Dear Parents, Your Kids Aren’t Lifestyle Accessories

Using children as props isn’t a good look.

When I was online dating, I had a rule: never swipe right on a profile pic that included a child.

You might think that’s a no-brainer, but as a single mother, I encountered more of these types of profiles than you might imagine. Usually, it was single dads who were the culprits, but not always. Apparently, a lot of dudes out there think posing with a kid will make them look more dateable. ‘Look at me! I like kids, and kids like me!’ their profiles seemed to scream. I guess maybe they think all women find kids cute? Or that we’re all looking for a guy who likes kids? Or maybe they just think posing with a child makes them seem less like a potential serial killer…?

I was reminded of this when I (accidentally, unwillingly) ran across an Instagram post showing Ivanka Trump eating spaghetti with her three year-old son, Lady and the Tramp style; one long noodle extending from her pursed lips into her son’s mouth, his eyes closed as she dangles the pasta onto his outstretched tongue. The picture is, for lack of a better word, gross.

A post shared by Ivanka Trump (@ivankatrump) on

But most people seemed not to have a problem with it. “Awww, so sweet!” was the overwhelming sentiment among commentors, except for the one who said “your dad wants to do that with you” – a comment, of course, that alludes to repeated inappropriate displays of affection towards Ivanka Trump by her father. You remember:? There was the time he patted her ass on live television, the time he told Howard Stern that she had “the best body” and has “always been quite voluptuous,” and the time he went on The View and said if she wasn’t his daughter, “perhaps I’d be dating her,” just to name a few. *Cringe*

The point being, this spaghetti-eating picture has an overtly sexual overtone to it. After all, the dogs who end up smooching over their spaghetti in Lady and the Tramp are, you know – romantically involved. So why does Ivanka Trump think it’s okay to do this with her kid, and moreover, post it for all the world to see?

Maybe it’s for the same reason model Belén Rodríguez posted an Instagram video of herself grabbing her three year-old son’s face, pulling him toward her and putting her tongue in his mouth as he squirms…

Uncomfortable as this clip is, if you scroll through Rodríguez’s Instagram feed, you’ll see this video is just part of an ongoing theme of her posting sexy pictures of herself, using her son as a prop – not so different from those guys I used to swipe left on when I came across them on Tinder.

Unlike the Ivanka Trump spaghetti shot, plenty of people got up in arms over the Rodríguez video, calling it “erotic” and saying she should be “ashamed”.

Why the double standard? Maybe because Rodríguez is a former Playboy model, and because she’s divorced, while Trump – who’s also done her share of modeling, although not for Playboy – heads up a multimillion dollar business and is still married to the father of her children.

But while I’m skeeved out by both the Ivanka Trump spaghetti pic and the Belén Rodríguez video, it’s not actually because I think they’re being inappropriately sexual with their kids, or abusing them in some way, as some have accused Rodríguez of doing. No, what bothers me about them is the same thing that bugs me about parents who dress their babies in Ramones onesies, brag about their kindergartner’s love of David Bowie, name their kids after inanimate objects (shoutout to Gwyneth Paltrow for starting that trend), insist their toddler can tell the difference between organic and non-organic applesauce (and of course shuns the non-organic), or who use a carefully-curated picture of themselves with their child for a dating app profile.

What all these parents have in common is that they’re using children to promote their own agendas, make themselves seem cool or edgy, or otherwise prop up their own egos. Ivanka Trump wants to look like a loving mother and clearly has no idea how to do this in a non-creepy, authentic way – not surprising, given her upbringing. Belén Rodríguez is trying to look sexy, because that’s what she does – it’s how she makes her living.

Maybe social media is to blame. Our Facebook and Instagram feeds are populated with parents, celebs and non-celebs alike, trying to impress upon us how socially conscious they are, or what great taste they have in music, or how super-quirky and eccentric they are, by using their children as tiny brand ambassadors. Are we supposed to be impressed? Jealous? Both, I guess.

Once upon a time, our parents’ weird and possibly inappropriate pictures of us were relegated to the family photo album and stashed on a shelf, for private perusal only. Nobody obsessed about how many ‘likes’ a picture of their child might garner, or worried whether it was creepy to take pictures of their kids bathing together because someone might hack the photo and post it to a child porn site. Our parents never artfully arranged our toys and organic snacks around us to compose the perfect Instagram post in hopes it would go viral and boost their personal brand.

I’m not immune to this phenomenon – all anyone has to do is look at my Instagram feed and see how many pictures I’ve posted recently of my daughter nuzzling our cat (apparently this is my personal brand now). But luckily, my kids are old enough to call me out; my daughter once asked me to take down a photo of myself that showed a little too much cleavage, because someone at school teased her.

That’s the thing: once kids reach a certain age, they’ll refuse to be used to bolster your image anymore. They’ll stop listening to your beloved punk music and eating your locally-sourced artisan snacks. They won’t wear the hipster T-shirt you bought for them, they’ll change their name to something normal, won’t let you dangle strands of spaghetti into their mouths, and sure as hell won’t let you tongue-kiss them on video.

Media via Instagram.

Comment: What do you think about parents posting pictures of their kids online?