All the fun of unplanned parenthood, with none of the bother of unprotected premarital sex!
So, you're a single thirtysomething with a few issues. You're a workaholic, or you're immature, irresponsible, or something like that. And on top of that, someone you know (your sister, your best friend, maybe an estranged ex-wife) has just died. Life couldn't possibly get any worse, right?
Wrong. The dead person had a kid, and for some reason, you're the only person who could possibly take them in now. Sucks, doesn't it? You have no experience with kids, and between that and whatever your other problems are, you're really not cut out to be a parent at all. So this is absolutely the last thing you need.
Or at least, that's how you feel at first. But actually, the parenthood that has been suddenly thrust upon you is a good thing. Apparently, having a kid to take care of is like therapy and a dating service rolled into one — by the end of The Movie (or series, or arc, or what have you), not only will you have learned how to be a good parent (with some hilarious mishaps along the way, most likely) and gotten over all of your issues, you'll have found a love interest too. Now the three of you can be a happy family unit together. Aww.
Frequently used in works starring aging or maturing performers who are seeking to soften their image, to play off of comedic dissonance, or simply because the performer involved wants to do something that is family oriented for a change.
Note: This can, but does not specifically, occur in Soviet Russia.
Promotion to Parent also forces maturity but often with the added toughness of the new "parent" being not much older than the kids.
- This is the central premise of Aishiteruze Baby, where Kippei, a lazy high-school playboy is forced to take care of his five-year-old cousin after her mother/his aunt, Miyako, is widowed and almost crosses the Despair Event Horizon, thus leaving Yuzuyu in his care in a moment of mental/emotional stability. The gusto in which he devotes himself to being a good "mother" to Yuzuyu and the speed in which he matures is amazing, as well as quite heartwarming.
- In the Sahara Mizu manga My Girl, when the protagonist's high school girlfriend dies suddenly, he learns that the real reason she cut off contact with him years ago was to hide the fact that she was pregnant with his child. Said child is now five years old and, of course, has to come live with her father — who is a shy pushover with no idea how to be a parent.
- In Bunny Drop, 30-year-old bachelor Daikichi Kawachi takes in six-year-old Rin (who happens to be his orphaned aunt, but never mind). From time to time as he learns about the mechanics of parenthood, he wonders just who is raising who.
- Played with in Witchblade anime: for extra twist, everyone thought that Masane is really Rihoko's mother (even herself, because of Laser-Guided Amnesia). And it's not always clear who's whose custodian. It helps that Rihoko is wise beyond her years and she steals spotlight without even trying, becoming one long Moment of Awesome diluted with Funny.
- The premise of the anime Daa! Daa! Daa! is two teenagers who barely know each other, who have to take care of a small baby they find. Of course, the baby is also an alien, but still...
- In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Strikers second sound stage, Fate worries that her adoptive children, Erio and Caro, by insisting that they are fine at the moment, are hiding any true problems that they may have (while they don't want to worry her and wish to become a bit more independent). By the end, when they come to an understanding, Fate reflects on Lindy's advice to let your adoptive children raise you, and thinks that was the case when she was being raised by her and Precia (before the latter went insane).
- In Sakende Yaruze!, Shino goes through this process when the 17 year old son he didn't know he had shows up on his doorstep. He moves past his first love (his son's now-deceased mother), gains some emotional maturity, and ends up with a Love Interest as well. However, unlike the happy family unit scenario mentioned above, his new relationship is what causes his son to then leave him and go back to living with his strict grandmother instead.
- Phantom Quest Corp.: Parodied. While Ayaka is Phantom Quest's president, it doesn't take long to see that it's Mamoru's management skills that actually keeps the company afloat. At only 12, he handles all of the administrative duties. Plus, he has to wake Ayaka up each morning, because she keeps getting plastered and oversleeping.
- In Detective Conan, The Alcoholic Private Defective Kogoro Mouri is clearly being looked after by his 17-year-old daughter Ran. However, since he tends to suffer from Aesop Amnesia, his Character Development is inconsistent and he's still rather inebriated, irresponsible, and incompetent.
