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If you grew up with siblings, you know—family dynamics
aren't always easily defined by gender or by age. Brothers and sisters will
argue, whine, pinch each other and stick their tongues out. They just will. You
could have a house full of girls or nicely spaced boy/girl combos two-and-a-half years
apart, and you still can't anticipate how your children will interact with each
other. So when we had a boy first, then a girl—spaced over four years—the
dynamics of their relationship weren't always easy to predict. But there's one
thing we did that bridged the gap through the years and still works today.
It seems like my kids have always loved board games. But
games my son was able to play at the age of 6 were too advanced for his 2-year-old
sister, so most were played while she was otherwise occupied. But she was
fascinated with the boards, colorful cards, dice and playing pieces—and she
wanted in. So I started trying to figure out how to include both kids in the
game and still make it fun. This took some creativity (and a lot of
patience) on everyone's part.
It's a secret win for me to see (my kids) conspiring against me across the game board, sporting big smiles and laughing.
At first, it was hard for my son to "let go" of the rules a
wee bit so that his sister could enjoy the game, too. Since we're cut from the
same cloth, I totally understood—because rules. I remember more than one game
of Monopoly Junior with my son and me playing and my daughter just driving her car
game piece around and around the board. The first few times we tried to play Go
Fish resulted in several bent cards and a very frustrated older brother who
didn't think it was OK for his sister to see all of his cards. A few games
later he realized that when you're 2 years old, you can see everyone's cards and
still not win a card game. Obviously he was now on board.
The thing I love about board games is that everyone can show
off their particular skills—and it levels the playing field a bit. My son is a
good speller, which made him the perfect Scrabble teammate for my daughter when
she was younger and just sounding out words. My daughter thinks fast on her
feet, and she's a great partner in games like Pictionary and Memory. And
pairing them up as a team against me? They always love that. It's a secret win
for me to see them conspiring against me across the game board, sporting big
smiles and laughing.
As my daughter got older, game time extended into a family
affair, usually on Sunday nights. And while I remember one particularly
stressful game of Pictionary (played on boy vs. girl teams) we had found our
family time groove. We played Yahtzee, Memory, Uno, Jenga, Scrabble, Sorry, Apples
to Apples, Candyland (not a personal fave, btw) and Clue. And believe me, when
you play Clue with tweens, the whole "Colonel Mustard did it in the library with
a lead pipe" thing becomes beyond hysterical. Seriously.
When my kids headed into their teens, family game night took on an
increased importance to all four of us. Schedules became tighter, homework
loads heavier and family time was at more of a premium. Sunday nights became
the time everyone in the house dreaded: the gateway to Monday morning. By designating Sunday night as a game
night, even for just an hour, it gave the four of us a reprieve from the Sunday
My kids have long since graduated beyond games of Memory and
Candyland. But give us a good game of Scrabble, Yahtzee, Uno or the occasional
game of Monopoly and we're bonded back together again.