• Evolution of the Gaming Group – From No Kids to Parenthood… or Not

    by  • November 23, 2012 • Essays, People & Events • 11 Comments

    I have been married for 6 years. For a 24 year old, that’s actually a while. Most of my friends near my age are just now, or within the past two years, getting married. It’s exciting and great – the change from single gamers to engaged to partnered (or satisfied relationships, whatever they might be) is kind of awesome, because drama tends to fade away and there’s a level of equality around the table.

    A thing happens, though, that can change the group forever:

    People start having kids.

    Crazy, I know, a totally natural biological phenomena. However, there are a LOT of things that can change. I think it can be easier for people who are just in the no-kids-for-now stage, but for John and I, we’re permanently childfree and it’s a purposeful choice. We have a lot of reasons for it, but I will be honest: one of them is because we like to spend time with adults, not kids, especially during our “fun” time. We have family time where we expect to be around kids, and there are times when we hang out with friends where we expect to be around kids. It gets more complicated at game.

    I like to be able to be loud and a little bombastic at the table sometimes – and I’m definitely not the only one – and I also swear a lot, which can be seriously kid-unfriendly. I like to be able to have a drink (or three) at the game table, and stay up late. Game is kind of my fun-space. A lot of these things aren’t cool with kids around, though – I have to watch my swearing, I have to mind my volume more than normal if the kid is sleeping or trying to sleep, and I also know that game will often start late or be cut short because of schedule conflicts1.

    I don’t hate my friends’ kids or really begrudge them having them. That’s awesome – I know a lot of people want families like that and that it’s important to them to pass along their game-love, too. We try to be accommodating (altering schedules, having somewhere for the kid to sleep, playing or doing something different), as do the people with kids, but there are times when there’s no real accommodation – the kid has to come with them to game, or they can’t game at all.

    It’s often distracting. There’s extra noise, players are leaving the table more often, everyone is paying attention to the kid. When kids are older it’s not as bad, but until they’re teenagers, it’s going to be a constant.

    We’re struggling. We still want to game – but we know it’s only a matter of time until we’re the only ones in the group without kids. Even now it’s harder than ever. We’re clinging to spare hours just to get a chance to do a quick session, and our games are falling apart because of lack of focus – and I know I’m guilty of a lot of avoidance on the subject. Kids are tough for me and I have trouble being around pregnant people, babies, and baby discussion2.

    Plus, how do you not alienate your friends if you’re more than a game group? It’s impossible to say “Hey, we want to hang out with you, but not your kid” or “Hey, can we just hang out instead of gaming, or game without the kid” without there being any negative impression. I don’t want to not be their friend anymore, but having children at game (particularly young kids who can’t participate) impacts my fun level pretty harshly.

    My current solution is: still try to game with our friends, but seek out alternate groups for backups or for different games, and be prepared to accommodate kids. I know I will sometimes (or often) have to sacrifice my game fun, so I need alternatives to get that fulfillment while not ditching my friends.

    As we age, though, we’re going to run into conflict: Game with people much older than us (whose kids have grown), much younger than us (without kids yet), try very hard to find other childfree gamers (which is harder than it sounds), or just game the two of us – fun, but not something we want to be our only option.

    Why am I struggling so hard?

    The gaming world is shockingly (to me) kid-centric. People want to include their kids in gaming, teach their kids to game, pass on the “gaming gene”. They want kid-friendly content. I don’t have a problem with it, and I know there is plenty of adult material out there, but whoa. It’s hard to wade through. It’s hard to feel like part of the community sometimes, especially when a lot of the adult material is pretty man-centric.

    That, and I still struggle with the common perception that women who choose not to have children aren’t “woman” enough, because we’re selfish or not accepting our appropriate roles or because we aren’t helping to promote the image of families in gaming (which is supposed to help remove the negative geek/gamer stigma, and I see the point behind it).

    And there it is: I’m a woman who is not woman enough, in an industry focused towards men (whether I want it that way or not) and promoting building families and teaching kids to carry on the gaming tradition, with a game group that’s moving to parenthood.

    I wanted to share some of the suggestions I’ve gotten online and from friends, as well as some of my own, for how to game with parents when you aren’t one if you choose to do so – which is always just an option.

