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Playing House

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Susie: Hey Calvin, you want to play "house"?
Calvin: I don't know. How do you play?
Susie: Okay... first, you come home from work. Then I come home from work. We'll gripe about our jobs, and then we'll argue over whose turn it is to microwave dinner.

A game in which children take on adult roles, focusing on domestic matters.

Playing "house" is a common game among young children, trying on adult roles seen around their homes. As opposed to the more boisterous Cowboys and Indians games, "house" revolves around day-to-day matters such as husband-and-wife negotiations, childcare (usually with dolls or pets in the "child" role), cooking (mud pies are the traditional fare) and tea parties. Stereotypically, this is a girls' game that boys are roped into with some degree of unwillingness. In Britain, this game is traditionally called "playing Mummies and Daddies".

In fiction, kids playing "house" can be evidence of Puppy Love (though often one-sided), demonstrate a childish misunderstanding of family life (either innocently or because their home is actually that twisted), or be a commentary on the goings-on of the adults who are the main focus of the story. A common "bit" is a young boy forced into a humiliating "baby" or "mommy" role by an innocently sadistic female playmate.

From Roommates to Romance situations will jokingly be called "playing house" as the cohabitors fall into the roles of a married couple without the full benefits of same. It can also be used as a mocking euphemism — the implication being that the relationship needs a legal marriage before it counts as real (it's a more upscale version of the term: "shacking up").

See Promotion to Parent for a much sadder trope related to this.

Not to be confused with what Hugh Laurie did for a living, which in turn should not be confused with playing "doctor"; nor with House Rules.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Crayon Shin-chan, Ai declares to Penny that she's pregnant because she and Shin kissed while playing house. The Gag Dub has a suggestion of playing House, with the first response being "I get to be the handsome doctor." Yes, it was that House.
  • In Doraemon, Nobita tries to use one of Doraemon's gadgets to get out of playing house with his younger cousin (as his friends were teasing him about how girly that is), but of course Hilarity Ensues.
  • In an OVA of Engaged to the Unidentified, Kobeni remembers how she, Benio, and Nadeshiko played house as young children. Benio quickly put a stop to the game when Nadeshiko's setup outright states that Benio in the father role is unemployed after having been fired for sexual harassment.
  • Great Teacher Onizuka plays house with Tomoko and discovers that she has a real talent for acting.
  • There's a variation in HarĂ©+Guu where Marie gets everyone in Hale's family to play house with her, but she's the child and it ends up being a ploy to be able to get parental affection.
  • In the Animated Adaptation of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions!, Touka (in her mid to late 20s) and Yumeha (4 or 5) are seen playing house with a divorce theme several times throughout the season.
    • In episode 5, they're finalizing a divorce when Yuuta walks in. He's not very pleased with what Touka is teaching his little sister.
    • Again in episode 10, when they're in a divorce lawsuit.
    • Once more in episode 11 when Touka leaves and Yumeha asks if she'll be allowed to see the kids.
  • Shizuru and Tomoe do this a few times near the end of My-Otome. When two grown women play house, it's not quite as innocent as usual. Shizuru X Natsuki shippers were not amused.
  • Non Non Biyori has Hotaru, Komari, and Renge all play house for a bit, with Hotaru as the mom, Komari as the dad, and Renge as a flying fish.
  • In an episode of Nurse Angel Ririka SOS, one of the heroes, Dewey, the aloof Sixth Ranger who has become sort of a Fish out of Water now that he's a good guy promises a posessed kindergartener that he will do anything she wants in an attempt to break the control of the evil force manipulating her. It works; the heroes save the girl without harming her, and he duly pays the piper on that promise. It turns out she wants him to be the dad while playing house.
  • The Quintessential Quintuplets: In Chapter 38, Ichika takes her manager's daughter to her house to babysit her, and the kid forces her along with Miku and Fuutarou to play house. Funnily enough, rather than making Ichika or Miku act the mom part, she has them be her dad's (whose part is acted by Fuutarou) secretaries. It's later revealed that this is because her real-life dad divorced from her mother after she cheated on him.
  • In an episode of Urusei Yatsura, Lum goes ten years into the past and finds Shinobu playing house with Ataru. Young Ataru has a little difficulty with the concept of "pretend".
  • Yotsuba and Ena play house briefly in the second volume of Yotsuba&!, before being distracted by the prospect of cake. Yotsuba later sets up house, complete with kitchen, under her father's desk. And then there's the zoo of wooden blocks...

