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Pamela Adlon, the star and creator of Better Things.
Pamela Adlon, the star and creator of Better Things.

Pop CultureFebruary 28, 2019

What Better Things nails about being a parent

Pamela Adlon, the star and creator of Better Things.
Pamela Adlon, the star and creator of Better Things.

There’s a lot to love about the acclaimed comedy-drama Better Things, which returns to Lightbox for a third season this Friday. Tara Ward takes at look what the show gets right about parenting.  

Better Things heroine Sam Fox reckons that if she was to ever name her home, it’d be called ‘Tiny Assholes With Vaginas’. Please enjoy your stay, because Better Things is filled with tiny assholes, aka children, in this sharp comedy-drama that perfectly captures the highs and lows of modern parenting.

Better Things follows Sam (played by the magnificient Pamela Adlon, who also wrote, directed and exec-produced the series), a single, working mother of three daughters living in Los Angeles. Sam juggles a hectic family life with an career as an actor in an industry that doesn’t treat middle-aged women well, and a personal life filled with good friends and unworthy men.  It’s a tough ask. “I’m dating my daughters,” Sam tells a friend. “They’re my love life”.

Better Things is, indeed, a love letter to families. Through vignettes of Sam’s everyday life, the show captures the joys and frustrations of single-handedly raising three young humans—the endless car trips to ballet and soccer practice, the family dinners with eccentric grandmother Phil (Celia Imrie), the school events where Sam ends up motivating a room of women about their periods. It’s sharp, it’s funny, and it’s the most honest portrayal of parenting I’ve seen on television.

What makes Better Things special is that it’s entirely relatable.  It’s like they climbed into the back of my station wagon and recorded all the random questions, the swearing and singing, the times I’ve pulled over with a screech of the tyres and told everyone to walk home. Sometimes Sam explodes at her kids in complete fury, other times we see moments of unexpected tenderness so real they make your heart ache. It’s all here on Better Things. This is parenthood in all it’s infuriating, incredible glory.

Better Things gives us parenting with all the of the heart, and none of the cliches. Sam Fox is my parenting hero, because if Sam can do it, we can do it too. Here’s some more things that Better Things gets right about parenting.

Kids are crap magnets

Seeing Sam’s house brings me joy. There are no clean surfaces. It’s chaotic and busy and colourful, because kids are crap magnets whose detritus spreads over their empire like a deadly pandemic of disarray.

This is the sort of chaos I want to see in Home and Garden. Stand down, Marie Kondo, because Sam is a single working mother who a) is too tired and b) has better things to do than tidy up her kids mess.  Amen, hallelujah, better living everyone.

Poo-related anecdotes are always funny

Even Lenny Kravitz loves them, so please, keep them flowing.

Nobody has any idea what they’re doing

Science has proved time and time again that we’re making this parenting malarkey up as we go along. Sam has to cover a lot of parenting ground, between a seven year old who won’t sleep alone, a pre-teen who threatens to cut off her clitoris as a political protest, and a 16 year old who demands Sam buys her some organic pot.

They didn’t warn us about any of this in antenatal class, so I want my money back. In the meantime, I’m using Better Things as my modern day parenting bible, taking notes as Sam navigates her way through this endless shitstorm of responsibility. She’s as confused as the rest of us, and I am here for it.

The perfect parent doesn’t exist

Although we’re doing our best, sometimes the parenting shit hits the fan. “I’m a shitty mother,” Sam says in season one, but who hasn’t been a shitty parent at one point or another? Let’s be shitty and proud.

It’s a rollercoaster of emotions

Sam’s on one hell of a ride. One minute her children are so obnoxious she needs to leave the house, the next they’re pretending she’s dead so they can say nice things about her at her mock-funeral.  Seems drastic, but whatever gets a “thank you” out of your kids is fine by me.

Everyone’s a parenting expert

Spoiler, they’re not, and I love Sam for not putting up with unsolicited bullshit from strangers.

You bloody love your kids like nothing else on earth

Whether it’s Duke tenderly touching her Mum’s face as she goes to sleep, or Sam quietly watching her children play the piano, there’s a peace and beauty in Better Things that fills the heart. These are the moments when you breathe and fall in love with your kids all over again, which is just as well, because they’ll probably be tiny assholes again in five seconds time.

The only way to survive is to dance your way to happiness

Be right back, just forming a ‘90s girl band with the fruit of my loins.

The third season of Better Things drops on Lightbox on Friday March 1. You can watch it and the previous two seasons right here.

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