I Can’t Believe I’m Admitting This, But 'Bluey' Makes Me Feel Bad About Myself

Here I am, jealous of a cartoon dog. No, I’m not proud.

Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images, Stocksy, BBC Studios

I have felt a lot of feelings simply existing in this world — watching movies, listening to sad music, you get the idea. But I never expected a kid’s cartoon, specifically one that is seemingly an absolute hit, to make me feel insecure about my parenting.

I remember the first time my kids, ages 4 and 2, watched Bluey. We were in a hotel room in Chicago the morning after a wedding, waiting for room service to bring up some much-needed coffee, waffles, and oatmeal before we all loaded up into the car for the 6ish-hour drive home. My kids were quickly entering the dangerous space between boredom and hunger, so I turned on the hotel TV. They’d never seen Bluey, but I’d heard it was a crowd favorite for kids and parents alike. Between the catchy theme song, the endearing Australian accents, and the admittedly hysterical antics of Doctor Bluey and Nurse Bingo in episode one, we all enjoyed it until our food arrived. Once we heard the knock at the door, we shut it off, focused entirely on quickly and efficiently devouring our food, and got in the car.

A few days later, cooking dinner back at home, my kids asked to watch Bluey again. I obliged! But standing in the kitchen, chopping vegetables and only half listening, I started to feel some uncomfortable feelings.

My kids were both belly laughing over Bluey’s extremely creative and endlessly patient dad, Bandit, who was pretending to be a statue that kept coming alive and moving around, popping up in new places, while Bluey and Bingo played a shop owner and art enthusiast who couldn’t explain this statue’s unpredictability. I rolled my eyes at myself and shoved those feelings down into the place where I keep all my most sensitive feelings about motherhood.

Except the next time I turned on Bluey for my kids a week or so later, I felt them again. This happened every time I turned on Bluey. Soon, they were around long enough, floating around within my inner thoughts, that I started to label them as they became clearer. Resentment, jealousy, incompetence?

There’s lots of idyllic things about these fictional cartoon dogs’ lives: a gorgeous house and wonderful relationships between the parents and their kids. But really, what upset me was the play.

I am (mostly) a rational and levelheaded person. I knew that I had to grapple with the fact that a children’s cartoon made me feel like an incompetent mother. But as I thought about it more, the feelings became a bit clearer and more nuanced. It wasn’t that Bluey made me feel like a bad mother overall. What I felt was resentment over the seamlessness with which Bandit and Chili engage in deep, highly detailed imaginative play alongside their children, in which they seem to be fully immersed.

I love playing with my children. At certain times. I know the benefits of playing with your children have been well-documented, and I fully support and believe that it is good for kids to have playtime with their parents. But I have some pretty strict boundaries around the fact that I do not “entertain” them or create games for them, and there are definitely times that I will straight up tell them that I am not available to play. My son (almost 3) and daughter (almost 5) are lucky enough to have a variety of toys, and more importantly, each other, to play with at home. I like to be around them while they play, but I also find it can be distracting for them. I can throw the vibe off between them. They play better, and more creatively, when I let them do their own thing. I also want them to develop the skills to make up games on their own and play together without my constant intervention.

I felt very comfortable and secure about this thought process. Until I started watching Bluey.

Admittedly, I am not a Bluey connoisseur; I have not seen every single episode (unlike Daniel Tiger). But the main thing that stands out to me in the show Bluey is just how available the parents are in most of the episodes. I understand that it is both fictional and a cartoon about anthropomorphic dogs, but I honestly think it’s set up some unrealistic expectations around when, how, and how much parents can play with their kids. I feel awful when I am trying to get some work done in the next room and my kids run out of the playroom to me and ask “mama, can you play with us?” While there is a part of me that thinks playing on their own is good, sometimes I can’t, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I don’t have the energy. And sometimes, I just don’t want to.

Another thing that stands out about Bluey is simply how creative the parents are, Bandit specifically. He brings the “fun dad” archetype to a whole new level with the games he invents and becomes fully wrapped up in. It is admittedly contagious, but it doesn’t provide me with my own creative spark. There are times I can really craft some funny scenarios, and my kids will lose their minds laughing, which of course delights me — but I can’t compete with Bandit. I am jealous over how easy this fictional dog father plays at 110% and resentful of how the show depicts it as “easy” to engage in a lot of imaginative play with your toddler and young children. It is exhausting to do the voices, make up the scenarios, to “be fun.” And it is even more exhausting to do all of that on top of all the other things moms do during days that seemingly never end.

But I remind myself that when I do play with them, it is even more special. I can be more creative and fully engaged because it isn’t a constant expectation. And I have my strengths: I may not always be Bandit levels of fun as a playmate, but I am always the kids #1 choice to read a bedtime story, as books are hugely important to me, and my kids have picked this up by osmosis.

Also, as any insider Bluey fan will know, Bandit doesn’t know how to pack a pool bag for a day out in the sun, so… he’s not perfect either.

Taylor Siering is a mom of two from New York City, currently living in the midwest. She is a PhD student who studies the intersection of professional work and gender, with a specific focus on the experiences of mothers and motherhood. She spends a lot of time thinking about mom content, pop culture, social media trends and her other random, hyper-specific interests.