- Downplayed in Happy Yarou Wedding. Taking care of the 5 year old Shouta definitely spurs on Yuuhi's emotional growth, but Todou's influence, both as a lover and a quasi-father figure, plays an equal role.
- In Papa no Iukoto o Kikinasai!, The 19 year-old Yuuta ends up raising his three nieces when his sister and her husband disappear while on a trip. His dedicates his life to taking care of the three girls and matures considerably as a person. This specific trope is dropped at least once a volume in the novels.
- Rather the point of Otaku no Musume-san. Kouta is a rather immature otaku until his daughter, of whom he had no prior knowledge, drops into his life. Not only taking care of her, but also trying to earn her love and respect forces him to grow the hell up.
- In Little House with an Orange Roof, Shoutarou is given sole custody of his sons when his wife divorces him. He quickly learns how unprepared he is to be a real parent, though he gets better over time.
- Ryuuji from Toradora! learned to be self-sufficient and how to cook, clean and sew since his father died when he was young and his Womanchild mother works late at night and sleeps most of the day, leaving him to do the household chores.
- In Ouran High School Host Club Haruhi Fujioka is like this. Because of her mother Kotoko's death and her father Ryouji/Ranka's long work hours, Haruhi does most of the work at home, cleaning and cooking for Ryouji and otherwise trying to take care of him, even telling him not to overwork himself for her.
- In Naruto after Tsunade's boyfriend dies, she takes in his niece, Shizune. However, since she spends all her time drinking and gambling, Shizune spends more time looking after her.
- In Dragon Ball Z, Piccolo becomes something more than the reincarnation of his sire's hatred while training Gohan.
- Also from Dragon Ball Z: You could argue that Goku undergoes a significant maturation from the end of Dragonball to the beginning of Z due to the birth of Gohan. We also see him change and grow over time training with his son, most notably in the Cell Saga where he has gone from martial artist to Master in his own right.
- In Marvel Comics' Crisis Crossover Inferno, a homeless drifter finds a baby that has been orphaned by the demonic invasion. Despite himself, he begins shedding his drunken bum self-image in an effort to protect the child. By the end of the comic, he's all but unofficially adopted the kid.
- The furry comic Circles has a case of this, where the son was raised until his mid-teens by his mother, then his aunt and uncles when she was killed in a car wreck. The reason the father didn't get custody earlier was because he's gay. Oh, and living with five other gay men, only one of which he's in a relationship with. So far, the kid's doing all right, as are his "new" parents.
- Northstar, in one issue of Alpha Flight, 'adopted' a foundling. It died of AIDS by the end of the issue.
- Huey, Louie and Dewey were supposed to stay with their uncle, Donald Duck, only until their dad returned from the hospital (the triplets themselves are responsible for that, by the way). Neither father nor mother are ever referenced again, though, and they have lived with their Unca Donald since then. Good for him, as they save Don from life-threatening situations in a current basis, showing a superior intelligence and maturity level over him. That's not to say Donald hasn't gained any growth from entering paternity; as hilariously dysfunctional as their relationship may be, he effectively serves as the boys' daddy, raising them with his very low income and sincerely wanting the kids to have the best future possible.
- Some interpretations of Batman have the point where he takes in Dick Grayson, the first Robin, be a major point of growth and maturation for the Dark Knight.
- If Thems The Rules, Harry learns how to be a father figure and parent to a young Tom Riddle
- A Different Medius Downplayed with Azurai, who does turn out to be a surprisingly good parent to Buwaro, but is still evil.
- Played quite realistically in The Second Try, after Asuka and Shinji find out her birth control has failed. Neither of them take it well at first, but once the shock wears off it makes their relationship even stronger, and they go on to be very Good Parents to little Aki.
- The Child of Love: Shinji and Asuka were a pair of introvert, mentally damaged teenagers. They were almost incapable of opening up to each other and getting along well. When Shinji got Asuka pregnant their relationship got worse initially, but since neither of them wanted to screw their daughter in the way their parents screwed them, they forced themselves to get their act together and mature.
