This trope is common in sitcoms and animation.
There's a father/child or mother/child event coming up, and the kid is either embarrassed of how lame their parent is, or knows their parent is not capable of doing the event and will lose it for them — again — if they come. Or they're afraid if their parent comes to the event, the kid will get in some sort of trouble.
So they find someone else to pretend to be their mom or dad.
The gambit usually fails, and the outcomes tend to fall into three predictable categories:
- The parent finds out, is hurt that their child thinks so little of them.
- The parent finds out and makes a disastrous attempt to be what their child wants, and that brings them closer because the parent cared enough to try for their child's sake.
- The parent never finds out (or not until after the fact).
An Aesop about being honest and loving someone just the way they are is usually intended.
The other main variations are:
- when the character is not really a child but pretending to be one for whatever reason;
- the character looks like a child but is Really 700 Years Old;
- the character is an orphan;
...in which case they need stand-ins for parents who don't or may have never existed.
Related to Paid-for Family.
- In the second Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Sound Stage, Fate's surrogate mother figure Linith asks her biological mother Precia (who generally treats Fate like trash) to act as a real mom to Fate for just one dinner. Yeah, Fate had a crappy childhood.
- Miu does this once in Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple. When she applied to the high school, she gave false data about her parents (including the lie about them being still alive), because she wanted to present herself as a girl with a normal family. This backfires on her when the representatives of her school come to Ryouzanpaku to check up on her. Hilarity Ensues when she eventually chooses the jerky (although good-hearted) Sakaki and the Lady of War Shigure with No Social Skills to pose as her parents.
- In Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam, orphaned Billy can pretend to be his own father due to having an Older Alter Ego. He uses this to rent an apartment for him and Mary, and then to attend a parent-teacher conference (where, of course, he praises Billy while warning what a troublemaker Mary can be).
- In Apt Pupil, by Stephen King, Dussander attends a parent/teacher conference at Todd's school, impersonating his grandfather, so they can manage to keep Todd's parents from finding out that his grades are in free-fall. The teacher falls for it at the time, but later decides that something's fishy when he realizes that for the entire conference, Dussander referred to Todd as "the boy" instead of by name.
- In Mercedes Lackey's Jinx High, the villain who Body Surfs to her daughter each generation appears to be under 18, and has an artificial construct that masquerades as her aunt/guardian while her mother is in a mental hospital with the personality of the daughter just evicted from her original body in Mom's body.
- In Green-Sky Trilogy, Neric's parents were Berry addicts living in squalor (as close as Kindar society allows it) and died from their addiction shortly before Neric was Chosen. The priesthood dutifully appointed stand ins to play the role, which only embittered Neric further.
- Saved by the Bell: In one episode, Mr. Belding wanted to have a conference with Zack's father, as his mother proves to be far more forgiving of his misdeeds. To keep his workaholic dad from finding out about, Zack gets a waiter friend at the Max to pretend to be his father instead. (Since that guy was an out-of-work actor he decided to ham it up.) His dad actually finds out about the conference, so Zack's waiter friend pulls double duty as a stand-in for Belding. The gambit naturally fails when — despite Zack's best efforts — Belding and Zack's dad run into each other at a school function.
- The short-lived show Sons Of Tucson is based on this. Three brothers hire a fake dad to keep up appearances after their real father is put in prison.
- In Ghost Whisperer One episode features children pretending to be their own mother after she had died, for fear of social services splitting them up on finding out they had no parent or guardian.
- Kenan once felt the need to hire stand-ins for a conference with his school principal on an episode of Kenan & Kel, not wanting to tell his parents that they were called in by the school to meet the principal and knowing that the principal had no idea what his parents looked like. He settles on a classically trained actor and a total ditz who says she's seen a lot of movies and thinks she can wing it. Unfortunately, The Ditz ruins everything by not remembering the name of the person she's supposed to pretend to be and inviting the school principal to their home for a family dinner, which the principal accepts, requiring Kenan to get his real parents to leave the house for a night so he can stage a dinner with his mock parents. Hilarity Ensues. The real kicker, however, was that the reason for the meeting with the principal was to discuss how great Kenan's grades and schoolwork was.
- On Psych, Shawn gets his uncle Jack to stand in for his dad at school. Shawn's dad finds out and is irritated rather than hurt. Especially since Jack really is cooler than he is.
- Good Luck Charlie Gabe cons PJ and Teddy into standing in as his parents for a parent-teacher conference so their real parents don't find out.
- On That's So Raven, Raven posed as her own mother at a parent-teacher conference to prevent her mother from finding out how bad her grades were. When her mother (inevitably) found out, she was both angry that Raven had lied to her and offended because of the insulting fat suit Raven had used for the disguise.
