Posted by: Deborah Drezon Carroll | January 23, 2010

Family Game Night is a Myth, like Unicorns

You know the mythical character of the unicorn doesn’t really exist because no one has ever seen one. Well, a new myth has arisen in the modern family, brought to us from the Parker Bros. game company. It’s family game night. In the commercial I’ve seen many times during the last few weeks, we see a perfect family — mom, dad, son, daughter– playing Monopoly. Okay, so right there we have a problem because how many families fit that picture? We know now that families come in all shapes, sizes, and genders, so the mom, dad and 2.5 mixed gender kid thing is really not an accurate depiction. But, that’s the least of my issues with this idea.

It’s not just that they are all gathered, seemingly on an average week night, to play the world’s longest and possibly most boring game. It’s not just that the kids aren’t complaining about having to play this antique version of fun. (Don’t get me wrong, I like board games, I like word games, and there were times when I could actually cajole the girls into playing them with me, especially when they were little.) It’s not just that there’s no visible electronics in this picture and how realistic is that? No, the real problem with this scenario is that the “older” sis, seeing that her adorable little brother is losing and about to move to the poor house, GIVES him her hotel! Not a house, mind you, but her HOTEL! Now, I have very nice girls (note name of blog) but never in a million years would one of them help her sister to win a game that she was also playing. And, although that might be cute, I’m not even sure I’d want that to happen.

Ah, competition. I’m normally against it (I’m an ex hippie and that’s against our religion, I believe.) But here’s the thing. Shouldn’t our kids learn that:

a. It’s just a game and win or lose, it could be fun just playing. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and both are valuable.

b. You can beat your sister at Monopoly and that doesn’t mean you don’t love her.

c. Sometimes it’s okay to take care of yourself before you take care of others. In Monopoly, as in life, sometimes you do have to look out for Number 1 and it doesn’t make you a selfish SoB, it just makes you someone who takes care of business. It’s a balance; sometimes you put others first, sometimes you put yourself first.

The family we see on TV is ridiculous, playing that nice, civil game. In reality, game boards are dumped, tempers flare, people get cranky and cry, no one likes to lose, and often cheating rears its ugly head. And, that was just in my home.

Don’t get me wrong. My girls have all grown up to be loving and giving human beings. They care about the world and have been known to be more than generous and charitable. Tamra volunteered her time working in an orphanage in Chile a few years ago, Alexis, who is working hard and saving for a home, just contributed very generously to the Haiti relief effort, and Shira who doesn’t even have a real job just donated a lot of money to Haiti as well. (And it was her money! She didn’t even charge it to our credit card!) Plus, she went to New Orleans with Ned a few years back to work on Katrina rehab. So, our girls grew up fully knowing the meaning of generosity, compassion, and giving. But, when board games were played in their youth, those three qualities weren’t quite so evident.

No wonder parents constantly question their parenting skills. If in your home, reality sets in, but on TV, we see these images of the little girl GIVING her little brother her hotel (as opposed to hitting him over the head with the game board and throwing the hotel into his face) how would we not feel like failures in comparison?

So, I’m here to say, do play board games with your kids. I even love the idea of Family Game Night, as long as your expectations are based in reality and not in delusion. Parents, don’t be fooled by the Family Game Night currently dominating the airwaves. It’s a myth. It’s no more likely to happen in your home than a unicorn is likely to be munching on the Hosta plants in your backyard. Your kids will play games, they will cheat, they will cry, they will win and they will lose. They may not even have much fun. But, they’ll still grow up just fine.

Ned writes:

I take offense to the notion that Monopoly is boring, especially for a kid. The strategy isn’t difficult – buy everything you land on and build right away. But here’s my take on this whole game thing. A little competition is fine and it is a much more important lesson to learn to lose than to learn to win. Just try your best, win at all costs but don’t cheat (that’s for one of the girls who shall remain nameless and we all know who it is). When I lose my ears start to burn and my heart races. I couldn’t believe how my adrenalin was flowing during a game of charades this New Year’s Eve. I think we kicked a little butt. Yet even with this competitive spirit most of life’s competitions will probably result in a loss. Only one person can be the smartest in the class and that’s not even so great unless you can do it without being a nerd or geek. There’s only one class president, one star quarterback, one homecoming queen, one star of the show (or maybe two or three). There is only one class clown and I couldn’t believe I wasn’t it. But my point is that we need to learn that there are many disappointments in life and that is just fine.