- Ghosts of Evangelion: When Asuka gets pregnant, Shinji and she are very, very frightened because they didnt want to have children and they did not think they would be good parents due to their crappy childhoods and lingering psychological issues. Still they try to be good parents, and with a bit of help of Misato and Kaji, Ryuko develops into a happy, mentally healthy girl.
- The Bridge a sentient baby dinosaur that grows up to be third Godzilla, "Junior", imprinted on a young biologist named Azusa Gojo when he hatched. Azusa before becoming a "mother" was a skittish lab assistant. Azusa afterwards? Much more confident and affirm in caring for others, even being brave enough to distract an attacking kaiju herself.
- Son of the Sannin has this as its main premise, with Jiraiya and Tsunade raising Naruto after Minato and Kushina's death. A couple years of raising the kid and living under the same roof ends up bringing out the best of them, to the point they end up getting married and having children of their own.
- In Amazing Fantasy, it's implied that Peter's maturity when compared to his similarly downtrodden Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse counterpart is because of his desire to be a good role model to his daughter Mayday and now to his wide-eyed and expectant protégé Izuku.
- Despicable Me, though the girls ended up with him because he adopted them.
- Ice Age, though they don't keep the kid.
- Brother Bear: Looking after little Koda eventually brings out the best in Kenai.
- Storks: Even though it's not their child, Junior and Tulip both benefit from taking care of the baby as they try delivering it. Both of them are finally able to experience being a part of a family, and after they deliver the baby to her family, both are able to find a new purpose in life.
- Real Steel with Hugh Jackman, with the added appeal of dancing robots.
- The German film Mostly Martha and its American remake, No Reservations
- Big Daddy with Adam Sandler, although that one had a bit of a twist; Bedtime Stories might be a little closer to the heart of this trope.
- Uptown Girls: The resident Spoiled Sweet Adult Child learns how to take responsibility while helping jaded little girl to learn that it's still important to have fun.
- Three Men and a Baby is a variant where no parental death is involved, just a "runaway mother" approach.
- The Ur-Example: Baby Boom. The baby was left behind by a very distant, European relative that the protagonist hardly even remembered.
- Jack And Sarah, starring Richard E. Grant. Which contains possibly one of the cutest things ever committed to film, in which Grant (stuck with the baby after his wife suffers Death by Childbirth) carries the baby in a jiffy envelope with a sock on her head as a hat...
- The Jackie Chan film Rob B Hood, in which he and Louis Koo are thieves who come into the posession of the baby of a billionaire tycoon, and they learn valuable life lessons along the way. Awww.
- Life As We Know It: After a disastrous blind date, Eric and Holly would be glad to never see each other again. But their friends — the ones who had set them up — die in a car crash, and had given them joint custody of their toddler.
- Angels in the Outfield: the 1994 remake ends with the Angels' manager adopting the two leads.
- Instructions Not Included: The mother leaves her baby with the father and doesn't come back. The man goes to the US to find her but is unsuccessful and must raise the daughter by himself.
- A major theme in I Am Sam is how Lucy at the age of 7 is starting to outsmart her mentally challenged single father which may or may not be obstructive to her mental development.
- In A Thousand Clowns, Murray has been raising his nephew for some time, but the arrival of a pair of social workers spurs him to responsibility.
- About a Boy, both the book and the film (though they do lack the "death" aspect of this trope, the rest fits.)
- In the last Anne of Green Gables book, Rilla Of Ingleside, Rilla is transformed from a flighty teenager into a responsible, hard-working and inspiring woman as a result of raising a motherless child whose father is off fighting World War I.
- In Discworld, this seems to have happened to Death, who adopted his daughter, Ysabell, after reaping the souls of her deceased parents. This first-hand interaction with a mortal child (and later Ysabell's daughter, Susan) is presumably a part of why he's developed such a fondness (and attempt to imitate) humanity.
