What Bluey tells us about parenting today

by | Jun 13, 2023

If you’ve got a child under the age of five, chances are you know about the hit cartoon show, Bluey. The title character, Bluey, is an Australian Blue Heeler puppy who lives with her mother, father, and little sister, Bingo. The seven-minute episodes depict the humorous daily adventures of Bluey and Bingo, with lessons about how to treat others woven throughout.

At six, Oliver isn’t particularly interested in the show, but I decided recently to watch a few episodes to see what all the hype was about. In Technology’s Child, I examine how parenting and parenting expectations have changed over the centuries and especially over the last several decades. As both a parent and a social scientist, I find it fascinating how these changes are reflected in the books and TV shows created for children. So that’s the frame of mind I brought to my five-episode binge of Bluey.

Watching the first episode, I immediately thought of how much it contrasts with the way parents are depicted in Dr. Seuss books, a staple in our house. In The Cat in the Hat, the mother has to go “down to the town for the day,” leaving her kids alone in the house. The dad isn’t even mentioned.

In the very first episode of Bluey, by contrast, dad is positioned as the primary play companion, while mom has to go to work. It seems as though both parents are highly involved with their kids, with the dad perhaps more of a play companion. He’s the one who lets his face be painted, acts as a willing patient to Dr Bluey and Dr Bingo, plays horsey, etc. He’s game for anything.

It all seems to be in good fun, and I think it’s great that the parents are celebrating and taking seriously their children’s rich imaginative play worlds. At the same time, the model of parenting the show presents feels pretty unattainable for the average exhausted parent. As much as I’d like to cheer with pride if Oliver were to slide along the bathroom floor like a penguin, I’m pretty sure I’d be more irritated than anything — worried that he’d hurt himself, annoyed that the floor is now wet, and frustrated that he’s still not in the bathtub and we’re inching ever closer to bedtime. 

Interestingly, both parents are depicted as fully realized individuals. They both have jobs, they both comment on being tired, not having enough time to do the things they used to be able to do like the dad playing touch football with his friends. And yet, they never lose their temper, they’re always willing to play along, they never let their desires, motivations, or emotions trump their kids’.

It’s this stance to parenting that makes me feel like Bluey is playing directly into the culture of intensive parenting that I discuss in Technology’s Child — parents with full-time jobs outside the home are supposed to be game for anything, all the time, no matter how tired they are or whether they have other commitments bumping up against their parenting commitments. This attitude is reminiscent of the podcast host I mentioned in last week’s post, who urged parents to set aside screens, step up and parent.

As awesome as Bluey’s parents are, I, for one, would appreciate seeing cartoon parents who are a little less amenable, maybe even a little cranky from time to time. Show me some good enough digital parents who turn on the TV when they or their kids are sick, or when it’s 5am and they’re not quite ready to parent. I’m not calling for a return to an absent father and a mother who leaves her small kids home alone for the day (as in The Cat in the Hat), but surely there’s a happy medium to be found.