Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Strong Women Series #3: The Women of 'Parenthood'

STRONG WOMEN SERIES #3: The Women of Parenthood
Ashley is an English Instructor in North Carolina with degrees in Literature, Creative Writing, and Cultural Studies. Her idea of a fun evening is curling up on the couch and live-tweeting her favorite TV shows, and date nights with her husband often include binge-watching on Netflix. She’s especially looking forward to the day when her daughter is old enough to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer with her.  In addition to writing for her own blog, The TV Notepad, Ashley writes for TVGoodness.com and TVFanatic.com, covering shows like Scandal, Bones, Parenthood, and Dancing with the Stars. You can follow her on Twitter: @tvscribbler!
Oh, Parenthood. It’s one of my favorite shows. It never fails to make me cry. Or better, to make me pause. Never has a show had so many moments that sparked discussion in my household. Its stories are real, its characters complex, and its women strong.

This isn’t the sort of show with tons of sex, scandals, or hostage crises. It isn’t that kind of drama. So the women aren’t strong because they chase the bad guys with guns or because they have special powers. They are strong because they fight for their children, make hard decisions, overcome cancer, run for mayor, and build schools.

I would go so far as to say that every woman on this show is strong. But for this particular post, I want to focus on four who stand out in really special ways: Sarah, Amber, Julia, and Kristina.

Sarah Braverman

When we first meet Sarah Braverman (Lauren Graham), she’s moving with her children to her parents’ house. She has two teenagers, and she’s been struggling to raise them on her own. Now, you may be thinking that moving back home in your late thirties and seeking help from your parents as an adult isn’t exactly very strong. But the opposite is true. It kills Sarah’s pride to do this, and her kids don’t exactly go willingly. Not to mention the fact that she picks up her entire life in the process.

Of course, it turns out this was the best decision she could have made for her family.

Sarah has also struggled with relationships. She’s shown strength in turning away the father of her children when she knew that was what was best for her family. She also turned away Mark when she knew she needed to focus on herself—and be comfortably alone. That’s a moment of strength I wish every woman would have. To let themselves learn to be alone, and learn who they are without needed someone else.

But then opening herself back up to someone later, also showed strength. Especially when it’s a man with Asperger’s Syndrome, which means there will be some difficulty in communication. But how much do you love Hank? I have to say, I’m glad these two found each other.

Amber Holt

And then there’s Amber, played by the fabulous Mae Whitman. Amber is especially interesting because we get the chance to see her grow up on this show. Like her mother, her life is uprooted—but for her, that happens in high school. Think about that for a second. Then she nearly gets held back a year, which is really the end of the world when you’re a teenager.

But Amber is special because of her struggles. At a young age, he falls in love with a war veteran who has PTSD. She witnesses him deal with some pretty serious demons, including a temper that lands him in jail.

This season will prove Amber’s strength even more fully. Her relationship with Ryan has ended, but now she’s pregnant with his child. Her own mother was a little surprised that she planned to keep the baby, and we saw a moment when Amber was just a little uncertain of that herself. But she says it feels right, and we all know it won’t be easy for her.

In one of the most recent episodes, Amber told Ryan she was having his baby, and he was thrilled. But rather than doing what she might have done a year or two ago and rush back into his arms, Amber showed strength through resistance. She loves Ryan—that’s obvious. But she knows he has a lot of work to do before he can be a proper father. And thanks to some encouragement from her baby brother, she tells Ryan she’s going to do this on her own. Raising a child on her own is brave and strong, but so is resisting the chance to be with the man she loves.

Julia Braverman-Graham

Now, Julia (Erika Christenson) may fit something of a “stereotypical” strong woman, and least on the surface. And at least when the series begins. In the first few seasons, Julia is the breadwinner while her husband stays home taking care of their daughter and helping with bake sales. But what makes Julia strong isn’t just her law career. It’s her ability to take care of her family, and the sacrifices she’s willing to make.

She and Joel wanted to have a second child after Sydney, but learned that they wouldn’t be able to. They tried adopting a baby, but that was met with heartbreak when the baby they had planned on stayed with its biological mother. Julia and Joel didn’t give up, though. They wanted their family to grow, and when they had the opportunity to take in an older child, they took it.

And it proved to be a much more difficult transition than they planned on.

Despite the fact that Julia loved her job—thrived on it, even—she knew she needed to be home with both kids. And not just for them, but for Joel too. She made a sacrifice in leaving or job so he could go back to work, and so that she could spend more time with Sydney and Victor.

Now Julia’s marriage is broken, and she’s been working and sharing custody of the kids, all while dealing with heartbreak. And standing up to Joel the way she’s done this season? So powerful. Don’t get me wrong, I want Julia and Joel back together. But it would have been easy for her to just run back into his arms as soon as he showed he wanted her back. She’s not letting him back in that easily, though.

Kristina Braverman

But perhaps the strongest woman in this cast (though I hesitate to quantify such a thing) is Kristina, played by the lovely Monica Potter. Like Julia and Sarah, she’s made sacrifices for her family. Lots of them. Her middle child, Max, has Aspergers. That in itself has been a struggle for the entire family. Like Julia, she’s sacrificed her career to take care of her family, and she’s dealt with her share of emotional harsdship.

But she’s also fought a tough battle with cancer. We wondered if we would lose Kristina as she went through chemo. Truthfully, I was a wreck through that entire storyline. But Kristina’s strength, motivation, and positive attitude really prevailed. She focused on her family even when she felt terrible, and for now at least, she’s cancer-free.

Kristina is such a driven character, and she’s an amazing mother. After her battle with cancer, she decides to run for mayor. Not because she has a particular interest in politics, but because she wants to see change in the education system. She works hard, and it’s devastating when she doesn’t win the election. Still, her campaign made an impact on the community, and her message was well-received.
Her inspiration comes from her son, Max, and the fact that the education system doesn’t offer good options for him. You might think she would quit at running for mayor, but when Max continues to have issues, Kristina and Adam chase a pretty big dream. It takes a lot of effort and resources, but they make it happen, and open up a charter school geared specifically to children like Max.

Obviously, her actions are strong. But Kristina also remains a stable friend and family member for everyone in her life. She listens to her family’s problems and almost always has sound advice. Her strength comes not only from her motivation, but from a strong will and an open ear.

I think there’s something we can learn from every one of these Parenthood characters. From their independence, the way the overcome hardship, and their sacrifices, the Braverman women show qualities of strength that are important and real.

Many thanks to Ashley for writing this post about some of the strong women of Parenthood! This is a show that is chock full of dynamic, complex, and layered characters that it would probably take until next year to talk about them in-depth. Hit the comments below and continue the conversation about these women and this show! And be sure to tweet Ashley if you enjoyed the post. :)


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