- Discussed in The Dresden Files; when Harry ends up taking Molly Carpenter as his apprentice in order to save her life, Michael says it will be good for both of them, because being responsible for someone forces you to become a stronger, more patient, more caring person. Unusually for this trope, however, Harry was by no means an irresponsible person before, (being one of the best examples of Chronic Hero Syndrome you could hope for,) he just becomes even stronger with Molly as a Morality Chain of sorts to help him deal with the stresses of his terrible life without snapping.
- In the Circle of Magic novels, Lark and Rosethorn run 'Discipline cottage', named for how its meant to teach children with difficult ambient magic how to discipline their powers. Rosethorn is a Jerk with a Heart of Gold with quite a temper, and seems endlessly frustrated with the hijinks of the kids in her care. Nonetheless, she grows to care for them- especially Briar, who shares her magic with plants note . Later she develops a similar relationship with Briar's apprentice, Evy.
- Jessica Darling's sister Bethany starts out as a shallow, self-absorbed, moronic Jerk Ass. Then she has a baby, and soon develops into... well, still a shallow, self-absorbed, moronic Jerk Ass, frankly, but noticeably less of one, with frequent signs of at least trying to think about things and care about other people.
- In Harriet the Spy, Harriet's friend, Sport, lives with his single father who is an unemployed, struggling writer. The guy doesn't seem to be able to take care of himself, causing Sport to try and keep house and look after him until he finally does get a job.
- The Novelization of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith expounds on a teacher-student variant.
"It is a truism of the Jedi Order that a Jedi Knight's education truly begins only when he becomes a Master: that everything important about being a Master is learned from one's student.[...] And Obi-Wan Kenobi knows, too, that to have lived his life without being Master to Anakin Skywalker would have left him a different man. A lesser man."
- Kevin Hill - A short-lived series about a swinging bachelor and top notch lawyer, suddenly forced to care for his dead cousin's ten month old daughter, Sarah. The show's core centered around Kevin dealing with being a new parent and lawyer at a new smaller firm. The series had a definite Downer Ending when the show canceled in just one season with Kevin losing the baby to her remarried biological mother in court. The series would have continued after that point but did not gain sufficient ratings to be renewed.
- Ingrained in the premise of My Two Dads.
- Happens to Shane in season 4 of The L Word. Her deadbeat father's run off with another woman, and her junkie stepmother blames Shane and ditches Shane's baby brother on Shane's doorstep. Shane reluctantly takes responsibility, and having to be a stable parent for him is doing her a power of good and forcing her to give up her bad habits, and they're really bonding and becoming close — and then her father shows up and takes him back. * sniff*
- Also part of the premise of The Bernie Mac Show.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "The Begotten", where Odo takes care of an infant changeling. It dies, but in its short time restores his shapeshifting abilities and reconciles him with his father figure.
- On Gilmore Girls, this is Lorelai's backstory. First she has her daughter, Rory, at the age of sixteen. As she puts it to her mother, "I stopped being a child the minute the strip turned pink." When she decides she doesn't want to raise Rory in her parents' aristocratic world, she gets a job as a maid at an inn and works her way up to manager of the inn while raising her daughter.
- Daniel seems to be going this way in Doctors
- The premise of Raising Hope. As an added bonus, not only does the main character grow as a result as having to look after the titular Hope, but his parents do too.
- iCarly has a Played for Laughs version with older brother Spencer taking care of sister Carly as their father is on a very long military deployment and the mother is probably dead.
- In Coupling with Steve, though it's his kid. He's spent the entire series as a card-carrying Manchild, but his newborn son opens his eyes and stares in Steve's, "and I became a completely different person." And then the series instantly ends.
- In Stranger Things, Hopper underwent a serious change in character after caring for Eleven for a year and eventually becoming her legal adoptive father.