    Comic Books 
  • Monica's Gang: Playing house is the favorite game of all the girls in Lemon Tree Street. The boys heavily dislike it, not only because they believe it's only meant for girls, but often the girls will either force them to play henpecked Househusbands that will have to do all the house chores, or as their young children who have to wear diapers, drink from bottles and often get brutal amounts of corporal punishment (specially from Monica herself) whether they "misbehave". Jimmy Five and Smudge get the worst of it.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Susie of Calvin and Hobbes play house a few times, once with Calvin refusing to accept Mr. Bun as their child, one where they have an Awful Wedded Life, and another ending with Calvin deciding to be a jungle man and running off in his underwear. For these sequences, the strip has an Art Shift to a Mary Worth-style soap opera comic.
  • Margaret always wants to do this with Dennis in Dennis the Menace.
  • One Peanuts strip sees Charlie Brown play house with Patty and Lucy; he's the dad, Patty is the mom, and Lucy is the child. Lucy bails the second the other two tell her not to bother them while they're busy, the reason being that she doesn't want to play something she already experiences at home.
    • An Earlier strip has Violet and Charlie Brown are the mom and dad respectively, where Charlie Brown has to do what Violet says, and then Charlie Brown says "do we have to be realistic?"
  • Private Eye ran a cartoon in which we see a girl sitting on a blanket surrounded by dolls and a boy in the background escaping over a fence; the caption is "Playing Modern Mummies and Daddies" or somesuch.

  • A flashback in Chapter 40 of the first story reveals that Serena loved to play this with her friends when she was little in The Road to be a Pokemon Master, with her as the mom, Gary and Leaf as the children, and naturally, Ash as the dad and her husband.

  • In Judy Blume's Iggie's House, Winnie Barringer and the three Garber children play house in a house that's being constructed in the neighborhood while they're on their way to a picnic near the end of the story.
  • In An Unkindness of Ghosts, this was one of Aster and Giselle's childhood pastimes. Aster would play the domineering husband, repeating lines she heard while working on the upperdecks, and Giselle would play the angry wife.
    Aster: Wife, I require supper. I am hungry, as the mental effort required to digest politics is quite taxing. You would not understand.
    Giselle: Cook your own goddamn supper, fool, if you're so hungry. Why don't you ask that slut secretary of yours to make you supper? Huh? Huh? You saw her again, didn't you?

    Live-Action TV 
  • Community: When Jeff hosts a party at his apartment, Annie comes over early to "help decorate", and immediately turns his Lonely Bachelor Pad into something that looks like the colorful and well-loved home of a married couple. Jeff rolls his eyes and asks if they have to have another talk about her trying to play house with him — but he still helps her with the set everything up. When their friends come over, they immediately compliment Annie's decorating skills.
  • In the Family Ties episode "Be True to Your Preschool," Alex is dismayed to find three-year-old Andy changing a doll's diaper while playing house. He has Jennifer play house with him, using a Ken doll as the breadwinning husband and a Barbie as the submissive housewife, in order to model conservative gender norms for Andy. Jennifer confesses to Cheating with the Milkman and demands a divorce.
  • Mad Men uses this subtly to portray Stepford Suburbia; at Sally's birthday party, when the kids are playing in her new playhouse, they can be heard saying things to each other like, "I like sleeping on the couch." Helen Bishop, the one divorced mother in the neighborhood, comes outside fresh from being hit on by a male adult guest and sniped at by several female ones, and says to Don, "Interesting crowd in there." Don replies, "Same crowd out here."
  • Pee-wee's Playhouse: Pee-Wee sometimes ropes his friends into this. Playing house... in the Playhouse! What a concept!