Our kids have taken some lumps just like everyone else. Endless job interviews, hurtful break ups, failed sorority rushes and tons more. Each time they cry, or scream, or curse (if I’m not around) and they manage to get back up and continue the good fight. I don’t know if we did anything to teach them how or why they need to deal keep moving forward. How do you kids do it? What’s your secret? It’s time to spill the beans.

Alexis Writes:

I think everyone knows the way I deal with rejection is by crying. I get the pain out and then I feel better. I also curse (when Dad’s not there). I use the f-word a lot, it makes me feel better. I continue the good fight because I think my parents always modeled that for me. Life was not without it’s ups and downs. My parents opened businesses I”m sure they never dreamed of opening. We all know they didn’t know what they were doing and I’m pretty sure they still don’t but they are always persevering. We tease my mother quite a bit for always being so positive and happy but it’s a great attitude and I”m pretty sure whoever wrote that book the secret probably based it on my mother. I definitely have had some ups and downs in my life. There were a lot of awards I didn’t win, boys I didn’t date and big plays I never made. Those experiences brought me where I am today and helped me learn that the world doesn’t crumble around you if you’re not perfect or don’t get what you want. I think parents today want to protect their children from that but it can’t last forever. I think it’s a better life lesson to teach them how to cope with their disappointment. The world does not end if you’re not the best at something. Teach them ways to cope with their anger. You can even tell them they can use the f-word, just tell them to say it quietly and definitely not around my father.

Shira writes:

First of all, Tamra cheats.

No one likes to lose, that’s for sure. Every time I go on yet another job interview and I don’t immediately get hired, I want to give up. I deal with all this rejection by crying at first, then playing really loud angry girl music, then when I calm down, I bake cupcakes. Somewhere around interview 15, I started to think I should probably start looking into a new career. But then I remember how much I really love teaching, and I know that when I finally get a job that’s permanent, I will appreciate it more than anyone. When I was hired to teach middle school in Philadelphia, I was so excited to have my own classroom, even in the toughest of educational settings. I was so excited, because I felt like I’d earned a job on my own merit. I didn’t get hired because my aunt works in the district or my sister’s friend’s boyfriend’s dad is the superintendent. I know that when I finally get there, it will be because I really deserve it.

As I type this, the family game night commercial is playing in the background. The tag line is something about creating family moments. Our family has moments all the time, without board games (I’ve never been a big fan of board games). For birthdays, holidays, and many random Sundays the five of us, or 6 of us when it’s not tax season, get together and talk. We all sit in our brightly colored recliners in mom and dad’s living room and we talk about anything; school, politics, Alexis’ wedding, Alexis’ house, my lack of job, Tamra’s date to Alexis’ wedding… I don’t know many families that do that as often as we do. We  don’t need Monopoly or Boggle to have moments.



  1. I totally agree, Mother of 2 amazing daughters.
    Aside from having 2 amazing daughters, I also have an amazing son and more importantly for this discussion, 8 amazing grandsons.
    They range in age from 11 to 17 and the amazing thing about being a Bubbe, Nona, Granny or Grandmom is that there is so much more time to play games.
    So I’ve been the board game player with all of our boys and I have never let them win.
    When Andrew was 4, he wanted to play Racko which his two older brothers and I played frequently. I used to put him in front of me so that he could “help” me choose and change cards
    in the game.
    Finally, during one visit, he proclaimed himself ready to play with me.
    I won. He looked at me and said…..”Bubbe, the next time I will win.” He said it proudly because he knew I was not patronizing him by letting him win and all the other boys knew that as well.
    Andrew did not win the next time, but if memory serves, he did win a few game days later.

    It’s a joy to play board games and more importantly, it’s a lesson to be learned as is everything in life.
    Oh and by the way, I regularly get my “pants” beat off now when I play games and no, they won’t let me win.

