Why We Play Family Games Together

I really thought in writing this post, I’d go through a theology of laughter and joy, showing how God gave us humor and enjoyment as a foretaste of the glorious enjoyment we’ll possess forever in eternity. Then I’d turn that theology toward our proclivity to play as the reasoning for why we play games together as a family.

But we really just play games because it’s fun. And we really like to have fun. I can work my way backwards into it, retconning a relatively convincing answer. But the truth is that we have shelves of games and kids who love games because…we think it’s really fun.

So there’s that.

BUT…I have found that there are a great number of “side effects” that come from playing games, many of which is highly helpful as parents and disciplers of our kids. Aside from the more obvious parts of games like learning strategy or good teamwork (which truly are great skills to learn), there are some less tangible benefits that we get from playing games. Here are some of them:

It’s a great tool for encouragement. Games are places to see players do both some pretty awesome stuff and some pretty awful stuff (think Pictionary here, people). Every time someone does something cool or impressive—whether teammate or competitor—it’s a great opportunity to verbally encourage. And every time someone bombs or does something dumb, it’s a great chance to build them up and help them not get discouraged.

It’s a great tool to teach a Law that stands outside any of us. Despite our fluffy age of “following your heart”, games don’t allow for that. There are rules. Everyone has to follow them. It’s just a thing. Unless you’re one of those weird families that just make up your own “house rules” to everything (i.e. you just stink at following rules), the rules are an outside authority we are bound to obey in order to play the game. And it’s highly instructive to see which ones of my kids feel the need to buck against those rules (the prodigal rebels) and which ones are Nazis about following the rules (the legalists).

We get to help the sore loser. Sore losers abound in our family. I have a great many who resort to anger and/or pouting when they don’t win or things just don’t go the way they’d hoped. Losing is a means of embracing humility and rejoicing with those who rejoice. Besides, there are plenty of times in life when others around us will feel like they have “winning” lives while ours feel like loser lives. Sore losers come out in a number of ways.

We get to help the jerk winner. As much as I have sore losers, I also have punk winners. You know what I’m talking about: they brag and gloat and self-congratulate. This is an opportunity to remind the winners to mourn with those who mourn, seeing the sadness of losing in their brothers and sisters—and having compassion for them. Furthermore, it’s an opportunity to learn humility in the face of success—especially since in all games, there is some element of chance (the right roll of the dice, the right card drawn, an opponent’s mistake) that led to victory. Thus, a win is never truly “I did this!”

In disputes, we get to put to practice following Jesus in loving others more than ourselves. This is a biggie. It’s really easy in games to always work an angle, trying to get things our way or bend the rules our way or simple shout out in rage, “That’s not fair!!” But in playing games, there is always room to put others first and be willing to be defrauded for the sake of the gospel. So, in a moment of dispute like two players shouting the answer at the same time, having the grace and love to offer the point to the other player simply because the first will be last and the last will be first.

It’s a chance to fail in front of others, but it doesn’t matter. A loss hurts. There are frequently tears shed during or at the end of a game. Whether that’s because of poor performance or just poor “luck”, it hurts to lose. This is different from the sore loser, because this isn’t pouting but just plain old sadness because losing sucks. But in this, we get to find a place to lose that has no moral, physical, or financial effect. One of the coolest things about a game is that you can lose and then immediately say, “Let’s play again!” Losing in real life is so much harder, but the skill to mentally say “Let’s play again!” after a loss is so valuable.

It’s a chance to remind everyone that in order for there to be a winner, there has to be a lot of losers. When I’ve interviewed for jobs in the past, it has struck me that if ten of us applied for a single position, only one of us will get it and the other nine will be left with disappointment. Playing the odds, that means most of us spend our time as losers, not winners. And that’s true all over the place. Despite the inner desire we all have to always be winners, the fact is that we’re usually not. This is simply a fact of all games, but also a fact of life, too—one that I’m still trying to learn.

They get to see Mom and Dad mess up, too. Maybe I’m the only one here, but games sometimes bring out the worst in me, too. Sometimes I’m petty or will find a way to play the system or I’ll be grumpy when my time is getting stomped. In games, the kids get to see me in a tense and stressful situation—and they get to see me screw it up, too. So hopefully they also get to see me repent, confessing my sins freely. And on that note…

Games afford MANY opportunities to ask for and grant forgiveness. Games are like a cesspool for sinning against each other—yelling, cheating, pouting, accusing, taunting, insulting, mocking, etc., etc., etc. There are TONS of opportunities in games to ask forgiveness and confess sins for the stupid, sinful things we do. And that also means that there is lots of room for extending forgiveness and finding reconciliation, too.

We get to remember that it’s just a game. While I’ve just offered all of these real-life ways that games can help us disciple and train our kids, the fact is that they’re just games. And there are moments where trying to get that win becomes more important than anything else—more important than loving one another, more important than doing what’s right, more important than serving King Jesus. In those moments, we get to offer perspective and remind our kids that it really is just a game and doesn’t really matter worth anything. And the ability to see something inconsequential become our idol-of-the-moment—and then just be able to say, “It’s just a ____” is something I still wish I could learn to do.

