Like any self-assured mom, I’d like to think that I’m a confident and reliable caregiver. But if forced to be honest, I can admit that there are a few (read: many) aspects of my parenting that can send me to the depths of a self-induced shame spiral.
Yes, sometimes I allow my children to forego brushing their teeth so they can get to bed and I can enjoy an evening of much needed, silent respite. No, I don’t give them baths every day — who in the name of all things sane has that kind of time?! And yes, a single episode of Bluey can make me feel like a walking meat sack of guilt and regret, better suited to lead a Boston historical tour than hold the title of “mom.”
Dubbed "the biggest Australian TV export since The Wiggles" by The New York Times and "the best kids’ show of our time" by New York magazine, the wildly popular show Bluey is not only a hit — so much so that it’s giving U.S. children Australian accents — it's hitting parents in the feels, too.
The show, centered around the wholesome adventures of six-year old blue heeler pup Bluey and her four-year-old sister Bingo, made its international debut on Disney Junior in 2019. Admittedly, it teaches children important lessons, like that it’s OK to tell your dad he’s playing too rough or that you can’t boss your sibling around. And yes, it often focuses on a dad, not a mom, entertaining his children — a novelty in both television and film, even in the year 2021.
But this heathen form of alleged “children’s entertainment” is also making parents like me feel like sentient garbage. On Bluey, the mom and dad do nothing but play elaborate make-believe games with their children — an utter impossibility in the era of pandemic parenting, where we're more likely to stick a tiny screen in front of our children's faces just so we can use the bathroom in peace than spend our precious time and brain juice playing "finding fairies" or “keepy uppy” or whatever imaginative, lesson-based game this show continues to peddle.
And even when the dad does ask Bingo to hold on for one godforsaken second so he can talk to an actual adult on the phone, he immediately apologizes for not dropping every grown-up responsibility he has to placate the fantastical whimsies of his children.
Thankfully, I’m not the only sub-par parent feeling less-than-proud about their parenting when it’s stacked against the caregiving prowess of two cartoon Australian cattle dogs. Hannah Amber, 33, says her daughter, age six, discovered Bluey a few weeks ago, and now watches it every single night to Amber’s utter dismay.
“One specific episode was on the other night and I thought, ‘How is this dad going along with this game for hours on end?’” Amber tells me. “I couldn’t understand it. And my daughter is laughing, thinking it’s the funniest thing ever, and I’m like, ‘I know, I suck.’”
Amber says she can handle a game of “Tea Party” for five minutes. She can even sit through a session with Play-Doh. “But going that deep into imaginative play?” she adds. “There’s no way.”
And then it happened: The nightmare that keeps us parents up at night. The very situation that has made Bluey a national terror. A parent’s sworn enemy. My personal bête noire. Amber’s daughter asked her to play a “Bluey game.”
“There’s an episode where Bluey goes to daycare and she sits on a log and pretends it’s a helicopter,” Amber explains. “She holds onto a stick, makes the helicopter noises, and tells her friends to get into her ‘helicopter’ so they can pretend to fall out or drop something. So the other day, she’s sitting on the couch playing ‘helicopter’ and says, ‘Mom, get in my helicopter!’ And all I can think is, ‘Oh my god, this is happening. Just play the dumb game because it’ll make her happy.’”
Amber lasted all of four minutes before telling her daughter she had to get up to check on dinner — a full three minutes longer than yours truly would have been able to stomach.
Jessica Lazar Bates, 42, has noticed her 3-year-old son demands she play with him more often now that he insists on watching Bluey for several hours at a time during the weekend. In one episode, the dad plays “raiders” with Bluey and Bingo — a Raiders of the Lost Ark-type game in which the children attempt to evade a ball the dad rolls down the hallway. Now, Lazar Bates says, her son wants to play “raiders” with her, too. Instead, she distracts him with a quick walk outside or another game he can play solo — a tactic she knows is fleeting but, for now, is successful.
“I tell myself that I might play those games with him when he’s older, or when life returns to ‘normal’ and the dynamics of post-pandemic life have shifted,” Lazar Bates adds. “But I also think there’s no way I’m going to have enough energy to do that. Ever.” While Lazar Bates knows that pretend play is important for a child’s ongoing development, and playing pretend with your kid is a non-negotiable parenting requirement, Bluey’s games are far too tedious to become a sustainable staple in her home. One can sympathize.
And like the rest of us insufficient moms, she says she feels horrible and that her parenting is lacking, and often makes herself feel better by pawning her son off on her husband, forcing him to play Bluey-inspired games with their kid. Unfortunately, her husband has developed an over-inflated sense of self as a result.
“He has asked me if he’s like Bluey’s father,” she explains. “And I’m like, Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. We should all be so lucky.’ His response? “Aren’t your friends super jealous?’ I mean, we’d have to involve my therapist if we’re going to have that conversation, let’s be real.”
In the end, none of us — not even Lazar Bates’ loving and devoted husband — can be like Bluey’s parents. For one, we’re not animated blue heelers. We’re also overworked and under-supported parents trying to navigate a forever-changing world that’s politically divided, financially unstable and where the oceans are literally on fire.
So to hell with trying to live up to the unrealistic example that is Bluey’s mum and dad. Then again, there is something to be said for leaving behind the realities of pandemic parenting and playing a quick game of “Open a Zoo.” Yes, even if it’s just for five minutes.