I remember watching Friends, thinking that Monica’s and Rachel’s kitschy apartment was, if not for its size, an attainable living arrangement for two somewhat-broke girls living in the West Village. Then I tried to get my own place and the reality of how little bang I could get for my buck was shocking. My disdain for TV apartments only grew from there, as I realized it was all pure fantasy. The same goes for TV families, of course, which I can't help but watch with a critical eye now that I have my own brood. There are media depictions of family life every mom hates, and it goes way beyond square footage and kitchen islands.
The uncannily photogenic family members all smiling in sync. The couple cozied up under blankets in front of a fire with full cups of hot cocoa that never ever spill. The well-rested mom nuzzling a baby in a pristine onesie. The pithy dialogue used to end a conversation that, in real life, would be nothing short of devastating. I understand this kind of imagery represents an “ideal,” but to even believe in one perfect portrayal of family life is belittling its complicated, and thus profoundly rewarding, experience. I don’t strive for these kinds of “ideals.” Like Pinterest boards, they have their place, sure, and I can appreciate them as long as I remind myself that they're fictitious, at best.
However, as a full-time working mother who has never in her life balanced a briefcase in one hand and a toddler in the other, I would love to see more realistic depictions of family life in the media, like what Getty’s Lean In collection of stock imagery is striving for. Sadly, we're continually bombarded with these kinds of images instead, which moms like me truly hate:
The Tranquil Dinner Scene That Doesn't Resemble A Food Massacre
Eating with children under the age of 15 is always a catastrophe. Spillage, crumbs, disgusting combinations of veggies and condiments. It's almost enough to take away my appetite (almost).
So, seeing an image that is not an ad for absorbent towels, where a family is gathered around a bountiful meal, smiling with broccoli (always broccoli) perched on their forks, with no dropped food on the floor and no parents either wiping up some mess or digging into cold, abandoned chicken nugget remnants while the child tilts dangerously back in their chair (as they’ve only been told nine times not to do that), is a sadistic commentary on the truth of family meals.
Everyone In Matching Outfits
I give the families who pull this off credit, because it means that everyone either agreed to a dress code or agreed to smile regardless of a dress code. Still, that doesn’t mean I hate it any less. I do, however, like the idea of photographing different family members wearing a particular item, as if it were being passed down to new generations. That feels like a fun family tradition, one that the grandchildren will remember fondly as they show the photos to their grandchildren. Matching ensembles might make it hard for future generations to distinguish family members. “That’s Aunt Alma, in the white top.” “Um, which white top?”
Tossing Or Carrying Each Other
Whee. Mom gives Junior a piggyback ride while the other parent tosses the other, smaller sibling in the air. Not pictured: Mom icing her lower back and parent number two hobbling to the couch while the kids, riled up by play that stimulates their vestibular system, take to the floor in a wrestling heap that dissolves quickly into fisticuffs and tears. Togetherness.
Everyone Is Wearing Pajama Sets To Bed
Just because they’re sold, doesn’t mean they need to be bought. I wear busted tank tops and gym shorts. My son wears his father’s battered shirts. My daughter wears the outfit she picked for the next day. The person who started this pajama racket probably never had to do laundry.
Apple picking is a freakin’ work-out. In real life, maybe you can get a couple of snaps of one adult family member hoisting up a kid to grab some piece of fruit. But in all reality, the apples kids tend to pick have already fallen on the ground and you’re just trying to get them not to play in the dirt.
No parent is thrilled to do this. Maybe they feign enthusiasm, but trust me, we are all freaking out inside as we picture our little campers tumbling into the fire pit thanks to some horrific accident. Plus, kids are terrible at roasting marshmallows. They either burn their marshmallows and have a breakdown, or drop them into the flames, and have a breakdown. Nobody needs to roast marshmallows. Like hibachi dinners or table-side guacamole preparation, it’s a lot of effort for very little culinary satisfaction.
Kids Playing Together
It has been my experience that kids don’t play together. When they’re little, and they’re not trying to yank toys out of one another’s hands, they play next to each other. When they’re a little older, they play school; which is mostly one person making checkmarks in a fake attendance book while her friends sit in front of her. When they are tweenagers, they just run. Like, constantly run. Whatever it is they’re playing is just an excuse to be running. So, any picture of kids cooperating in the building of a block tower, or patiently waiting their turn at a board game, is shenanigans.
Parents Kissing While Children Look On Adoringly
The parents who display affection in front of their kids, without eliciting squeals of disgust for their children, are fictional. No child wants to see their parents lavish attention on anyone else but themselves. Kids who cheer their parents on to kiss most likely have some ulterior motive.
