Is Your Role “Full-Time-Playmate-for-Little-Kids?”


The following quote is taken from The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home by Carolyn McCulley.

A woman named Joy writes:

“For purposes of understanding my situation, let’s assume I accept (which I do) that there is immeasurable benefit in staying home with your children—being their primary disciplinarian, helper, caretaker, home-creator, influencer. I intend to be home with them after school until they attend college. This is because I have a strong conviction that most of my destructive choices in high school were made simply because I had no adult supervision after school, once I turned twelve. So I plan to be here, and have no plans to change that.

But here I am, six years into being a stay-at-home mother, and I find myself dying to work outside the home, to work at something that uses all my mental abilities. I wrestle with questions about calling, gifting, and fulfillment. My brain is super-active. I was a successful young entrepreneur before becoming a mom. I constantly think in money-making strategies. I love to problem-solve. So slowing down to function on the level of a pre-schooler has been THE HARDEST thing I have ever had to do in my life. I struggle with boredom every day. I have such a hard time pretending with them that I often turn to videos (much more than I ever intended), or to any structured activity like coloring time or room-playtime to keep them busy so that I will not be forced to “play”—which I am terrible at. Seriously, it’s like a learning disability. I can’t think of a thing to say when they ask me to pretend to be a bear or elephant with them. I try, but I freeze up—I yawn, my mind turns to thirty other things I could be doing (there’s that e-mail to write, that meal plan to make, that family budget to update…) I can’t stay focused on the game. Other moms have confirmed they have the same response to play time, but I think somehow I am worse. Some other moms seem more interested in the things of childhood than I am—like my friends who have chosen home-schooling. But I feel like I am an adult through and through—and I don’t know how to be a kid again.

In any case, this results in a constant sense of guilt that I carry around in all my mothering. I should be fulfilled doing this, but I am not. I should enjoy this playtime with my kids, but I don’t. I am not “gifted” at this full-time-playmate-for-little-kids thing. So I do my best to take good care of them and snuggle with them and attempt the occasional board game, bu I often feel like a failure.

Life with small kids is so sporadic and random, it’s hard to keep your home life and schedule organized perfectly. I don’t know any moms who do, so can I even hope to be great at this? What does the Bible say mothers could be called to do in terms of working for profit with their skills? Is it possible that some wives and mothers, like me, could be called to work more than others, or is it most likely sin if moms want to work at things they “enjoy” more than being focused on the home?”

Women of previous generations would be surprised by Joy’s idea that a mother’s role is to be a “full-time-playmate-for-little-kids.” Most cultures throughout time viewed children as an addition to the family’s productivity. The work of managing a home was too labor-intensive to expect hours of amusement, a concept we will explore in the following chapters. But the questions Joy raises are valid. For all the advancements claimed by feminism, Joy sounds a lot like the women interviewed fifty years ago by Betty Friedan: “Is this all?” Perhaps we’re not viewing the issue from the proper perspective. Perhaps we are far more shaped by recent history than we realize.

Does this topic interest you? I’m reading through this book right now, and I thought it might be interesting to blog about it as I go along. What do you think?

Natalie Klejwa is a Wemmick, loved by the Woodcarver, wife of 22 years to Joe, and mother to 9 Wemmicks ages 2-20. She is a business owner (Apple Valley Natural Soap), founder and administrator of the Visionary Womanhood blog, publisher and contributing author of Three Decades of Fertility, You Can Do it Too! 25 Families Share Their Stories, and The Heart of Simplicity: Foundations for Christian Homemaking.

You can hear her being interviewed on Kevin Swanson's Generations with Vision radio program.

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30 thoughts on “Is Your Role “Full-Time-Playmate-for-Little-Kids?”

  1. Please, please continue to post what you observe or learn from the book. I dread playing and I’m trying to get a good balance between home school, chores and play for my 5 & 3 year olds.

  2. I think Joy has a misconception of what life as a SAHM mom of little kids “has” to be. I’ve been at home from the first and now have 7 children ages 12 and under, and I homeschool. I’ve never been a full-time-playmate-for-little-kids; I don’t know if I ever really did enough to approach part-time status!