  2. Parents, grandparents, it’s all the same. Well, I think so but, really, how would I know? I do know this, whether it’s now, twenty years ago or twenty years from now, some things don’t change in raising kids. They need to win, they need to lose, they need to beat their parents…sometimes. (Just not too often.) Thanks for reading, and even more, thanks for writing.

  3. I’ve seen the ads for Family Game Night and you’re right that it’s unrealistic. But that’s advertising for you. We’ve taught our eight year old daughter not to buy into advertising.
    I disagree that Monopoly is boring. We often laugh at our round of bad luck, or how often we end up in jail. It teaches our daughter how to be a good loser and laugh at ourselves.
    Our daughter said once that it teaches you how to spend your money wisely. How’s that for wisdom?

  4. Okay, I must admit it when I’m wrong. I have accepted that Monopoly is not boring…for everyone. 🙂 I like that your daughter found the wisdom in the game and I think she’s right. When I buy hotels today, I spend wisely! Really, though, I think she’s on to something. For many kids, their Monopoly money dealings are probably the first and I do think something sets in about saving vs. spending.
    You’re right, too, about advertising. It is a whole separate issue that parents should be teaching about. It’s so ubiquitous, it’s pervasive and it’s sometimes insidious. I mean, even in the movies we see, “product placement” sneaks in. Kids should be aware of the multiple media messages that surround them. Good point.

  5. Familygmae night at my house is a myth…. closest we get is all of us at the same gym, softball field, ect…

  6. See, now that’s more like reality. Hey, at least you’re all there together!

  7. I love this post! Love that everyone in your family is writing it. My daughter (8) has been dying to start her own blog and this might just be the way we have to do it.

    I also loved your post because we have recently started doing Family Game Night but it certainly is not a rosy picture. There are tears, sore losers, sore winners, and a whole lot of competition. But I think it’s very healthy to learn to lose and sometimes some fun is even had by all.

  8. It sounds like your family is playing by all the rules of reality! I’m glad it’s a success. And, I think the idea of your daughter having a blog is terrific. She can engage her friends and they can all participate. Thanks for reading and thanks for taking the time to write.

  9. Our family loved game nights. We especially looked forward to snow days from school. My son would set up the RISK board (not one of my favorites) and we would have a marathon game that may have lasted 8 hrs. with breaks for food and me to put a load of wash in! Monopoly was a favorite (and snuck in some math skills!) Scrabble was a big hit and it was cut-throat. I tried not to use too big of words when they were little but never “let” them win. It didn’t take long until at least daughter #2 became a Scrabble fanatic (sleeping with the dictionary – osmosis I believe). She could beat me or anyone she met. She won the county-wide tournament in 8th grade that the reading teachers put on. (I’m a major organizer of it now.) Now days the son comes home from college to humiliate me in games of Canasta. And while we play all these games, conversation goes on. Oh yes, game nights for our family also extend to the monthly game nights at church during the winter, this coming Friday is one! Members of all ages and abilities come with food of all kinds and games of all kinds. Adults and kids playing together and apart, switching games throughout the night. Lots of laughter, yells, groans. It’s great. Sorry, Debbie & Ned, didn’t mean to go on this long!

  10. Now, see, there’s Family Game Night done right! I love Scrabble and I do play to win. Although I don’t always win because now the girls and Ned can beat me (I’m not as sharp as I once was!), I still love to play. It’s very cool that you and your son both play Canasta. I hear there’s quite a bit of strategy in that one. It’s cool that your church has embraced the idea of families playing together. What a nice way to bring the community together. Thanks for reading! Thanks for sharing a bit of your family lore.

  11. Santa brought Scrabble for the girls one Christmas. They looked at me like they thought I was crazy! Never did play it. My girls were taught winning and losing by playing sports, starting in kindergarten. My middle daughter really learned the hard-knock life in junior high and high school… not making cheerleader when all her friends did, not making rodeo sweetheart, not making class secretary, etc.
    She now has 4 children and has initiated family game night with Star Wars Monopoly. They love it!

  12. Star Wars Monopoly! Perfect. Probably not boring at all. I hear you about the hard-knock life but I suspect, that like our girls, she may have learned more about grace under pressure from those knocks. I don’t know that my girls would choose to suffer those pains again but I believe they all think they are the healthy, happy people they now are because what they went through brought them here.

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