I’ve joked a lot on Twitter and social media recently about how I simply have no time to play boardgames these days. Since the birth of my two and a half year-old son, it’s been tough to muster the time or energy to play games. It’s also been challenging to keep any kind of a group together. His mom and I used to play quite a few games leading up to the pregnancy, and even through the course of it, but once that baby boy dropped into my arms, I fell in love…
…oh, and all our free time disappeared. I mean, it literally vanished.
In this series, I’m going to talk about what I’ve learned and experienced on my short but ongoing adventure as a gamer dad. I’m not sure how lengthy this will be, or how often new parts will appear, but we’ll take our time and pepper these around. It’s a journey, after all.
No matter who you are, the first year of parenting is all about survival.
I was a bit naive, and in my prenatal naivety I thought that boardgaming would be a great past time for new parents. Boardgames are low effort. They’re quiet. They’re easy to put down and pick up again later. It all seemed to fit the bill. What I didn’t realize was that while this may have all been true, we simply wouldn’t have the energy to even open up a boardgame box, let alone try to figure out rules. We maybe managed one or two games during those first six months, but that was about it. Any free time we had was going to naps, cleaning, and cooking.
When you’re up all night, or tending to a child all day, or all evening, or any combination of these things… it doesn’t take long to realize that boardgaming will have to wait. No matter who you are, the first year of parenting is all about survival. You are trying your best to learn about your baby so you can keep them alive and happy, all while trying to survive the process yourself. While I managed a fair bit of reading about games, I did very little playing of them… until after he was two-years-old.
Don’t get me wrong. Kids are a gift… but they’re one of those gifts that requires a lot of hard work. Even well behaved kids (like ours) are energy draining. I take my hat off to parents with kids who have problems. Problems sleeping, problems eating… or just behavioural problems. Most of these “baby problems” will sort themselves out and go away over time. They’re brief struggles but at the time they feel like they last forever. Regardless, you’ll either figure out how to rectify them, or they’ll work themselves out… but guess what you won’t be doing while this is all happening? That’s right.
I need to preface all this by admitting that we’re old parents. We had our baby at 39. That’s ancient in the land of the mamma’s and the papa’s. While I truly think there’s a benefit to having kids when you’re older, there’s certainly other benefits to having them when you’re younger – not least of which is the added energy young people have.
Regardless of whether you have your kids when you’re younger or when you’re older, the truth of the matter is you won’t be doing much boardgaming for the first year unless you’re full of vim, crafty with your time, and have very understanding gamer friends. I think our son was just over a year old when we finally felt comfortable enough to have people over for a game night again… but even now, those game nights are rare.
A few parents I’ve talked to explained to me that they continued gaming more or less like normal after their baby was born. How? Often times they’ll play after he goes to sleep. For us, this sometimes works (more successfully with naps on the weekend) but on weeknights, when he goes to sleep, we crash mentally and physically. Many parents have family or friends that can look after baby for an afternoon. We don’t have those kind of people nearby.
Sometimes only one parent is a gamer, and they’ll work out a way to get out of the house to game while the other parent looks after their child. Since both of us as gamers, this isn’t something I view as practical or fair, but everyone’s situation is different. Gaming can happen anno-babius, but in my talks with other gaming parents, it’s kind of rare during these first few years.
It was roughly around the time our son turned one that I began looking closely at solo gaming. If nobody else could play games with me, I would find some solitaire games that I could set up and play when I had the time and energy. Sometimes these would be quick 30-60 minute affairs, and sometimes they would play over the course of several days. It’s not for everyone, but it absolutely appealed to me during this time in my life, and kept me engaged with the hobby.
Then something happened.
When my son was closing in on age two, he started taking notice of Daddy’s boardgames…