    I don’t like playing little kid stuff, and I rarely have. I don’t do much pretending with my children. But, I’ve read to my children, though I found books that I also enjoyed rather than the inane ones that I hated reading. I talked with them about what I was doing using big people language with some explanation. I let them “help” me do tasks that would have been faster by myself, but looked toward the goal of them having a good work ethic and one day being able to be of meaningful help. I took them outside so they could play and explore. I provided consequences for disobedience and helped teach them self-control and what it means to live under authority. Etc. But in terms of an actual sit down and play with them, that’s never been more than a few minutes a day. They typically played with siblings or by themselves. And may I say that I’m not gifted at scheduling or organization (or cleaning) either?

    My role has been to teach and train my young children for the future, not to be a playmate (not that there’s anything wrong with doing that more than I do). I think not only is Joy defining her role in a way that doesn’t fit her personality, but she’s devaluing the significance of her purpose at home.

    • I’m with Heather. Even when my sister and I were teenagers and would babysit the neighbor girls, I wasn’t the one “playing” with the children. I was the “adult” figure and my sister would play with the girls. Now, with my own children, I still don’t “play” with them. Instead, I try to train them to, one day, be responsible adults. We aren’t raising children, but future men and women. Boy, that makes me sound really not fun… lol Oh well. =)

      Natalie, this would be an interesting topic to explore!

  3. Oh yes! I’d definitely be interested in hearing more. I admit to having some of the same feelings at times. I find that my children and I are so much happier when we are all productive, none of us are happy when we are “entertained” all day.

  4. Sounds a lot like me, actually. I took this goofy test on Facebook called ‘how many children should you have’ or something like that. The result of the quiz was that I should not have any kids. Haha. Too late by fifteen. I am not a natural nurturing mother and just do not enjoy getting down on the floor to play with my kids either. If I can be totally honest I do not enjoy homeschooling either. I came to the conclusion for me that I do not have to be their entertainer. Siblings are good at that and I fixed our homeschooling so the kids can be more independent and I am more of a tutor. BUT I do still need to have a servant’s heart towards my children. There is a balance. I also found that the more I peek my head over the fence at the boundaries God placed in the lives of fellow mothers the more my mom struggle gets harder. The times I feel like I need the biggest break are the times I need to RUN back into the middle of the life God has picked out for me. Hanging by the fence can do more harm than one thinks. Most of the battle is in our minds as moms.

  5. I’m definitely looking forward to this. I have ten kids at home, and my primary responsibilities are to love, nurture, and provide for them. Notice that “play” was not included. Do I play with my kids? Sometimes. Do I play with them every time they ask? No. I’ve noticed that nowadays many children have no idea how to keep themselves entertained for this very reason. Society today is hindering the progress and independence of today’s children by making them feel as if they have to be “led” in everything they do- whether it be school or play. I’m trying to nurture my children’s independence by expressing to them that, yes, you are so very valuable to me, and one of the ways I do that is by giving them supervised freedom.

  6. Absolutely interested in hearing more of your thoughts on this! I feel a constant pull between what I observe in the culture around in me, and “the way things used to be”. Were they “all right” back then, and we’re “all wrong” now, or perhaps is a blending of the two philosophies ok? (I’m referring to the idea of viewing children “as an addition to the family’s productivity” rather than little people who require constant play and interaction).

    I have some friends who seem to put playing with their kids as their highest priority. They will stop in the middle of our adult conversation to read their preschooler an entire book if asked, leaving me sitting there awkwardly waiting to finish the conversation. I find myself getting really annoyed in these situations, but then I’m questioning whether or not I’m being selfish for letting my daughter play (happily) by herself.

  7. YES! Please blog about this! I have two boys, 18 and 14, and we are getting ready to foster 0-3 year olds. I am excited about this new season however my biggest struggle has been THIS one! I don’t miss the “playtime” because I was never good at it and here I find myself facing it again. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say! God’s timing IS perfect!

  8. Oh, this is an interesting subject! Looking at Pinterest I see so many mothers that seem to have it all together and plan whole themed weeks for their 2 year-olds, and I wonder how they do it AND keep a home… There’s a lot of value in teaching a child to entertain themselves and contribute to the family. We’re parents, not entertainers.

  9. I would be really interested in your thoughts on this topic! I find myself begging God each morning to give me a tender love towards my children (not that there’s anything wrong with that but that’s just to say how poorly suited I am for this job in myself without His generous help). I also struggle (in my flesh-thankfully in my spirit, all is well) with how quickly they’ve come 1 child each year since I’ve been married (six years this July). When people find out how many kids and how quickly, they usually say something along the lines of “wow, you must REALLY love kids” and I’m thinking…umm no…I just really love God and God thinks of children as blessings….and in faith I believe Him that they are. I’ve already seen some of the fruit of going out on the limb and just trusting God when my flesh screams “NO”. A strengthening marriage with my husband and loads and loads of sanctification in the areas of patience and serving. I still have a LONG way to go and don’t think I’ll ever fully “arrive” but slowly and surely I’m learning that God isn’t really interested in keeping me pacified in my comfort zone, he wants to mold me and shape me into a vessel of his liking. For me, it comes down to dying to self (a daily process) in order to reawaken to the vision that God has for my life. I’m so optimistic that someday I will find great joy in being a mother as my heart becomes more closely aligned with Christ’s heart.

