When I Don’t Want to Play

As much as I hate to admit this as a member of Father Geek’s illustrious, exclusive, esoteric, distributed and unpaid staff, sometimes I don’t want to play games with my darling little geekletts. Unthinkable, I know, but sometimes the work of delicately handling disappointing events, repeatedly explaining rules, playing games that contain repetitive tasks instead of interesting decisions, and constantly corralling the wandering attentions of two little minds outweighs my desire to spend time with my kids.

In a few cases, my reluctance might be justified. If, for example, I had just spent the day with them, or we had just returned from a family trip somewhere, I think a little solo time would be called for. Too much time in the same company can really degrade the “quality” side of “quality time”. And as with any parent, I’ve decided where that line is for me and my kids, keeping in mind that the line will probably have to shift as they grow from geeklings to demi-geeks.

In other cases, I’m just tired from a long day at work or the previous evening’s roof-raising Father Geek Game Gathering of Gusto. I mean, we do party like it’s 1989, you know.

Both of these might be forgivable, but still other times I just don’t wanna.

I believe this kind of thinking is a little dangerous. If it happens too often, a little chat with the mirror might be in order. (I’m lucky, as I have the Disney Princess Talking Mirror mounted on the back of my bedroom door. The rest of you, get your own.)

For starters, I ask myself that most profound of all self-analytical questions: Why not? If the answer is because of the need for solo time after a great bout of quality time or just from general fatigue (and I try not to play the fatigue card more than once a week), the answer is probably fairly selfish and begins to tread in the “danger zone”. The danger zone is where things end up when I get a new video game or start on a new project that I can’t wait to finish. The “new thing”, whatever it is, just sounds more fun and enticing than the idea of playing with my kids.

Fun is so seductive. It is, after all, the main draw of games and geekiness everywhere.

So what do I do to try to keep those moments in check and avoid the proverbial danger zone? I remind myself that I am a rather dense fellow and have forgotten some of the most obvious truths of parenthood. These truths can be summed up as follows:

  • Your kids will never be this young again
  • Neither will you
  • Time with them comes in truckloads now; it will become scarce as they grow
  • Right now, you are still a “cool parent” – playing with you trumps most of their alternative leisure activities – this won’t last
  • You will always have some new project or some new game to play, they are abundant – the time with your kids is not
  • Your kids are, whether you are conscious of it or not, more important than absolutely everything else in the world – It’s possible to be so dense and self-absorbed that this truth is forgotten

A quick run through the list of obvious (and sometime forgotten) truths usually resets my perspective a little. The new shiny thing doesn’t look so new and shiny, the sound of my kids’ voices goes from annoying to whimsical, the world gets smaller, the kids get bigger, and I get down on the floor and play with them.

Because I wanna.

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About Nate

Geek, Gamer, Father of Two, and Husband of One (so far), Nate has been a gamer since before he knew the word existed. From his very earliest memories of begging his older sisters to play Monopoly with him, and then crying when they actually made him finish the game, to his moment of Euro game enlightenment with his first play of Settlers of Catan (thanks to Father Geek's own Brian), gaming has always been his first, best, hobby. Now, with children of his own, he finds himself repeating the cycle of begging them to play with him, and then crying when they won't let him quit. He hopes that his daughters grow up to learn the joys of rolling dice, gathering resources, building civilizations, leveling their characters, seeing their enemies flee before them and hearing the lamentations of their women. Nate goes by the handle kungfugeek on Board Game Geek.

9 Responses to When I Don’t Want to Play

  1. Cyrus says:

    Excellent article, Nate, and spot on. It takes a lot of physical, emotional, mental, and psychological energy to make it through the day, and that’s without kids. One child could demand enough focus to make your hardest day at the office look like a walk in the park. This is one of the reasons why I have so much respect for teachers. They purposely put themselves into a room filled with kids with different needs. Where they find the energy to do it everyday is beyond me.

    I also struggle with the “I don’t wanna” danger zone. When I get home from the office, my three boys are overjoyed to see me and want to play with me immediately. I am honestly not up to the tidal wave of energy that crashes against me when I walk through my door.

    I do my best to “be there” for them, but I also know that I cannot be the Dad who is 100% available to play all the time. It is perfectly healthy and acceptable to have your “me time” as a parent. Still, I always have to fight off the initial pains of guilt whenever I deny my children anything.

    It helps that I have a partner in my life with my wife. We tag-team with our kids, giving the other breaks to go recharge. We show our children all the love and affection we can, and then some. But that takes energy and sometimes we just don’t have it.

    But let us not forget this is a two-way street. Our kids need breaks from us, too. We have found a healthy balance in our family, but it took time and it can still be upset and knocked off kilter with the simplest of things.

  2. Peter Kolozvary says:

    You’re right. Sometimes we’re just tired, selfish, or just want to do something else. It’s like that old saying, “You don’t know how much you loved something till it’s gone.”

    I spoke with some older folks at a Holiday party this past December and I asked them what I always enjoy asking my elders. “If you could give me one piece of advice that you have learned from your life what would it be.” The guy looked me in the eyes and pretty much said don’t take the time you have with your children for granted. They get old. You won’t be able to get this time back. He made it very clear that this time is “Priceless” to quote Visa.

    Yes he’s right, yes it makes sense, and yes I will still choose something else over my kids at some point this week because I’m not perfect. I’m torn because I feel like I do spend a lot of time with them and we play like crazy and my quota, if you will, has been met. On the other hand, I always feel like I could give more and I do feel a little guilty when I do something selfish. Oh well, I guess that’s why I had two boys. Let’s put a positive spin on it and just say I’m helping them learn to play together and form some sort of brotherly bond. 🙂

    • Cyrus says:

      We can rest uneasy knowing full well that, regardless of how we conduct ourselves as parents, we will have regrets. A sad and somewhat unsettling truth. Still, there is much we can do in the “here and now” that will bring some relief and much good.

      Yes, we are not perfect, nor is it even possible to be as such. What we should strive for is to be genuine, loving, and giving. In the end, simply doing “our best and a little bit more” is what really counts. We must hold ourselves to a high standard and continue to reach for it.

    • Nate says:

      I think there is something to be said about giving children time to play by themselves. It’s a chance for them to practice the conflict resolution and communication skills they hopefully picked up from us. There have been times when I genuinely wanted to play with my kids, but they were both so happy playing by themselves I didn’t want to come crashing in on their little worlds.

      Now, if you’ll excuse me, my four-year-old wants to play a game with me.

  3. You are absolutely right, and it also means I need to suck it up and play the games my 13yo boy wants to play, even if I am looking for something else. Although teaching him its not always his choice has some value too, I probably don’t give in enough.

    I have to admit, though, that from the picture I thought this article was going to be about not playing Monopoly with your kids!

  4. Karl says:

    Excellent article Nate, I go through the same sway of emotions. Luckily, I have a wife who tolerates my game buying binges. So, when a new game comes, the kids always want to see it and try it out. Therefore, it’s fun for all of us. However, when the releases slow down, so do the new games and the kids want to play Little Big Planet or Super Smash Brothers Brawl. Both are good games, but with a 6 and 4 year old, its complete chaos and devoid of strategy. Still, it can be a good time, just a bit repetitive 😉

    Thanks again for this great article, I think it strikes a chord with all of us and your list of “truths” is information well received!

  5. Brian says:

    Great article Nate. Things like this are always on my mind when I load up the Zingo! hopper yet again….

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