- Malcolm in the Middle: Reece finds some incriminating letters on his neighbour's old laptop. He uses this to blackmail the neighbour into doing his bidding. His last act is to get the neighbour to pose as Hal at a meeting with the principal. After this, the neighbour now has material to use against Reece, and he is certain that Reece is more scared of Lois than he is of his wife.
- In the Legends of Tomorrow episode "I, Ava" features a more serious and rather unique twist on the trope. In the episode, the Legends find out that Ava, the director of the Time Bureau and Sara's ex-lover, is actually a custom made clone from the year 2213, who was recruited by Rip and given false memories to hide her real origin. Rip even hired two actors to pretend to be her parents in order to uphold Ava's fake background story; something that even Ava herself was unaware of. When visiting said parents, it doesn't take long for Sara to see through the lie.
- The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius: Cindy Vortex has an aunt stand in for her mother at Retroville's parent/child sporting day.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang gets in trouble while attending a Fire Nation school, and the teacher wants to see his parents. This will be hard, since a.) Aang was raised by monks, and b.) EVERYONE in the Air Nomads except him has been dead for a hundred years. Sokka and Katara stand in as "Wang and Sapphire Fire," with him wearing a ridiculous-looking fake beard and her doing a Pillow Pregnancy.
- Danny Phantom once used his ghost powers to overshadow his Dad for a school function.
- Dexter's Laboratory
- Dexter uses Mad Science to make Dee Dee impersonate his mother for a parent-teacher meeting.
- At another time, he tries to create his vision of a "perfect father" because he doesn't want to bring his dad in for Parents Day.
- In an episode of Daria, Tiffany hires a model to act as her mother in a mother/daughter beauty contest (though, since we never see her parents, it's unclear why). She simply asks for the prettiest model that the agency had, which results in an African-America "mom" with an Asian "daughter."
- DuckTales (2017): In "Happy Birthday, Doofus Drake!", a number of guests do this for Doofus's birthday party - in particular, Louie brings Goldie O'Gilt, having her pose as his aunt. Things go wild when Doofus decides to claim her for his own, to fill in for his deceased "Gemeemama".
- The Fairly OddParents
- Timmy Turner uses a wish to try out his friends' dads for a scouting event because his own dad was too busy.
- He also has Cosmo and Wanda stand in as his parents for a parent-teacher conference, and hilarity ensues.
- Invader Zim:
- Zim has robots to stand in as his parents, and despite them horribly malfunctioning, nobody notices.
- Tak brainwashes a local business tycoon into believing that she's his daughter, then keeps him in a tube whenever he's not needed.
- Kick Buttowski: Kick goes around the neighbourhood trying to find someone to act as his dad for "bring your father to school" day. His father finds out and is hurt that Kick asked Wade to pretend to be him. He then shows up and tries to be cool, with unfortunate results. They end up meeting each other halfway.
"I only let him out when I need to keep up appearances. Kind of like Zim's robot parents—only good."
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has a variant involving siblings with the two episodes revolving around the Sisterhooves Social:
- "Sisterhooves Social": Sweetie Belle was angry at Rarity at the time while thinking Applejack was a Cool Big Sis and manages to persuade Apple Bloom to let her "borrow" her for the Social for One. Day.
- "Brotherhooves Social": Applejack is called away on a friendship mission to Manehattan at the worst possible time, so Apple Bloom asks her brother Big Macintosh to pretend to be cousin Orchard Blossom to fill in. This was before they realize the organizers have a really loose definition of "sister" and wouldn't have cared about a stallion participating. We also see Rainbow Dash act as a surrogate big sister for Scootaloo in the episode despite not being related.
- Phineas and Ferb plays with the trope. Mr. Fletcher after stumbling into Perry's lair and getting mindwiped, is replaced by Agent P operating a robot duplicate of him for Candace's father/daughter picnic and competition.
- Recess Spinelli hires a biker couple to pretend to be her parents because of how incredibly dorky and humiliating her real parents are. This backfires on her when the couple decides to blow her cover by taking her money by force in front of everyone.
- Teacher's Pet had Leonard and Spot try to impersonate the mom. Leonard's problem was that his teacher was his mom, and Spot (who was under the guise of Scott Leadready II) had none.
- Early on in 3Below, Señor Uhl demands a meeting with Aja and Krel's parents, which proves problematic due to the fact that their parents are currently regenerating their bodies in healing pods. They solve the problem by programming two robots to take on the forms of humans...from fifty years ago.