  10. I’ve always tried to imagine pioneer women or really any woman outside of the 20th century western culture sitting on the floor playing with their children. Who would have the time? I did want to have fun creative interaction with kids though.

    I did it with adding creativity to our chores. If I was doing the dishes, and my daughter, at ages anywhere between 3-5 was drying at the counter across from me, I’d engage her vivid imagination and make it a game for her. I’d tell her it was a baby just getting out of the bath and she had to get it nice and dry. Then we would put it in it’s bed (in the cabinet) and close the door gently to not wake the baby. Amazingly enough she would interact with the pot like it was a doll, talk to it and the whole bit. I only had to come up with the idea and then she took over.

    I could tell you an imaginative way to do just about every chore in the house for a boy or girl it worked so well. This way, we got time together, work accomplished and great interaction!

  11. Natalie – this is a great topic! I often felt the same as Joy, like a play-mate for the children. However, now that I have accepted Christ and His design for my life it has made mothering somehow have a more meaningful purpose. I do desire to work outside the home, and have been actively seeking employment. My children are older now and are capable of being home alone for short periods of time. I look forward to each season of mothering with an eager desire to please God and to fullfill my promise to Him and my family.

  12. Alisa… that was a great idea! Just want to mention something I heard when my own children were very young. You need to keep their little emotional gas tanks full. If you spend 15 – 20 min. engaged w/them, they can go on their own for quite some time. I tried it enough times to know that it works.

    • I’ve got a couple kids that doesn’t work for…they need 24/7 attention…doing what THEY want to do… to keep their “tanks full,” and I just can’t do it. Nobody can. I give them 30 minutes, and they moan and weep and whine because I have to get back to work. Very demotivating and maybe part of our problem… But I hope to talk about some of that in the days ahead.

  13. Natalie, it seems we have a bottomless “tank” on our hands already. I would love to hear more of your thoughts here as well — especially as it relates to your last comment and the “fill their tanks” ideas that are so popular. I often hear that visual applied to marriage, where I also think it is problematic.

  14. I would love to hear another perspective on this. I’m one of those people who loves playing with little kids. I didn’t understand when people said that I had a gift for little kids because I just figured that most people who had kids were “good” with them and learned through trial and error what to do and what not to do but you didn’t really need a gift for being able to take care of kids. It wasn’t until recently when I saw someone else who was amazing with kids that I realized what people were talking about when they said that I had a gift for them. I would love to know what goes through other people’s heads who actually struggle with this so that I might better understand my sisters in faith who are seeking guidance in this area. Thank you for posting, Natalie! I know if you post more I will read it!

  15. Yes! I often struggled with this when I had one and then two children. Once I got to 4 they didn’t seem to request much playtime with me….they were too busy with siblings!

    Looking forward to more posts on this topic for sure!

  16. I have one that has a bottomless tank. I have another that if I give her 20 minutes of undivided attention she is happy all day long. (she is the youngest. Maybe she is more perceptive than the rest and figured it out that Mom can only do so much. Might as well enjoy the 20 min and be happy.)
    I have been having a really hard time lately…feeling like I am being pulled in all directions and I am having a meltdown every day. I only have 4 kids and have been homeschooling since the first one was born 11 years ago. I am beginning to think that maybe all mothers are not made for this life in the home WITH kids. Then again a friend reminded me that it happens to her every February. Ugh! :(

    • It helps me (sort of) to remember that no matter what job a woman has – it has it’s ups and downs. Mothering not excluded. I do think kids get cabin fever this time of year and start going bonkers. That, of course, makes us go bonkers. Cheer up Tereza! Spring is just around the corner! :)

  17. Wow! this makes me feel better! I don’t usually play with my kids either. I let them entertain themselves most of the time. I like it that they aren’t constantly dependent on me for fun. I think moms that constantly entertain their kids cause their kids to be more demanding and less independent. (Boy, do I sound like my mother!:)