    Suggestions for handling kids at kid-unfriendly homes:

    • Make a kid-safe space. Get a pack & play (one of those kid-boxes with the mesh on the sides).
    • Have a separate room that isn’t super far where the kid can sleep. Somewhere quiet and clean.
    • Make sure to have some kid-food. Juice & simple snacks, fruit, hot dogs are great. Be aware of allergies.

    Suggestions for handling kids at the game table:

    • Play games that don’t have adult content. It might change the entire game situation (which can suck), but if you are going to make the choice to allow the kids around (even babies), you need to be aware that a lot of content may make the parents uncomfortable, not be good for the kids, etc.
    • Give the kids their own activity at the table if they are not quite old enough to game but need to be close. Toys, big dice (there are some sweet foam ones available online), etc.
    • Be willing to cut game early or start later. Parents have a lot of responsibilities, and giving them that time will make it more likely that they’ll want to continue gaming – they won’t feel kicked out either.

    Now the big ones, and these are ones that are tough to handle.

    Suggestions to parents for how to respect your childfree friends:

    • Try to understand that they might want to hang out with you without kids. We know it’s hard. We understand. We just like you, and might not be good with your kids or might just want time with you when we have your attention. Friends need that sometimes.
    • Understand we might not ask you to hang out because we don’t want to interfere with your time with your kid, especially if you’re busy or tight on cash. That is so hard to do – many of us don’t want to be demanding or seem disrespectful of your needs as a parent. If you have free time, we probably will want to hang out with you – but some people will hold back from asking because of that balance.
    • Please don’t get mad at us or feel hurt for us seeking other avenues for gaming. It’s not that we don’t want to game with you, it’s that we want to game in different ways than we can with the new environment, or on a different schedule. Many people will try to fit in gaming with parents, but also try to find an alternate group.
    • Let us know what we can do to make the space more comfortable for your kids. Do you want us to have a separate room? Do we need to keep bottled water on hand, or juice? Do you want to leave some backup supplies at our place? Some CF people might not be willing to do it, but others really would rather be able to game with more ease.
    • Give us your boundaries. Is swearing allowed around your kids, if so, how much? Are we allowed to drink alcohol if your kids are in the area? Do we have time limitations?
    • If you don’t want to game anymore, or you don’t have time anymore, please tell us. It will only cause problems if we try to shove it into a schedule or have people who aren’t in the mood to game at the table. We want happy people having fun, not people frustrated and stressed.

    What am I really saying here? I don’t think that childfree people should be responsible for accommodating entirely to parents’ needs or wishes, but if they want to do so, there are some simple and some not-so-simple steps that can be taken. I also don’t think that parents should be responsible for accommodating CF people’s needs or wishes, either, but there are options for them to take, too.

    A huge part of it is understanding and willingness to change. There is a point where you need to be willing to either keep going and make changes, or you need to change the situation entirely. There’s not really anything wrong with either, but respect and communication can make the difference between keeping friends that game casually or regularly, and a massive implosion of drama and hurt feelings.

    1. This also gets complicated when people have conflicting work schedules – John and I are 9-5, and about ½ our friends are not, which means we squeeze gaming into evenings on weekends – during the only time some of our friends get to see their kids or around bedtime.
    2. Super complicated subject, but I’m happy to elaborate.


    I'm a 25 year old admin assistant from around Pittsburgh, PA. I am married, work and attend college concurrently, and have been tabletop gaming for about 8 years. I blog (very, very periodically), and write unpublished short stories. I play tabletop RPGs, board games, and both casual and RPG video games. I live for the social part of gaming, but do enjoy a good explosion, and am learning the ropes of creating worlds in which people can play.


    11 Responses to Evolution of the Gaming Group – From No Kids to Parenthood… or Not

    1. avatar
      November 23, 2012 at 17:35

      This is one of those subjects that, as difficult as it is to talk about, it is very necessary. I feel like I could have written the photo-negative of this! My husband and I have been on both sides, being both childless as our friends had kids, then becoming parents ourselves. The toughest times, without a doubt, are those first couple years from infant to toddler. Our gaming group/lifelong friends were a source of support for us when I tried to wade back into gaming after recovering from childbirth and then finding my groove as a mom. Having those safe kid-spaces and kid-friendly food and toy items really are lifesavers. Whether it came from a childless couple/person or a parent-gamer, that support system helped me reclaim that part of me seemingly lost between learning to care for a newborn, the adjustment of the couples dynamic, and the post-partum mood swings/hormones/depression.

