Gaming as a Parent

Finding a balance.

Friends gathered around a D&D gaming table

It is a universal truth that becoming a parent changes a lot of aspects of a persons life. A whole new set of responsibilities arise and new balances need to be established. This is very important when considering ones hobbies and interests.

My husband and I are gamers. Specifically, role-playing gamers, tabletop and LARPs (live action role playing). As we were getting ready to bring our son into the world, we started to consider the balance I spoke of earlier. We both enjoyed being players in RPGs. He was even a GM (game master) of a Star Wars one at the time. But we became concerned that we would no longer have the time to commit to a game after our son was born. We assumed our friends would be less interested in coming over for the weekly game if there were countless baby-related interruptions. And let’s face it, we were both well aware of the new sleeping habits we faced in the coming months and what that would mean for the state of our sanity, and our home. My husband set out to finish the Star Wars game he ran a couple months before the baby was born, and we had both discussed our impending hiatus from our other games with the GMs and players. After our son was born, my husband finished out the one game he was in, I’d finished mine a couple months prior to the due date.

After our son was born, we spent a few months attempting to find that “sweet spot” balance of hobbies and family responsibilities. And we were going crazy. Yes, we were seeing our friends, fairly regularly, but we missed the interactions that come with gaming. The story telling aspects. The camaraderie of defeating a foe with your fellow Rogues, Fighters and Wizards. And the ridiculous things we get to pretend doing as these characters. When the chance to play in a Werewolf game arose, my husband and I accepted the offer, with a specific requirement. At the time, our son was about four months old. We asked the GM and the other players if they would mind us bringing our son along to game. The game was played at the GM’s house on a weekly basis. Everyone agreed and was happy to accommodate the situation. Luckily, our son was pretty easy going and happy. And loved being around people. And our friends enjoyed having him around. Two of the group had children of their own, albeit much older and more self-sufficient. So we returned to play in an RPG. My husband and I took turns holding, feeding, changing and interacting with our son. Sometimes one of the other players would volunteer to hold him or feed him so we could focus on certain tasks of the game. It actually worked out better than we imagined. If he fell asleep, we’d put him in his carried, and be more conscious of our volume as a group so as not to wake him.

But things got a bit more hairy as he got older. Our friend’s house was not baby friendly, at all. Our son began to crawl and insisted on exploring his surroundings, instead of being passive in someone’s lap. So our attention became less focused on the game and more on making sure he didn’t fall down the open stairs, of pull the cinder-block and 2x4 bookshelf on top of himself. And then there was the cat. A beautiful, very sweet cat who was the epitome of friendly, unless the crawling, hairless offspring took notice of it. Our son was just figuring out the who “pet” thing, and took a great interest in the cat. The cat was less interested in him. Another thing we had to make sure we kept an eye on at all times. Playing in the game became more stressful the older our son got. Fortunately, at lot of other things came up for a number of players so we all had to take a hiatus for a while. But that hole started growing again, for my husband and I.

Then, one day I suddenly needed a babysitter, as our childcare provider was unavailable and both my husband and I had to work. Our friend set me up to meet with one of his other friends. She and her husband have a son just a couple months younger than our son, and she’s a stay at home mom. She was happy to host a work-day length play date with our little dudes. And as it turns out, they are also tabletop gamers. In fact, her husband was the GM of a weekly D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) game hosted at their house. He ran the game, she hung out with their son and kept him entertained for the few hours during game. And they were looking for players. Ta-da. My husband and I had a new game. And this one worked so much better than we ever thought possible. By the end of the werewolf game, though very enjoyable, we realized if we weren’t hosting at our place (baby-safe), we weren’t going to be able to both be in the same game. The balance was no longer in our favor. Either one of us had to stay home and watch our son, or we hosted at our house. And even hosting at our house meant we could only give, at best, half our attention to the game. But not with this game. She watched the boys, while we played the game for a couple hours in a separate area. The boys played, ate and had their weekly play date, making it easier on her- they kept each other entertained enough so she wasn’t overwhelmed. We got to game. Win Win. And that’s when we discovered the Gamer Parent Balance.

There are other Gamer Parents our there. My husband and I are entering into a stage of our life when a lot of our married friends are having children. Odds are, even if the closest friends don’t have children, they know someone who does. The community involved with gaming is fairly nurturing and relaxed. If you have the right set of people, there is no judgement and very little aggressive competition. Realizing all of this, my husband and I saw a way to enjoy our hobby and interest while having a family.

The effects of having our son tag along to game is great for him as well. He gets the interaction of not just his little friend, but of other adults. Our group has embraced the village mentality and that is very important. Both children are fairly social and independent, but not in a neglected sort of way. On top of the social aspects of gaming, they are watching us, the adults, use our imaginations and creativity to journey into other realms and lands and have grand adventures or quests of intrigue. Children are sponges, they absorb everything they see and hear. Watching a group of adults creating characters, playing these characters and telling fantastical stories shows them it’s perfectly normal to imagine and create their own worlds and characters. It can be inspiring for them. Most RPG’s are played in person, with a few played via computer programs such as roll20, or some variation of FaceTime or Google Hangout. That is very important to the type of community developed by games. And I love having my son exposed to that. The face to face interaction. The sense of community. We don’t use much in the way of technology for these games. Some people may have their character sheets in digital form to be called up on a smartphone, tablet or computer. And sometimes the super prepared game master will have a game setting website for reference purposes, but for the most part we use paper, pencils, a wet-erase game-mat, mini-figures to represent players and other characters and a lot of gaming books.

Playing D&D with the Community!

Finding the balance between family responsibilities and personal hobbies and interests can be tricky. But shutting off all connection to ones hobbies or interests is a terrible idea. That can lead to a lot of emotional and social anxiety, which can lead to parenting concerns. But neglecting ones family responsibilities in favor of ones hobbies and interests can cause just as many concerns. Just like the Force, there must be a balance, and in finding that, as gamer parents, I think both aspects of our lives- gamer’s and parents- have flourished for it. If you are struggling to find your balance, look at the games you are interested in playing. Look at your gaming family, talk to them. Find ways to combined the two family communities. If your friends have young ones and are struggling to find their gamer parent balance, and children don’t terrify you, talk to them about bringing their little ones. The more parents with little ones who bring their little ones to game, the more the children interact with themselves and leave the adults to play their own games. If it makes it more comfortable, everyone could chip in for a younger cousin or niece or nephew to watch the gaggle of children while the adults enjoy their game. I am not advocating for bringing the children, locking them in a room with a TV and leaving them completely alone. They will require supervision. But supervision can be an individual, a couple people, or the whole village as needed while mom and dad are fighting the Orc Squad. The right balance doesn’t just present itself over night. Look for it, try different methods and find the one for you. Sacrifice is necessary when one becomes a parent, but that doesn’t mean one must sacrifice everything. Find your gamer parent balance. The family will be better for it! And eventually, your children will be able to game with you!

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