Images of children and representations of childhood experience are ubiquitous in contemporary popular culture. Books, films, television shows, advertisements, magazines, posters, computer games, websites – to name but a few examples – construct and reiterate multiple ways through which childhood is to be understood and undergone, regulated and recuperated, managed and maintained. In this article, the authors consider how one textual form, that of popular magazines, constructs childhood as an economic category ideally characterised by what they term 'exemplary ordinariness'. The article analyses magazine cover images from Australia, the United States and Canada, and argues that images and written text together oblige parents to ensure that normative childhood experience is secured through exemplary parenting practices. Further, the authors argue that parents – and in particular, mothers – are incited to performatively produce their own exemplary ordinariness through attention to their own personal beauty, individual accomplishment and parenting practices. Their argument is informed by visual and cultural theories, and underpinned by the view that economic discourse formulates a gaze to which both childhood and parenthood are subjected. This is not to imply a reification of 'the economy', but rather it is to acknowledge the constitutive force of economic discourse and to interrogate its prominence in the images, rhetorics and practices of everyday life. Copyright © 2012 Symposium Journals.