Bonding Over Board Games

It finally happened. The moment I have been waiting for since my children were born. The four Snyders successfully played an honest-to-goodness board game together last weekend. I’m talking about a real boardgame, too. This wasn’t Go Fish or Candyland or (god help me) Chutes and Ladders or any of the myriad preschool board games designed by Satan himself to make parents lose their minds after being forced to play for the seven thousandth time.

We played Ticket to Ride, which takes a solid 40 minutes or more to complete and requires both strategy and patience. It’s a legit game that my grown-up friends and I have enjoyed for years. And now I’ve indoctrinated my children.

It’s the dawning of a new day, my friends, as we usher in an era of light and goodness and cut-throat family fun time.

Okay, that might be an exaggeration. It’s probably not quite the dawning of a new day. More like the murky twilight just before dawn, as my kids teeter on the brink of having adequate maturity to control themselves when playing games. We’re so close. There were multiple bouts of tears and pouting as we navigated the game, but nobody flipped the board and ran out of the room, so I called it a success.

If you think that feels like hyperbole, you’ve clearly never played boardgames with young children before. Or else you always lose on purpose.

Boardgames are hard for most kids because losing is hard for most kids. Heck, losing is hard for most adults, too. If you’ve got passionate, competitive offspring, it’s even more difficult. They invest their heart and soul in the game and the disappointment of losing can be too much to handle.

I have no one but myself to blame. I have always been a fierce competitor and, perhaps unsurprisingly, those are some strong genes. It was a running joke that my ex-husband refused to play so much as a game of Scrabble with me. At first he tried to assuage my competitive fire by losing on purpose, but that only enraged me. I didn’t want to win. I wanted to defeat my opponent. There’s a difference.

Generally, I take it easier on my kids. I want them to keep playing, after all, so at the very least I limit the trash talk and resist the urge for victory dances.

Maybe it’s the boredom of the COVID summer that has finally prompted the kiddos to embrace the joy of boardgames – and if so that’s a serious silver lining – or maybe they’re just finally old enough to appreciate the experience. Either way, I’m grateful. I hope they’ll look back fondly on hours spent on the screened porch, playing games on the coffee table.

We don’t even have to all be playing for the afternoon to take on a nostalgic, magical quality. One day, my oldest daughter and I were playing a somewhat complicated game that was a bit beyond the patience level of the other two. But my son parked himself in the nearby hammock while my younger daughter made up her own game with spare pieces and I thought I might just weep from contentment.

This. This is the moment I pictured when I imagined my family, all those long years ago when babies were still a hypothetical construct to be discussed and dreamed about.

So often, life with young children is a blur of dirty dishes, overdue library books, and lost Barbie dolls, set to the incessant soundtrack of sibling bickering, barking dogs, and armpit farts. It’s a rare and beautiful moment when you can step outside that rhythm and pause, together.

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