      As for kid-friendly content in gaming: I have found the opposite. A lot more is geared toward adults in the way of storylines, characters, and mechanics. When I say that, I mean anything that could be rated PG and up. For example, The Hobbit and LotR are not R-rated stories at all, but they also aren’t meant for the pre-school set. Our current DnD3.5 campaign setting and delves, played by only the adults, I would at most rate PG-13. We’re not censoring ourselves by any stretch because of the kids (disclosure: I am one of those heathen mothers that cusses around her kids pretty regularly), it’s just what our DMs have come up with so far.

      As parents, there are times we need to reconnect as adults and be kid-free. It’s something that is very easy to lose sight of, especially with an infant. Childless friends offer this respite for us. Even if it’s only once a month, say to them, hey, find a sitter or call in Grandma and let’s game for a while. Keep reminding us that it’s okay to do this.

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      • avatar
        November 23, 2012 at 18:52

        Thanks for the comment, chemrebel. I’m so glad that your game group was there for you!

        As far as the content thing – part of what I was trying to say is that you do have to move away from the adult targeted games to games that may be more acceptable for children. I’m not sure if I just worded it badly so it didn’t come across clearly, so sorry about that. Some people are cool with swearing and some more adult content while kids are around, but until those boundaries are clear, it’s hard to tell what kind of games are okay to play. I hope that makes sense.

        • avatar
          November 23, 2012 at 19:46

          No worries Brie. I find as my younglings get older I really have to analyze content be it gaming or otherwise, and I have a tendency to get all bean-counter-y about it. I’ve found it handy to use the ratings systems as a starting point to communicate what is and isn’t okay.

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    2. avatar
      November 23, 2012 at 19:38

      One thing that might work well would be to have a babysitter either take care of the group’s children in a child-safe room at the house where the gaming is occurring or, even better, at one of the parents’ homes where the group is _not_ meeting. Relevant folks could split the cost of the babysitter. If the folks with kids are strapped for cash and the child-free folks aren’t and it’s important enough to them, they could offer to chip in too (NOT expected, though). Alternatively, the parents in the group could alternate caring for all the children while the rest of the group plays, if it works ok for play for various characters to be missing on a rotating basis. I’m lucky because my husband doesn’t game, so the kids stay home with him. My older daughter did want to play in the game I was GMing, though, and even though I don’t mind exposing her to a fair amount of rough language, this was a particularly raunchy group and I got pretty uncomfortable with it. Besides, gaming is my getaway from mom-land, and I need it to stay that way! (She has her own group, so I don’t feel I am depriving her.)

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      • avatar
        November 23, 2012 at 23:33

        Good suggestions, Anat13! Thanks!

        It’s cool that your daughter has her own gaming group, too.

    3. avatar
      Jodi Black
      November 23, 2012 at 22:27

      This is such an interesting topic! Things have come such a long way…

      When we had our girls in ’99 and ’01, we were the only gamers we knew to have kids. We’ve seen gaming become increasingly family-friendly (and now one other person in our group has kids; the other 5 remain childfree), and I couldn’t be gladder. I like to think we blazed a path for the gamer families of today. Now it is more acceptable to have our kids involved in gaming; not just around our gaming group, but at school, at conventions, and online.

      We do make an effort to be without our kids when we’re gaming, because obviously we need to let our guard down and relax. But a lot of the time it’s just not feasible. Grandparents aren’t nearby anymore; babysitters need minimum wage to be effective and kids are expensive enough on their own. I’m glad to hear that childfree folks are more cognizant of accommodating us now, and I certainly see that in my own group! They used to not be comfortable gaming with the kids in the same building as us, but now they seem to be fine with it (still no invites to join in, but that’ll happen in time, too I think). Besides, my kids will be in college in another 5-7 years. It might seem like a long time to you, but really, the “parenting” years are but one stage in your life and the lives of the childfree people around you.

