Parenting: The Hardest Game of All

If we could just press a key to load a saved game, parenting would be so much easier.

As I sat next to her in bed, gently running her long blond hair through my hands, I wondered how I could be so lucky. My five-year-old daughter, Reese, is the most gorgeous person you've ever seen, is incredibly smart, and can dance your ass off in Just Dance. Yet I still expect too much of her sometimes, and on this particular evening, I was feeling guilty for being a little too hard on her for doing exactly what she's supposed to do: be a kid.

She had a long day, and was still really excited about the two fish we bought for her (which she named Glowy and Glow, by the way), and she just wanted to stay up to talk about them. Being tired, and knowing I had to come down to the basement to write this article, I snapped at her, telling her it was time for bed, and she needed to be quiet. She of course gave me the sad puppy dog eyes that all too often works wonders, but tonight I was grumpy and just wanted her to go to sleep so I could play some Total War: Rome 2 and talk about it here.

"Go to sleep," I said forcefully. She promptly did, but then I felt terrible. It hit me just how mean I was being to her, and being a kid, she just wanted to talk about her fish and ask questions to learn more about them. Obviously there's a better time and place to have this conversation, but I could have handled the situation better, and in a more loving way. It's times like this when I wish I could reload a save and try again. Because I absolutely failed.

Want to play a game that has real, lasting, and meaningful ramifications? Have a kid.

Unfortunately, parenting doesn't allow "quick saves" or restarts. When you mess up, you mess up for good, and all those "open world consequences" us RPG fans love to talk about really start to come into play. Want to play a game that has real, lasting, and meaningful ramifications? Have a kid. I don't mean having a kid is terrible, because it's clearly not. What I mean is that you never get a second chance to make the right move. And if you make enough wrong moves... let's hope none of us ever has to experience what could happen as a result of that.

Back In My Day...

My daughter loves to play games on the iPad. Currently her favorite games are Where's My Mickey, Pretty Pony, and Fruit Ninja, and while I'm glad she's taking an interest in gaming, I really want to get a controller in her hands more often.

I feel it's important to let her learn to play games the way we did as kids. We didn't have all these crazy touch screen controls and Wi-Fi access when we were growing up. In my day (oh gosh, did I actually just say that?), we had to help Mario save the Princess by using both hands and several fingers to navigate him over deadly caverns, past man-eating plants, and through multiple worlds. I'd like to think these early days of gaming shaped who I became later on, and I wonder if I would be so interested and invested in PC and console gaming today if I'd had an iPad back then.

The reason I bring this up is because some of the most fun memories I have with my daughter revolve around gaming. Just recently she really got into DuckTales: Remastered, and we spent a couple hours one Saturday just playing it together. I remember feeling proud that she was taking interest in a hobby that I loved.

Several months ago she sat and watched me play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and while I made sure to stay away from the inappropriate content, she absolutely adored the mudcrabs. And even before that, we sat together on the computer and played some games on the PBS website together. It certainly wasn't Bioshock: Infinite, but it was such a blast watching her enjoy gaming.

Making It Right

So tonight, as I walked out of her bedroom thinking about how dumb and selfish I had been about her bedtime, I thought about how I could make it up to her tomorrow. First of all, I plan to sit down with her at breakfast and answer any questions she has about fish. I may know absolutely nothing about them, but I have an iPhone, and Google can probably answer all of her questions. Secondly, I plan to tell her how amazing she is. I sometimes worry she feels like I don't think she's good enough, because I'm constantly snapping at her over something stupid. This is my issue, and I'm working on it. She's such a sweet little angel, and even if she DOES put her shoes on the wrong feet sometimes on purpose... who cares? She's five!

Lastly, I'm going to set up the PS3 and join her in a game of DuckTales. Ever since the last time she played, all she can do is sing the theme song and talk about swimming in Uncle Scrooge's money vault, so I think she's due for another session. We'll laugh, find some treasure, and make some memories together. I'll do my best to make all the right moves, not just in the game, but throughput the rest of the day as I try to parent her in a way that is loving, uplifting, supportive, and with realistic expectations. I don't want to have to wish for anymore reloads, and I don't want my daughter thinking I'm disappointed in her. She's amazing, and pretty much the most interesting person I've ever met.

If you're like me, and you know you've been a little hard on your kids when maybe they don't deserve it, I hope you can learn from me before it's too late. Realize that kids have but one job, and that is to simply be a kid. We need to enjoy them at this age and watch with pride as they discover the world. 

But for now, the birds and the bees can wait. Reese and I need to play some video games.

Featured Columnist

Proud gamer parent and freelance journalist (and fundraiser). I cover anything and everything that's interesting about the gaming industry, and even some stuff that isn't so interesting.

Published Sep. 9th 2013
  • Amy White
    Former Editor in Chief
    Absolutely amazing Brian. I don't have kids (yet) but I'm saving this to the small pile of advice I'm hoarding on how to do it right.
  • Supa0908
    I've been a fan of Brian for some time now. But this article really struck home. I don't have kids, but I do have a girlfriend, who I feel now that I've been short with, or selfish with my free time of lately. So thank you for helping me put things in perspective. Brian when I have kids, I hope to be half as great as you are Brian. Keep up the great work.
  • Brian Armstrong
    Featured Columnist
    I'm glad it was helpful Supa, and I really do appreciate you reading, commenting, and sharing. Thank you so much!
  • Anissa_5044
    Great job Brian! A great reminder to us all. You are a great writer. Save all of these for your girls.
  • Brian Armstrong
    Featured Columnist
    I will for sure, thank you Anissa!
  • Tim_3167
    Excellent post. This applies not only to gaming but so many spheres. I have three children and sometimes my wind down time trumps theirs as I try to rush them off to sleep because I just want them to go to sleep. Thank you for sharing your story. Life doesn't give us "do overs" in the strict sense but we do have opportunities to correct out mistakes, most times.
  • Brian Armstrong
    Featured Columnist
    Thank you for reading and commenting, I'm so glad I'm not alone in this!
  • Me_8363
    Your daughter will one day read this and know she is the luckiest girl alive. It's so refreshing to hear someone talk about having a chance to do something different/change your reaction, even if unlike gaming the first chance isn't erased completely!

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