“You let your kids watch SpongeBob?!” The woman standing across from me at daycare pickup was clearly shocked, but there was something else in her voice… judgment. Good ol’ garden-variety “my parenting is better than your parenting” judgment.
We’d stumbled into this conversation in the daycare hallway while we were looking at our kids’ recent artistic masterpieces plastered on the wall. My oldest had drawn their interpretation of Bikini Bottom.
At the time, my kids were little (they’re now YouTube- and TikTok-obsessed young teens), and I still felt most of the time like I had no f*cking clue what I was doing. So, imagine my surprise to learn that, apparently, letting my kids watch SpongeBob SquarePants was a major mom faux pas.
Welp, I’d missed the memo.
We routinely sang “I’m a Goofy Goober” at the top of our lungs. My son dressed up as the iconic yellow cartoon sponge for Halloween. There was a solid stretch where my daughter was insistent she wanted to be Sandy Cheeks when she grew up (and, honestly, who could blame her?).
Prior to my run-in with the parent at daycare pickup, I hadn’t realized that many moms have strong opinions about SpongeBob being inappropriate or subversive.
Back then, I did a little Googling on the subject and found that a lot of the ire surrounding the show stemmed from a 2011 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics that measured the “immediate impact of different types of television on young children’s executive function.” SpongeBob was among the programs cited as a negative example.
Interestingly, a 2023 study actually found that SpongeBob has the richest vocabulary out of the most popular kids’ shows analyzed. Take that how you will.
But I digress. The truth is, after admittedly struggling with a few days of insecurity from being called out by another mom, I realized I didn’t really care. I didn’t care what she thought. I didn’t care what other moms thought. My kids and I like SpongeBob. So what?
A lot of the things other moms don’t like about the show are the things I appreciate about it. SpongeBob’s excessive (some may even say annoying) optimism? Our family loves a happy hero. Patrick Star’s hilariously bizarre personality? Weird friends make the world go round. Sandy’s “know-it-all” behavior? Everybody wants to hate a girl with main character energy who’s the smartest person in the room.
And the biggie: the humor.
When my kids were little, any adult humor flew right over their heads. Meanwhile, I cracked up at some of the more grownup humor in the cartoon, knowing damn well my kids had no idea what it meant. That humor? It was for me. The mom. The one who, like so many of us, had to watch my kids’ TV whims on a loop for weeks at a time.
Spoiler alert: We didn’t stop watching SpongeBob. In fact, even now, we *still* like to watch SpongeBob together sometimes.
Despite a few early parenting insecurities, I’ve come to realize and accept that I’m a SpongeBob mom. A hot mess mom. An Epcot mom. It’s all the same, really.
Yes, I let my kids watch SpongeBob. And The Simpsons (which, for the record, I watched growing up and turned out just fine). I don’t care if they sing the bad words in songs. I’m happy to let them skip a few days of school in the name of travel. I don’t always have my sh*t together, and I’m cool with that.
I’m of the mind that we’re all just out here doing the best we can, so what’s the point in making each other feel bad about the decisions we make? Especially when it’s about a cartoon. As long as my kids are kind, I feel pretty confident in what I’m doing as a parent.
We watch SpongeBob because it’s entertaining. That’s the whole point. It’s given us some of our favorite family quotes (“Is mayonnaise an instrument?”), songs to sing for almost every occasion (i.e., “Ripped Pants,” “Don’t Be A Jerk — It’s Christmas,” etc.), and countless laughs.
It’s essentially the equivalent of comfort food in TV form.
Life’s about balance, and for me, that balance includes watching things that just make us happy sometimes. My kids also watched a ton of “educational” series like Team UmiZoomi, BubbleGuppies, and Sesame Street when they were little that taught them things.
We can do both. The kids will be OK.