Board Games – Leveling the Parental Playing Field

“You’re a lousy pirate, Mom.”Given all the things a 14-year-old could accuse a parent of being, I got off easy with disparagement of my abilities as a pirate. Still I held my ground. “I’m raiding your port.” I grabbed the dice and shook vigorously; I rolled too low a number and was defeated.”See?”My son had already won top honors in the game, which among other things allowed him to put a flag on his pirate ship and to use three dice for every move instead of my meager two. He sailed on to his next conquest in his steady march to defeat me.I remember board games from my childhood, when a snowy Sunday afternoon meant games of Parcheesi at the dining room table. Yes, it was a quieter, simpler time when there were no dehumanizing electronics in every corner, but focusing on that misses a greater point. Playing board games evens up the score in the parent-child relationship. It’s a welcome break from being the supreme lawgiver and authoritarian deluxe, sometimes benevolent and other times not so.As a parent, I establish and uphold rules and consequences that are safe and fair for all, with appropriate expectations and accompanying consequences (to the upside and the down). Without those boundaries how can we guide our children toward good decision-making and responsible behavior? Still, every so often, I think it’s good to level the proverbial playing field.There is nothing more effective than a board game for doing that. When we play, we are equal opponents. Since Pat is no longer at the young age at which he has to win most of the time (I became a master at throwing Chutes and Ladders to preserve a five-year-old ego), we can really battle it out. My son can beat me, showing me that he is the boss for once, and there are no consequences. I can be sent back to square one (grounded, as it were) for making a wrong move.On a slow Saturday night, while my husband looked on with bemusement from the living room sofa, Pat and I hunched over the board game called The Dread Pirate. It involves strategies such as plundering ports or trading gold coins for treasures, and when and how to take on your opponents to force a surrender of some of their pirate booty.As a pirate, I am decidedly a wimp. I had to borrow a gold coin so I could make a trade. (“Pirates don’t give loans, Mom,” Pat said, until I pitifully pleaded for mercy.) As soon as Pat “sailed” to my corner of the playing board, I’d high-tail it away.Need I say the obvious that he won – beating me something like 48 to 12 (counting treasures, that is)?I took my licking, endured some trash-talking about my inferior pirating skills, and helped pick up the game pieces. On those few occasions when I actually do win, there is usually a round of good-natured needling about the overall score of all the wins and losses, which is about 4 trillion to six (Pat’s favor).As the game was put away, I wondered how much longer we’ll have these little rituals. They are already becoming rare. Teenage years, as expected, have made his friends the center of the universe, while parents orbit the exterior in the far, cold reaches of the galaxy (except when it comes to allowance and transportation). Electronics take precedence over something with a cardboard surface and wooden or plastic dice.Each time we play a game, I am grateful for this one-on-one time with Pat, or two-on-one when we can coax my husband to join the fun, especially if we are playing cards. Whether as pirates or Monopoly tycoons, we all play by the same rules. Everyone has to face the consequences of landing on the wrong square (and ending up in jail) or getting sent home for the twelfth time (as happens in Parcheesi).The dynamic changes between parent and child as we become friendly opponents. Then someone wins (usually Pat) and someone loses (usually me). We take our licks and tease each other.And then we have a rematch.