Time outs are out, sugar and single-use plastics are the scourge of the playground, and (since you’re probably reading this on your device) let’s not even start on screen time.
Add the crises-heavy start to the year, and many mums and dads are digging around for some positive inspiration for parenting.
At our place, I’m letting mine go to the dogs.
ABC KIDS TV hit Bluey has been winning hearts and minds of pre-schoolers (and their parents) for more than a year now.
The cartoon family of cattle dogs has earned Brisbane-based creators a Logie, an Emmy nomination, and squeals of delight whenever the distinctive theme song floats across the loungeroom.
A bit like Pixar films, Ludo Studio developed Bluey as “co-viewing” — to be watched by kids and parents together.
That said, adult fans regularly confess to bingeing Bluey by themselves. A couple of extreme enthusiasts even started podcasting about it. Full disclosure, one of them is me.
And beyond Bluey’s teachable moments for our little tackers (share, care, do a “tactical wee” before bed), even grown-ups can find guidance.
Keep the game going
Bluey is built around imaginative games, led by the titular six-year-old and her four-year-old sister Bingo.
Dad Bandit and Mum Chilli are regularly roped in, with near-infinite patience for familiar wails of “play with us!” or “again!”
Hailed as #parentgoals, Bluey even won academic praise for its focus on play — all-important for emotional, creative and social development.
But aside from the dogs-that-drive-cars thing, is Bluey instilling unrealistic expectations in our kids?
Working from home, Bandit constantly caves to requests for games, and the girls even roadblock his attempts to depart for the office.
Sadly, real-life jobs, and non-animated existence in general, are less compatible with all-day play.
Even a trip to the doctor is rich fodder for Bluey’s imagination at playtime.(Supplied)
But look closer, and Bluey actually offers a hack for time-poor parents to be involved, even once they’re out the door.
Bandit and Chilli often start an escapade, then step back to see where the girls take it.
Bluey and Bingo can spend hours growing the game, deploying imaginative tactics they learnt at Mum and Dad’s heels.
For the three-year-old at our place, a year-long game of Batman has evolved to include an in-house “Batcave Cafe”, detailed briefings with Commission Gordon on his banana “phone” as we lap the supermarket, and endless stick-based schemes to bring down the unfortunate clown-face swing/Joker at our local park.
Time invested in kids‘ games pays blissful dividends as they take their imaginations and venture off on their own.
Love where you live
Bluey is a love-letter to Brisbane, as much as any Woody Allen missive is to Manhattan.
Willy wagtails sit atop distinctive yellow bus stops, jacarandas rain purple carpets on wide verandahs, and streets bask in more striped sunlight than the Go-Betweens back catalogue.
Even for a southerner like me, the Sunshine State is instantly recognisable.
And the blue heelers make the most of local amenities — from countless parks, to markets, beaches, creeks, pubs, and even the dump.
How a cartoon dog has won parents‘ hearts
People often say there isn’t a handbook for parenting, but if there was, it would likely list Bluey as essential viewing. Why are we all addicted to a dog cartoon and are our kids getting as much out of it as we do?
True, my non-animated locale can’t compete with Bluey’s Brisbane. But finding things to love about your own community can be life-changing.
In her book This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live, US researcher and journalist Melody Warnick looks at what drives of social connectedness to where we call home.
She finds that people who are positive about where they live are not only happier and healthier, but they’re better equipped for when disaster hits, too.
Warnick’s tips for embracing your town or suburb include befriending neighbours, shopping at locally-owned stores or markets, and getting around without the car.
And life in the heelers’ cute cul-de-sac is a helpful how-to.
Sure, letting the neighbourhood kids set up a doctor’s surgery in your loungeroom can end in chaos and crocodile attacks (as in the episode, The Doctor).
But when Bingo goes to hospital for real life, the neighbours are at the ready with healing help (episode: Bumpy and the Wise Old Wolfhound).
Beyond entertainment for all ages, Bluey episodes such as Bumpy and the Wise Old Wolfhound provide valuable parenting tips.(Supplied)Persistence always
Childhood is full of mastering new skills, and Bluey captures the joy of those moments.
For adults though, even maintaining old skills can be a battle.
Bandit literally dreams about playing touch footy, too time-poor in his waking life. (Chilli, happily, has held onto her hockey career.)
But just like for kids, trying new things and growing our skills boosts both brains and hearts — especially if we’re not much good at them at first.
Want proof? Check out the episode Grannies, voted Australia’s favourite Bluey episode when ABC polled fans last year.
Over Skype, Bluey successfully teaches her grandparents to “floss”, and there’s a frenzy of excitement as they master the dance move.
Even old dogs/parents can learn new tricks — and get a thrill doing it, too.
ABC Life in your inbox
Get our newsletter for the best of ABC Life each week
It’s not too late
Beyond the seven-minute plotlines, there’s a bigger story behind the success of Bluey.
And it’s proof that kids don’t have to be the handbrake on your creative projects, or life-changing plans.
In fact, they can be the inspiration for actually getting started.
Creator Joe Brumm was staring down 40, with two young daughters, when he dreamed up Bluey.
“Twenty years I’ve been waiting to do something like this!” the animator-turned-writer told our Bluey-obsessed podcast, Gotta Be Done.
And by “something like this”, Brumm doesn’t mean getting a TV series co-commissioned by BBC and ABC, then picked up by Disney, while scoring a slew of awards and millions of fans worldwide.
He means, actually writing it. Incredibly, Bluey was Brumm’s first attempt at a TV script.
And it was his years as a working-from-home dad that provided so many perfectly-observed premises, and made Bluey instantly beloved.
I took my daughter to see how they make Bluey and it sort of blew her mind
My two-and-a-half-year-old daughter and I go to visit Ludo Studio, where the internationally acclaimed animation series Bluey is built from nose to tail.
Behind-the-scenes, bringing the first season of Bluey to life was a lot like parenting — both the stamina required, and the satisfaction delivered.
“Some days, I would drive home over the Go Between Bridge, and feel just like the most warm, full feeling that I’d ever had from a work point of view,” Brumm recounted.
“And it was because in that previous 10 hours I’d had to use everything I’d learnt in the previous 20 years, as an animator, but also in all the relationships you have.
“It would be the most satisfying feeling you’ve ever had, because you’ve used everything that you’ve got, and some things you had to make up, and you’ve got to do it all again tomorrow.”
The relentlessness of parenting young kids might seem to put life — and career, creative projects, and sleep — on hold.
But there’s truth in the truism, “this too shall pass”. And perhaps it should continue, “and there’s so much more to come”.
That’s my biggest parenting lesson from Bluey: this life is but a pup.
You can watch Bluey now on ABC iview.
Mary Bolling is a Melbourne mum, journalist, and co-host of Gotta Be Done, a weekly podcast recapping Bluey episodes, via a rambling look at parenting theory, childhood memories, pop culture references, and the occasional dog pun.