- The Flash (2014): Cicada/Orlin Dwyer, the Big Bad of season 5, has this as part of his origin. He used to be a obnoxious, short-tempered alcoholic discontent with his life and work. Then his sister and her husband were killed by a metahuman, and he became the legal guardian of their daughter Grace. After a rocky start, and a good Calling the Old Man Out by Grace, Orlin warmed up to her, got his act together, and tried everything he could to be a good parent for her. Then she got hit by falling debris of Devoe's satellite and ended up in a coma from which she might never wake up, prompting Orlin to start his crusade against Metahumans.
- An interesting take on the trope is important to the backstory of a major character in Tales of the Abyss. Guy Cecil originally was a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing with Revenge Before Reason for the Fabre family as he's the sole survivor of his family who was slaughtered by Duke Fabre fifteen years ago. But then Luke fon Fabre was kidnapped and, unknown to anyone there, replaced with a replica (they thought he had Identity Amnesia). Guy was assigned to be the main servant to care for Luke and make him "remember" and "recover" from his amnesia. As a replica, this Luke was a baby in a ten year old body. Guy caring for him made him give up on his Revenge by Proxy scheme and his friendship with Luke is now genuine.
- A heartbreaking example in AIR, where the Hard-Drinking Party Girl mother (actually an aunt) purposely acts irresponsibly and unparentlike because the kid is cursed to become physically ill whenever she loves and is loved in return, whether it be familial, friendship or romantic love, and also because she didn't want to get too attached to her out of fear that her father would one day come to take her away. Haruko only realizes that she was wrong and begins to act like a mother when Misuzu gets sick anyway, from befriending and falling in love with Yukito.
- In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, this seems to be the case with Bob and Jean regarding Molly, to a certain extent. Jean observes this in this strip.
- Penny Arcade: Being a father changes Gabe's outlook in life so subtly, he takes a while to even realize it.
Gabe (to his son, who is hooked on Minecraft) : Why don't you go out there and oh my God when did I become this person what is wrong with meeeeeeee
- Subverted in Transformers Animated, where the Autobots don't think twice about taking Sari in. This is probably before they realize that eight-year-olds aren't user friendly.
- In Time Squad, Larry and Tuddrussel have enough problems working with each other and doing their job, due to a complete lack of knowledge about history... Until they meet Otto Osworth, an orphaned 8-year-old history buff, who they illegally take into the squad (not without hesitation at first). Otto gains a better life, while Larry and Tuddrussel now have someone to keep them from killing each other; their Like an Old Married Couple dynamic also quickly makes them become like a mother and father to Otto, respectively.
- Jackie Chan Adventures lampshaded this when it had Jackie admit this when Jade's parents complement him on taking care of Jade.
- Sylvester the Cat in a couple of classic Warner Bros. cartoons would would tell his son it was time to discuss the facts of life, to which Sylvester Jr. would reply "Sure thing, pop. What do you want to know?"
- Xanatos in Gargoyles is a much more sympathetic character after the birth of his son in "The Gathering" (and the resulting confrontation with Oberon) revealed how much of a Papa Wolf he really was.
- DuckTales (1987):
- The original series has a recursive example. Huey, Dewey, and Louie were already transferred to the care of their Uncle Donald before the series started (see above under Comic Books). The series begins with Donald heading off to join the Navy and leaving the boys in the care of his miserly, curmudgeonly Uncle Scrooge. The boys melt the heart of the bitter old duck, and inspire him to be a much kinder and all-around better person for it.
- In the 2017 reboot, the above example remains, but the triplets weren't the first kids to warm Scrooge's cold heart. Years ago, Scrooge had long since isolated himself from his family between traveling the globe and running his company, then his sister and brother-in-law died and their children, Donald and Della, were placed in his care. Scrooge grew to love the twins as his own, and they eventually became an adventuring trio. Unfortunately, the loss of Della and Donald cutting ties with his uncle because of it broke Scrooge so badly he became a recluse. It took reuniting with Donald and meeting Huey, Dewey and Louie for the old duck to find the drive to adventure and enjoy life again.
- This happens a lot with rock stars and their children. One notable example would be Marlon Richards, son of Keith Richards.