      Before you know it we’ll all be gaming at the nursing home. :)

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      • avatar
        November 23, 2012 at 23:35

        Jodi – Thanks! It’s cool to hear about people actually making this kind of arrangement work.

    4. avatar
      November 25, 2012 at 03:53

      How is this so different from when people start getting married?

      I get that it’s an adjustment for people without kids to make, when people around them have made different choices, but I think it’s not the only major issue at all. Aging happens, Things that are common at a certain age are going to happen. We had kids early. Everyone in our circle was just starting to get married when we had our oldest. About 10 years later, several members of our circle went through affairs and/or divorces. Looking at which was more disruptive, long term, I’m going to say marriage/affairs/divorces/fallout by a landslide over deciding that either we would host or we’d take turns staying home for a couple years.

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      • avatar
        November 25, 2012 at 10:09

        I’m not saying it’s the only issue. I have been in game groups affected by relationship fallout/affairs but not divorce, and those definitely were disruptive, but we didn’t have both parts of the couple in our groups for consistent players during that time. When people got married in our groups, it was not very disruptive at all, so I can’t really speak to a lot of the issues you’re discussing.

        I’m not saying it’s necessarily worse. In my experience, we weren’t as affected by those issues as we have been by this. And we’re looking at a lifetime of this issue. I’m desperately hoping that I won’t have friends divorcing and having affairs and having fallout for the next 20+ years, but for at least the next 10-20 years, our gaming experience is likely to be impacted by people having kids and being parents, when we aren’t. I’m trying to speak from the point of view of a childfree woman who is still trying to have a gaming relationship with other people who do have kids, and looking at how that’s going to be impacting me and is impacting me, and how it can be made easier for everyone.

        • avatar
          November 25, 2012 at 19:11

          I get you. I have some of the similar and reversed experiences, of being a gamer with kids and working out how dealing with my gamer friends without kids shifts over time.

          What happens, for the most part, is that while the kids were young we would always host. We would plan to start play at 9 PM and play for 3-4 hours after the kids were asleep. We did this for years and years, and made sure our guests had snacks and tea and that one of us was available to host the usual half-hour of ‘pre-game hangouts’ while the other was busy putting kids to bed. Now the kids are old enough they put them selves to bed – it’s totally hilarious when our oldest son comes down to say he’s going to bed and could we keep it down.

          When my youngest was a babe in arms, I ran a game of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for four other friends, two of whom also had toddlers. I brought my youngest and Vincent was home with our older boys. We played in the afternoon while the kids played in the next room, and we expected to be interrupted fairly often. We probably had a PG 13 with some drifting into R rating, and it was plenty of fun. It also meant that both parents of one couple could play, which was cool.

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    5. avatar
      November 30, 2012 at 07:13

      My husband and I thought for sure when two of our gamers revealed the wife had gotten pregnant that we’d lose them from gaming. As it turns out, now that they have two children (they were childless when we all started playing), we’ve pretty much lost the wife though she tries to be around at least. Thankfully, it’s taken about three years before we’ve seen real disintegration.

      We rotate houses: two game nights at their place and two at ours. There are others in the group, but it’s our houses for hosting. We don’t make room for the kids at our house mostly because it’s more hassle than I want to deal with and because it’s become apparent it wouldn’t matter even if I did. The wife is too distracted by the kids most of time at her own house to play, so I just don’t see it working any better in an improvised section at my place.

      Other people in that particular group have kids, too, but their spouses don’t game, so it’s rare that their children’s needs impact their gaming. Their kids are also all school-aged, which clearly makes a difference.

      One unexpected result? The husband (the GM when at their place) runs the wife’s character when the player is home, but not at the table…even when she’s absent most or all of the night! It’s marginally frustrating because we can’t deal with her PC/NPC the way we would if a player wasn’t attached to her. And it’s not so cool splitting XP with a largely underutilized NPC…

      But, we (the group) like both members of the couple, so we go along with it, thankful we get to see them when we can. Their kids are usually pretty well-behaved or my husband and I would have given up on games at their place.

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