  • "Kid Stuff," a No. 2 country hit in 1973 by Barbara Fairchild. A native of St. Louis, Mo., Fairchild often put childhood themes into songs of heartbreak, and this follow-up to her Signature Song "The Teddy Bear Song" carries on the trend, where a young woman — not-so-fondly recalling memories of playing house with a young neighbor boy, who insisted on dominating the proceedings, regardless of the girl's feelings — is now in a relationship where the man is the dominant figure and is either ignorant or uncaring when she objects. Unlike childhood, the woman bemoans that their relationship is real life and not just the "kid stuff" of playing house.
  • "I Don't Wanna Play House", a 1967 No. 1 country hit for Tammy Wynette. Wynette takes the role of a young girl who tries to rebuff a little boy who wants to merely play a friendly game of "house". Her reasoning: "It makes my Mommy cry... 'cause when she played house, my Daddy said, 'Goodbye'!" (That is, she saw her parents fighting and not getting along, and eventually he leaves his family behind.)

  • In the original text of Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, Wendy, John, and Michael play house in the nursery at the beginning of the play. Of course, the entire play ends up being a prolonged game of house with Wendy being the mother and all the Lost Boys and Peter being her children.

    Video Games 
  • In Delicious: Emily's Honeymoon Cruise two of the kids in the ship's daycare facility pretend to be the title character and her new husband.
    Girl: No, I'm Emily and you're Patrick, and then we kiss and have babies.
    Boy: Ew! Let's play pirates.
  • Nowi from Fire Emblem: Awakening likes to play house with her comrades, among other games. She's actually a dragon that's centuries old.
  • In Kindergarten, some missions require the player character to play "house" with Cindy. It usually goes into dark themes like domestic abuse, alcoholism, cheating, and abortion, which makes sense for a Crapsack World where the kids act way too mature.
  • Emma and Otacon from Metal Gear used to play house. They are step-siblings.

  • Bad Machinery: Mildred and Lottie pretend that their Wendy House (playhouse) has maintenance issues their friend Jack needs to fix. Mildred's mum lampshades that they're a bit old for this game. (They're covering up that they've converted the building into a skate ramp and are charging the neighborhood kids to use it.)

    Western Animation 
  • In the Arthur episode "Kiss and Tell," D.W.'s last unsuccessful attempt to get her classmate James to kiss her has her play a mother carrying "groceries" (cookies and milk from her preschool) and a "baby" (her Princess Sneeze-and-Wet doll), inspired by seeing her father kiss her mother when the latter came home from the grocery store with D.W.'s baby sister Kate.
  • Family Guy:
  • Kaeloo: The episode "Let's Play House" has the characters play with Kaeloo as the mother, Mr. Cat as the father, Quack Quack as the daughter, and Stumpy as the son. Unfortunately, it all goes horribly wrong, as usual.
  • Ralph Bakshi's 1967 short The Mini-Squirts takes this to its logical conclusion by turning the situation into a soap opera.
  • At one point in the Tiny Toon Adventures episode "Thirteensomething", Plucky, to cheer Buster up to snap him out of his depression over Babs's absence, and Shirley praises him for it. This exchange ensues:
    Plucky: My parents are outta town for the weekend. Whadda'ya say we play house?
    Shirley: [kicks him into a wall] Nevermind.


Video Example(s):


D.W. plays "house" for James

In an attempt to get her preschool classmate James to kiss her (long story), D.W. plays a busy housewife with a "baby" (her doll Poopsie) bringing groceries from the "sugar market" (supermarket) for him.

How well does it match the trope?

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Main / PlayingHouse

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