If your idea of the perfect toy for your child is a handful of wooden pegs or a cloth sack full of cream-coloured scarves; if your baby’s first birthday featured a cream and coffee-brown balloon arch; if your nursery aesthetic is warm beige contrasted with a crisp white, accentuated with a single potted plant—you might be a millennial parent.
And a viral TikTok account is calling us on our curated BS. That Sad Beige Lady, run by librarian, writer and mom Hayley DeRoche, makes fun of “sad beige toys for sad beige children.” In hilariously nihilistic videos in which she adopts the persona (and perfect accent) of German documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog, DeRoche enlightens us on how the bleak aesthetic some of us are choosing to convey to the world is giving off serious existential crisis vibes. It’s funnier if you’re familiar with Herzog, who is well known for his dreary quotes.
The account is satire, and while you might laugh-cry watching her videos (there’s a reason she has almost 182,000 followers), it’s also a rather serious commentary on momfluencer culture.
In one video about an all-white bouncy castle, for instance, DeRoche-as-Herzog says, “It’s perfect for birthday parties to remember the emptiness of existence. You are not like the poor people with their garish primary colours. No. You are special. You feel nothing.”
In another, about a neutral set of stacking cups that she calls “cups of sadness,” DeRoche describes the colours as “dissociation,” “white woman’s Instagram,” “deep-sea depression” and “numb.”
“Welcome to Werner Herzog’s new line of children’s toys,” she says in another video that shows an all-grey nursery with a single wooden swing in the middle of the room. It moves on its own in the video, propelled by the ghost of “sad beige orphans, forced to spend eternity swinging, forever cold, embraced by the chilly arms of death.”
Ouch. But…she’s not wrong. At some point, haven’t most of us wanted to be Sad Beige Lady, with insta-worthy living spaces instead of playrooms that look like a Lego factory exploded? Who among us hasn’t drooled over an influencer’s Boho-themed second birthday bash? (My kid’s second birthday theme was “chaos.” Also, “trucks.”)
It’s not necessarily funny that some millennials are pushing a certain aesthetic on their kids when most would far prefer loud, shiny, brightly coloured toys and clothes. But it’s kind of funny—especially if you’ve been there, done that, realized it was futile, bought the beep-bop toys and garish clothes, and now you basically live in an episode of The Wiggles.
And you know what? If this is the worst criticism we face as parents, I think we’re coming out OK compared to other generations.
After all, sad beige aside, millennial parents have done a lot of things right.
Raised as latchkey kids on a steady diet of questionable cartoons and Dunkaroos, we came of age in the height of diet culture, entered the workforce during a recession, couldn’t afford a downpayment, then raised children during a pandemic.
Meanwhile, we’ve reflected inward, taken workshops and gone to therapy in order to break toxic generational habits. We apologize to our children when we’ve done something wrong. We do time-ins instead of time-outs. We nurture and comfort big feelings instead of shaming our children for having them. We practice gentle parenting (even if we’re screaming “JUST PUT ON YOUR [email protected]*#ING SHOES” on the inside).
We embrace individuality, creativity, body-neutrality, gender-fluidity and inclusivity. We value kindness and caring. We do it while spending more time with our kids than previous generations of parents, despite never being disconnected from work emails, news alerts, or curated social media accounts that makes us feel like failures for having homes that look like children actually live there.
We are freaking super-parents, worthy of applause and accolades, and toy rooms that look however the hell we want them to look. My sister’s toy room, for instance, at times looks like a Montessori learning space, full of wooden peg people, its aesthetic a muted, dusty pink, with cream-coloured hues. Mine looks like an actual bomb went off. There is never not a battery-operated race car following me.
But her children and mine are being raised respectfully, gently and lovingly, without gender restrictions, biases, parental pressures or prejudices.
That’s the millennial way. Well, that and monochrome rainbow-shaped stacking blocks.