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.
- 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. ↩
- Super complicated subject, but I’m happy to elaborate. ↩