Family games don’t work well for us

Reading a recent article on bringing back family time through a games night has prompted some reflection.  It’s not that I don’t love the concept of “family games nights”, or “card games”.  All those images of the happy family sitting around a bored  board game and fighting bonding with each other.  The dishes are done by the house fairy presumably, and dinner was an effortless gourmet affair.  No one is tired or grumpy and we all sit down to an hour and a half of uninterrupted time together.

Like this:

Look closely: Dad and son are playing while Mum and daughter watch, presumably because the dinner clean up fairies had a night off.

I must not be alone, as a quick look through Google brings up a plethora of “5 tips for a family game night” / “Family game night with a 2 yr old – tips and tricks” etc. etc.  But rather than read yet another post about how great family games nights are, I have finally realised that it’s just not for me. And, therefore, not for us as a family.  It seems like it’s taken a long time for me to realise this.  Like when I discovered I don’t like camping, or walking into a crowd of people on my own.  It just is one of those things about me.   I have a friend who is a great card player, and she happily sits down with the kids at night and plays.  I send my kids to her place to get their fix when needed.

After a full day at the coalface, all I feel like is going to bed and reading, or watching something mindless on the screen, plagued with guilt yet again about not being a board or card game lover.  Another myth to overcome: “Good mothers must play board games happily with their children.”  Thanks to having a better idea of motherhood stress, I am learning (slowly) that this doesn’t mean I parent like a bush turkey.

The Church also backs up my intuitive sense that it’s not about tacking more on to our life than is already there:

The very experience of communion and sharing that should characterise the family’s daily life represents its first and fundamental contribution to society.  The relationships between the members of the family community are inspired and guided by the law of “free giving.” By respecting and fostering personal dignity in each and every one as the only basis for value, this free giving takes the form of heartfelt acceptance, encounter and dialogue, disinterested availability, generous service and deep solidarity.  Thus the fostering of authentic and mature communion between persons within the family is the first and irreplaceable school of social life, and example and stimulus for the broader community relationships marked by respect, justice, dialogue and love.  John Paul 2.  Familiaris Consortio 43

Family games are a challenge for me in that I hate conflict, especially when I’m tired, so finding a game everyone agrees on is tricky.  Some want a really long, drawn out game, while others don’t.  Some like one game but not another..

How did they all agree on the one game and have such neat hair at the same time??

For many years now, the only games we all seem to want to happily play during or after dinner are:

Chat pack for Kids


What is it?  A list of cards with individual questions on them.  Each person gets a turn to take out a card and read the question, which everyone then gets a chance to answer.  This means there is no winner (and hence no loser and impending meltdown).  The questions are quirky and spark imagination eg.  ” If you could put anything really unusual in your backyard for you and your friends to play on or around, what uncommon thing would you put there?”

The advantages other than those listed above, are that there is no set up other than taking out the little box, it can be done during dinner so as not to prolong the nighttime routine and cut in on my our bedtime.  It gets us past just the “how was your day?” questions, and gives the kids something other than whingeing about the mushrooms in the casserole or the addition of another prohibited (by them) ingredient.  This includes, but is not limited to:  tinned tuna or any seafood other than fish fingers, feta cheese, avocado, chutney, plain yoghurt, meat that is not uber-tender, and kangaroo.  (Yes, we do eat ‘roo here in our home.  Many Australians don’t, but we can buy it from the supermarket.)


What is it?  A simple card game with colours and numbers.  You will need to read the instructions if you want to play it.  I am not a good explainer which probably accounts for my limited choice of games as well, now I think about it.

The advantages of this one for me are:  I learned this as a kid so I don’t need to devote any headspace to learning the rules.  The only thing worse than explaining rules for me is having to listen to people try and explain the rules of a game.  My kids know the rules so I don’t have to explain it to them.  A lot of skill is not required so the younger kids have as much chance of winning as the adults.

And that is the sum total of our regular family games.  I feel ashamed to say it as we have an entire cupboard full of games, and we hardly ever use them.  I may need to revisit Becoming Minimalist for some more tips on paring back.  And I guess getting to know myself has also been a journey in getting to know us as a family:  our likes and dislikes together is a challenging thing to learn.  We are all so different, and just being in a family doesn’t automatically make us want to like or do the same things.  If not even food likes can be agreed upon, how does any family today agree on a complex task like a board game?  Or a holiday activity?  Marketers have had a field day in this area by seeking to lure families with slogans such as “something for the whole family”, precisely because it is such a difficult task.  Often the “something for the whole family” means “something for individual members to enjoy without the need to enlist the participation of other family members.”  Which is kind of the antithesis of family.

There is no perfect prescription for a happy family games night.  Maybe it’s not even a night.  For us it’s an occasional when-we-all-feel-like-it activity.  It is really, as this article points out, about time as a family together, and making the most of that.  It is also good to recall the words of Pope St John Paul 2 about this and how this family time helps us to grow in who we are – what we like/ don’t like, how we react to winning/losing, how our imaginations work etc.:

The family finds in the plan of God the Creator and Redeemer not only its identity, what it is, but also its mission, what it can and should do. The role that God calls the family to perform in history derives from what the family is; its role represents the dynamic and existential development of what it is. Each family finds within itself a summons that cannot be ignored, and that specifies both its dignity and its responsibility: family, become what you are.

Accordingly, the family must go back to the “beginning” of God’s creative act, if it is to attain self-knowledge and self-realisation in accordance with the inner truth not only of what it is but also of what it does in history. And since in God’s plan it has been established as an “intimate community of life and love,” the family has the mission to become more and more what it is, that is to say, a community of life and love, in an effort that will find fulfilment, as will everything created and redeemed, in the Kingdom of God. Looking at it in such a way as to reach its very roots, we must say that the essence and role of the family are in the final analysis specified by love. Hence the family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church His bride. John Paul 2, Familiaris Consortio 17.


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