Get new blog posts sent directly to your email inbox!

Today in World War II History

Read Today's Article

Lessons from the 1940s Mother – Work and Play

Today’s parenting magazines trumpet the necessity of playing with your children, and mommy blogs gush about the joys of floor time and entering the child’s world.

If a 1940s’ mom time-traveled to 2010, she would be confused by this. She had work to do. Play was for children. Not that she ignored her children, but instead of becoming a part of the child’s world, the mother drew the child into her world – teaching, shaping, and establishing her authority. In this poster, the mother is showing her daughter how to buy war bonds.

Traditionally, mothers needed all the help they could to run their homes. Children were expected to do their share, which gave them a sense of purpose and taught them skills and responsibility. Play was the reward for a job well done – or a convenient way to keep kids occupied when they couldn’t help. Children played alone or with other children, developing their creativity and imagination. If a mother had time to play, it was a rare and precious thing.

For many moms today, play is a job. If a mom doesn’t spend a certain number of hours playing with the children, she feels guilty. However, I would argue that too much time in play skews the parent-child relationship. The mother becomes a playmate rather than an authority figure. In all playmate relationships, someone takes the lead. If the mother guides the play, the child doesn’t get to use his imagination or figure out on his own how the toy works. And if the child takes the leadership role, he bosses the mother around. Also by making play a high priority, a child may learn that her desire for attention and entertainment is greater than her mother’s needs.

In the 1940s, when a child said he was bored, it was an invitation to do chores. Today, a bored child means the mother has failed in her duty to entertain.

Am I saying a mom shouldn’t play with her children? Of course not. But do so cautiously. Maintain your authority. Make sure your kids know that your need to get work done is more important than their wish to play. Consider drawing them into your work – yes, I know it takes longer, but it’s worth it in the long run. And remember that boredom is a fertile breeding ground for creativity.

How do you handle playtime with your children?

8 responses to “Lessons from the 1940s Mother – Work and Play”

  1. Diane says:

    Great post and so true. :O)

  2. Sarah Sundin says:

    Thanks, Diane! I was afraid I’d get hate mail on this one 🙂 I may still…

  3. Shana says:

    I agree! A lot of parenting is guilt-driven these days, and it doesn’t seem to be paying dividends for our kids. Interestingly, my husband is great at “drawing them into his work” whenever he takes the kids for a day, and they always have a great time. 🙂

  4. radriley says:

    Very well stated, Sarah!! Great job!

  5. This is great. I think Caroline Ingalls (of Little House fame) is a great role model for this. My mom had us doing dishes and laundry as we were able, and helping with cooking as well. (Helping fix the meal got us out of some of the clean-up!)

  6. Sarah Sundin says:

    Thanks, everyone!
    And Sean – your mom is now reaping the benefits 🙂

  7. Wow. This is very insightful. I really had not thought about the difference between today’s moms and the moms of the 1940s.

    I like to play make-believe with my daughter sometimes and it is fun to be a kid again. But I recognize that I also need to have her help me more with chores. Being a single mom right now, it’s especially essential that she learn these things.

    Thanks for this post!

  8. As a mom of 3 who’s been a SAHM, WAHM, and a out of the home full time working mom, I rather agree. There has to be a balance between being a playmate to our children and being a parent who’s supposed to teach them responsibilities for the “real world”.

    Great post!

Embers in the London Sky cover
“Another masterful installment in Sundin’s roster of WWII novels.”
—Booklist starred review for Embers in the London Sky

A Free Gift for You

Make It Do - The US Home Front in World War II

When you subscribe to my monthly enewsletter, you’ll also receive “Make It Do – The US Home Front in World War II,” a collection of my popular blog posts. As a subscriber, you’ll also be the first to learn about my upcoming novels.