The Sad Beige Debate Proves There's No Right Way to Parent

When it comes to kid clothing and decor, parents are all abuzz about the new neutrals. The bottom line? Aesthetic choices won't help or harm your kids.

Parents play with their daughter in her nursery

Alison Winterroth / Stocksy

If you've scrolled social media recently, you're probably familiar with a certain parenting aesthetic—babies dressed in neutrals, wooden toys, and nurseries decorated with beige interiors.

The lack of plastic and primary colors now has a name and love it or hate it, sad beige is having a moment. Writer Hayley DeRoche's Official Sad Beige Instagram and TikTok accounts have racked up hundreds of thousands of followers, gently parodying the trend, and perfectly capturing the comedy of surrounding infamously grubby children with earth tones.

The current "porridge-colored moment" comes down to a number of factors, says DeRoche, from celeb sway from The Row and the Kardashians to influencers using neural backdrops for their homes and personal brands. "Neutral tones are seen in a lot of eco-friendly naturally-dyed materials and we see brands mimicking that color scheme so that it's everywhere regardless of its origin and make," DeRoche says.

Because the aesthetic has trickled down from expensive brands and carries a notion of being beneficial for kids, it can be used to signify class and affirm parenting choices. "I will always push back against the idea that the trendy, neutral-toned expensive parenting aesthetic just so happens to be the 'best' for babies, as that line of thinking ignores the fact that people all over the world are raising very good babies with very different aesthetics, and it also very conveniently works well for baby brands," says DeRoche.

Sad beige has become a phenomenon, helping many parents feel better if their homes and babies have non-cohesive color schemes. But it's also become a polarizing topic; some parents sharing their beige aesthetics are being trolled on TikTok, while other, self-proclaimed "beige moms" say neutral vibes help them and their kids slay the overwhelm.

Do Kids Need Color?

As to whether certain colors are important for babies, "no one color palette or aesthetic has been shown to be essential for babies' development," says Laura Sigman, M.D., a pediatrician at Children's National Hospital and Alpha provider based in Washington. "At birth, babies are sensitive to light and their vision is not fully developed, but they can see colors." There is rapid visual development by 6 months when babies start to favor certain colors, but the research on how color affects babies' development is mixed.

Some studies have found infants look longest at blue hues and least at yellow but in one study, infants were found to look longer at yellow than blue. However, babies do tend to look longest at colors that are highly saturated—A.K.A. not beige. "Babies are attracted to brightly colored objects and to contrast between items," says Dr. Sigman.

But there could be a tipping point where surroundings become too stimulating, with one study on concentration finding colorful play surfaces can be more distracting than plain ones. "'Everything in moderation' is a good approach to apply to decorating a baby or young child's space," advises Dr. Sigman.

With no definitive proof either way, the beige aesthetic choices seem more of a parental choice. Having kids is overstimulating and often visually jarring, and it's a constant play-off between your needs and theirs. "Sometimes a personal aesthetic can act as a form of control. So much of parenting is messy and chaotic and hard to control...focusing on what you can control within that sea of chaos can feel comforting," says DeRoche.

We're Parenting More Online

The sad beige debate is extremely online. While it can be a useful parenting resource, social media "amplifies the pressures and expectations that come with today's culture of intensive parenting," says Katie Davis, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Washington and author of Technology's Child: Digital Media's Role in the Ages and Stages of Growing Up.

Parents now spend more time with their kids, and more time planning the perfect environment for them than people in the 1950s and '60s. "The sad beige trend and the strong reactions to it are symptoms of the intensive parenting age that we're currently living in," says Dr. Davis. While social media can both inspire and generate guilt in parents, parodies like sad beige show "the answer to good parenting is nowhere to be found in the color schemes you choose for your home and children."

Living online and IRL, we need to remember that there are many ways to dress and care for a child. We're often so keen to label parenting—are you crunchy, silky, or beige? Maybe we're all just trying our best. Indeed, many beige moms are in on the joke. DeRoche doesn't think there's competition between beige and non-beige parents. "I get comments all the time from people who say they love the aesthetic and see themselves in the things I'm poking fun at," she says. "But that they love the jokes because they're funny."

The sad beige debate shows that there isn't one right way to parent. Parenting is not a competitive sport, so don't let Instagram, marketing departments, or a beige nursery convince you otherwise.

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  1. Skelton AE, Franklin A. Infants look longer at colours that adults like when colours are highly saturatedPsychon Bull Rev. 2020;27(1):78-85.

  2. Stern-Ellran K, Zilcha-Mano S, Sebba R, Levit Binnun N. Disruptive effects of colorful vs. Non-colorful play area on structured play—a pilot study with preschoolers. Front Psychol. 2016;7:1661.

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