These are a just a few of the side benefits that I’ve seen come out as we play games together as a family. What about you? How have you been able to train or disciple your kids through games?

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Chicken Dude Tea Party

As I’ve mentioned before, Court does a killer job planning fun family activities for our family. This past Sunday, it was a family tea party based on ideas from the Fancy Nancy Tea Parties book. Court made lollipop placecards, tissue paper flowers, raspberry and orange swirls,

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strawberries supreme,

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ladybug cookies–and, of course, tea.

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The kids cut out and decorated placemats and paper doilies; folded special napkin shapes; and decorated utensils.

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Here’s the full spread:

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And of course, being a fancy tea party, we had to dress up!

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The kids had a blast making all of the tableware and loved the food. SUGAR!!! It’s by far the fanciest tea party we’ve ever had.

Afterward, the guys and girls split up to have a chick night and a dude night. The girls watched “The Parent Trap” while painting their nails. The dudes played LEGO Star Wars on Wii (well, Josiah watched while Liam and I played). We’d been telling the kids all day that it was coming, but when the girls heard us saying, “chick and dude night” they heard “chicken dude night”.

Not exactly what we were going for…

Story Time–A Tornado Who Hula Hoops

We set aside our weekly family night for yesterday. When planning these, I have learned to keep them super simple for the most part. Otherwise, it seems too easy to focus on the activity instead of our actual family. Last night was definitely one of the easier nights–no materials or pre-planning involved. And it was excellent. We simply went around the table making up a story I started. I think it started something like, “Once there was a tornado who wanted to learn to hula hoop, so…”. As you might imagine, there was much laughter to hear how everyone was going to fill in their part of the story. One time Miriam, our two year old, just said, “And he was doomed.” I think the story ended with the tornado transforming into a flaming tornado who jumped through hoops at the circus. Even as the kids were getting ready for bed, though, the discussion about what else might have happened in the story continued.

Last night was especially sweet for our family. This week has been a particularly discouraging one, and Bill and I didn’t realize how much we’ve been neglecting our children until we had the almost tearful relief to simply sit and enjoy each other. Most of our family nights aren’t this enlightening, but the Spirit used this one to show us how self-centered instead of Savior-centered we’ve been in the midst of our circumstances. We forget so quickly who we are! I feel like I can’t take my eyes off my sweet kids’ faces today, smiling in contentment and knowing they are glimpses of the perfect joy we will one day have.

Family Night

[Note from Bill: Even though I’m still struggling to find the right words for my post I had intended for Monday, I don’t want that to stall the blog.  So, Court’s going to rock it out with some stuff about Bell Family Nights.]

I’m sure most of you have very busy schedules. We do, too. So one thing we have been setting aside for a few years is a family night during the week. Here’s how I see this night going: We’re all sitting around the table, laughing and enjoying each other. The fun little activity I had planned and prepped is a huge success and is completed by all the kids saying, “Oh Mommy, all others must be so sad to not have a mommy like you. Your love for us is amazing.” At the night’s conclusion, we all sleep well knowing there is peace, joy, and much bonding that has happened.

More often, though, at least one of the following scenarios take place: A fussy child who screams so loudly for who knows what reason that we can’t hear each other talk, fighting among siblings, an exploding diaper that must be taken care of before poop becomes the new play object, complaining, one or both parents being so tired that the whole time we’re simply looking at the clock eagerly anticipating bed time, etc. I remember one night I had a fun activity planned. The evening actually went much like I described in the first paragraph. I was happy. When we were wrapping up, one child looked at me and asked, “Are we going to play a board game?” I said, “No, Sweetie. We did a craft instead. Wasn’t it fun?” to which the child responded, full grump face in place, “Well then it’s not really family night.”

Many times I use things like family night to try to foster a gospel-centered, joyful home, and many times when the night ends I end up frustrated and angry that it didn’t feel like a success. What’s truly going on is that I wasn’t a success. Instead of keeping my eyes on Jesus, I began to naval gaze. Instead of admiring the work on the cross and naturally imitating what I admire, I tried to force that admiration, making the tool the priority instead of the one to whom the tool was supposed to point. I stopped parenting in Jesus and once again tried to parent like Jesus.

You won’t find family night anywhere in the Bible. Someone in our culture made it up, and now many parents feel like it’s an obligation. It’s not. The Bells, however, have chosen to do this activity. We do it because much like spending time with Jesus helps us know him better and prayerfully leads to an increase in our admiration of him, spending time with our children should in theory lead to an increase in our love for them. So even in the midst of the grumbling, crying, dirty diapers, and fatigue—and oftentimes laughter—we are still getting glimpses into our children’s hearts, the sweet and sinful parts, along with understanding our own hearts better. And if we do family nights in Jesus, we do them in faith, understanding they probably won’t go the way we imagined but giggling the whole time, waiting to see what curve balls are going to be thrown and loving Jesus all the more with each strike out.

Though adding family night to your routine won’t solve any problems in and of itself, it might be something you decide to set aside for your family as a tool to help them look at Jesus. So each time we do some little activity together as a family, we’ll post what we did on here to maybe help spark some ideas. Take ‘em or leave ‘em. If you take ‘em, though, and if your night of softball turns into poopball, just laugh. Jesus is in there somewhere.