip must juggle the demands of espionage with their responsibilities as parents.

They grapple with the moral dilemma of exposing their children to their dangerous world while trying to protect them from the truth. The show explores the emotional toll of living a lie and the sacrifices made for a cause. 

The Americans portrays the complexities of raising a family in extraordinary circumstances and underscores the blurred lines between love, loyalty, and duty.