I love TV and movies. Always have and, I assume, always will. As a parent, TV is one of the few hobbies from my pre-parent life I can still regularly indulge in (after bedtime, because kids and HBO dramas are not a good combination). Movies, well, I don't get to see them when they come out, but I usually get around to it. But now that I am a parent I see media differently, especially sit-coms and comedies, which are often family-centered. Because media depictions of raising a newborn are totally wrong. Like, so, so laughably wrong.
And I get it! I'm not asking for a whole bunch of changes because parenthood, for the most part, is not glamorous and revolves around a lot of monotony and routine. And even the stuff that parents find wildly exciting or fun is probably neither exciting nor fun to anyone who does not also have a child directly involved. Like, I regularly watch video of my children (now 3 and 6) as newborns, but I don't plan to pitch it to some Hollywood big wig, like "This is amazing! People are going to love it! About a minute in they sneeze and it's hysterical."
So, yeah, it makes sense that newborn/infant life isn't accurately depicted in film. Still, it is funny to observe, as someone who's been there, how very many ways the big wigs in Hollywood have managed to screw it up.
That "Newborn" Is Actually 6 Months Old...
While infants as young as 15 days old are legally permitted to work in California (and younger in some other states) most babies you see on screen are several months old. Now, anyone who has had an infant knows what a huge difference even one month makes when it comes to babies. So it's funny for an experienced parent to watch their favorite characters "give birth" to a 15 pound 3-month-old "newborn."
Fun fact: to achieve that "fresh from the womb" look, babies are often covered in jelly. But not strawberry or raspberry jellies, since those fruits are more often allergens. I wonder whose job it is to slather jelly on an infant?
... Or A Doll
God bless you, American Sniper doll baby, and Bradley Cooper, for holding it.
Fun fact: there's a real market for robot babies for TV and movies and this is at once delightful and terrifying.
Babies Disappear After They're Born
You might see the character pushing a baby carriage or holding blankets that you assume has a baby in it. But more often than not, even that's rare. That baby was a plot device to give the female character who birthed them some kind of drama for a season. (Because, as we all know, motherhood is the only real character development a female character can have.) Once that moment has passed the non-dramatic, non-TV/film friendly aspects of having a child are unceremoniously swept under a rug and trotted out only when it's entertaining or convenient.
The Parents' Social Life Doesn't Change
Like, at all. This boggles my damn mind. Everyone is still hanging out with their friends all the damn time. Or spending entire days on some wacky, inane hijinks. Or picking up and going on a special-two episode trip to Europe or something. It's, perhaps, the most unrealistic aspect of them all. Because everything else you can sort of hand-wave or retcon but this is just... like, really? Who is with your damn child?! Is no one so much as going to mention them?!
The Parents' Home Is Never Baby Friendly
All the preciously placed tchotckes are still right at baby level where they've always been. There are no gates, no swings, no Rock n' Plays, and no high chairs. And I know that infants don't necessarily use all those things right away, but the vast majority of parents I know have them ready to go because infants grow up fast and will be using them in, like, 12 seconds. And, I'm sorry, but even with a 2-week-old newborn that white couch is already stained with at least three different body fluids... and it's only going to get worse from here on out. Unless you're raising a TV/movie newborn, of course, in which case it's going to stick around for another four seasons/the rest of the film.
Mom's Body Is Completely Unchanged An Episode After Giving Birth
Some shows have been a little bit better about this over the past few years. Mad Men, for example, showed Betty Draper rocking a postpartum tummy for a few episodes after Baby Gene was born in Season 3. But most shows and movies pop back in after a birth episode with mom looking as trim as ever (because, let's face it: pretty much all women in media are "trim" unless their chubbiness or fatness is a defining character trait or plot point).
Look, are there some women who lose all the weight they gained quickly after giving birth? For sure, but it's called luck and genetics. They are not the norm!
There's Only One Episode Dedicated To Lack Of Sleep (If Any)
When addressed for the duration of a single episode, lack of sleep is funny. Because "LOL! The parent characters can't get anything done because they're so tired! And dad character has a big presentation at work tomorrow! This oughta be good! LOL!" But this isn't funny when it becomes a way of life.
Don't believe me? See how much your child-free friends are interested in hearing about your sleeplessness over and over again. That's not on them, though, because it's just not especially interesting and there's nothing they can do about it. So I get why it's not incorporated into sitcoms, but it's still not especially realistic.
Everything Is Still Clean
Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha *sharp inhale* Hahahahahahahahahahaha!
The People Who Help The Parents Are Never Around
Unless the show or movie is about the non-related caregiver (The Nanny, Who's the Boss, Charles in Charge), non-related caregivers are almost never depicted in media. They, like the babies themselves, are usually off-screen and unmentioned. But any parent who utilizes childcare services will tell you that life very often revolves around them. The daycare closes at 6:00 p.m., people! You've got to be there at that time. Or you're texting your nanny all the time because just because you're at work doesn't mean you aren't also parenting. From pay to prestige, caregivers often get the short end of the stick, and media isn't doing them any favors, either.
Nothing Revolves Around Feedings Or Poop
Feedings are every one two three hours for a newborn, which limits pretty much everything else you can do. And for every feeding there's at least one diaper. If you're my son it's about three diapers for every feeding and at least two of them are going to be blow-outs.
The Baby Is In Grade School Within A Season
Working with very young children is limiting as far as a production schedule goes — labor laws dictate that babies under 6 months old are only allowed on set for two hours a day, and they can only actually "work" for 20 minutes. They're also unpredictable AF, because you can't just tell a 3-month-old child, "Hey, quit crying. We only have 15 minutes to get this shot." So it makes sense to age them up as quickly as possible.
Remember how Lily from Modern Family was a toddler and then she was a sassy grade-schooler when they came back the next season? It legitimately made me chuckle.
The Baby Remains An Immobile & Compliant Blob For Two Seasons
This is, perhaps, the cruelest thing TV shows do to us. Because if an infant doesn't magically transform into a sassy third grader in a season, they linger in easily portable, non-verbal, adorable, squishy baby mode forever. (If the show is a cartoon this is even more pronounced. Guys, Maggie Simpson has been 1 since 1987.) This is not how it actually goes. In fact, the picture above happened way faster than I ever could have imagined. They don't stay little for all that long. Once again, TV lied to me.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.