Bedtime Featuring Smooth Sheets
It’s all Pottery Barn’s fault. I do not make my kids’ beds. I don’t expect my little guy to make his bed, but I do want him to at least pull the comforter up over the tangle of sheets. Still, there is no hiding the lumpiness of it, with stuffed animals strewn across the bed and the pillow squished into the corner. My 8-year-old daughter likes to make her bed, but it usually entails some intricate array of folded blankets that are arranged more artfully than neatly. Any image of a parent tucking their kid into a smooth, neatly made bed — complete with plumped up pillows and stain-free blankies — is a lie.
One Tiny Mess In An Otherwise Spotless Living Room
This picture is keeping it real, showing how “life can be messy,” when they play Monopoly or something on the floor. Hey, we all can’t be perfect. This is probably the most offensive way to present a relatable scene: with the books liked up on the shelves, the TV devoid of fingerprints, a clutter-free coffee table. Just a little disorder on family game night. A little. Like, maybe a few chips have tumbled out of the bowl, because realism.
Um, I don’t think so. In my house, and in most people’s houses, those chips would have been devoured in the first three minutes of the game, with any spilled food immediately crushed into a crunchy powder that will live forever in the fibers of the carpet. Art directed "messiness" is a stock photo fail.
A Mom Eating Without Interruption
Because that’s totally how it goes. I enjoy my meal while the children enthusiastically dig in to what’s on their plates, and never, ever stick their hands into my food, or climb into my lap, begging to get a bite of the thing that they will then eat entirely, leaving me their plain (“No sauce, Mommy! I hate sauce! Naked noodles, Mommy!”) flavorless pasta.
Everyone Gathered Around A Mesmerizing Thing That Puts Them In A Gleeful Trance Yet Strangely Doesn’t Beg For Any Of The Kids To Start Smacking It
Usually a laptop or tiny farm animal.
Jumping In A Big Pile Of Leaves That Does Not Also Include Sharp Twigs and Rotting Trash
Even if you are lucky enough to have a pristine leaf pile in which to frolic, why would any parent be ecstatic about their kid jumping into the pile they've just worked tirelessly to rake together?Are they excited that they’re about to teach their kids a lesson, making them gather those leaves again and bag them up? Like with any chore you assign them, kids will only leave more work for you in their wake. Accept imperfection, and move on.
Casually Hanging Out In A Climate Where Down Vests And Short Sleeves Are Weather-Appropriate
If it’s cool enough for a layer of insulation (albeit one which might leave your extremities prone to frostbite), yet warm enough for short sleeves, then it must be that point in the summer where the mosquitoes come out in full force, in which case, why don’t I see everyone greased up with bug spray, or, for a less toxic approach, in long-sleeves and pants. Where in the world is it comfortable to dress for summer everywhere except your chest and back, which get freakishly cold when the temperature drops below, what, 70 degrees?
Baking Something That Entails Getting Just A Smidge Of Flour On Our Noses
There is no plausible action in any of the necessary steps required to make cookies that would result in a light dusting of flour on this particular body part.
Sand Art With Toes
Once a mainstay of engagement announcements in the '90s, this iconic tableau features some kind of heart, hand-drawn in the sand, and a family’s groomed feet gathered around it. This is pretty much impossible to achieve IRL.
Think about it; the children would need to be suspended from above the camera to get their feet properly positioned, and the parents would need to be lying prone in the wet sand (hating life because no adult enjoys wet sand), shouting “Hold still!” to the kids out of frame. But that’s how we show love in our family, you guys.
Dads In Ironic Aprons
Look everyone. Isn’t it hilarious that this dad has to cook and take care of his kids in a kitchen big enough for an island workspace and multiple windows sporting thriving plants? Life is tough for this dude. Kids are crazy. Dinner is an outlandish request! But he’s in there, guys. He’s taking on domestic duties so when his spouse comes home, briefcase in hand, he will have fulfilled the "American dream" of keeping the kids alive, while also making sure his family is nourished, thus silo-ing childcare to one parent while the other assumes full financial responsibilities. Because even though it is less traditional to see a guy take on what has historically been female-assigned housework, it is still completely antiquated thinking that both parents aren’t involved in taking care of the home in some way.
Seeing a man change a diaper or cook a family meal, so that his spouse “is free” to work, is not in step with the ways families are evolving. Parents are taking on multiple roles in the home, and outside of it, for the most part. Not many of us (at least in NYC) can afford to be single-income families. Even fewer of us are able to keep plants alive on our windowsills.
I could be misinterpreting this image. Maybe this guy is a single or stay-at-home dad, in which case, we would recommend he call in some reinforcements so the toddler he is balancing in his arms does not come dangerously close to the pot of boiling water he is tending to. Then again, I could be way too optimistic about the backstory here, and this is just a commentary on how "dumb" men are about domestic stuff, in which case, make it stop.