Lifestyle choices part 5: playing games with my family and friends

We are living in a gaming golden age regardless of the medium you play in. Whether it’s sports, board games, pen and paper, computer or console you will be able to find a game for you. As a lifestyle choice games of all kinds is an essential part of my life and want it to become an essential part of my family life as well.

While I listed several quite different categories my biggest passion is board games. Like many, I grew up with chess, monopoly, trivial pursuit and scrabble. With the exception of chess these are all pretty terrible games for various reasons which i won’t go into. There are now so many wonderful and amazing board games out there today that my generation growing up sorely lacked. Getting together with friends around a board game is a great social experience. Getting to really understand the tactics and strategies of a game and finding out the myriad of ways to win is also exciting. Gone are the days where you can only win one way. Look into games now and you’ll find them offering a rich mental exercise and an immersive theme to boot. It’s no wonder that I hope to introduce my children to this world.

There are plenty of reasons other then the sheer joy of it. There are so many different games out their now that you can find any number of different games for different mental skill development. It may come as a surprise but board games are more for adults as an intellectual challenge than they are for children as something to do on a rainy day. Fortunately there are plenty of accessible games for children to build up those logic skills so they can play the good stuff. Board games develop logic. They give you a framework of rules to abide by in which you need to solve a problem. The more games you play the better your logic gets. I should qualify that with depending on what games you play. Almost all euro-games will develop your problem solving skills. While we are on the topic of logic, there is a similarity in the logic practiced in games and the logic practiced in mathematics. This isn’t to say that while you are playing games you’ll be solving quadratic equations. It’s the logic in noticing patterns and solving abstract problems. Playing games will improve your ability to understand complex reasoning. Something that certainly can’t hurt a child’s development.

Another area that games build are imagination. There is a wide range of story building games out there challenging you to create your own stories using prompts, such as Gloom or Once Upon a Time. They reward creativity and being able to follow a story-line. I’m looking forward to the day I sit down with my two girls and make stories with them. Games offer a gateway into greater creativity. Pen and paper games also play heavily into this. Not only building creativity but also improvisation skills and creative problem solving and that’s just for the players. The role as the moderator / dungeon master / game guide or whatever else you want to call it is to paint worlds for the other to explore and be challenged by.

Of course one of the biggest exercises mental skill gaming builds is memory. There are a score of games that rely heavily on memory as the means to victory. I don’t just mean remembering where a certain thing is or an obscure fact. There are games that you have to rely on your memory to follow what is going on in the game. Games like Masquerade, Coup, Gentlemen Thieves, Libertalia to name a few require you to deduce who is who or who has what to win the game. People often take memory for granted. That is to say assume it can’t get better. The more you work your memory the better you get at remembering things. One of the things that child prodigies of all areas have in common is a fantastic memory. By developing your children’s memory you can ensure a better life for them.

In the list I mentioned computer and console games. This is a tricky area in terms of child development. I grew up with computer games and wouldn’t trade it for anything. I believe I gained many of the skills mentioned for board games. Understanding patterns and solving problems within set parameters. As an added bonus it helped me develop my computer skills. Playing computer games develops your ability to use computer programs. I have a theory that Japan’s low computer literacy stems from children playing console games instead of computer games. Thus it seems to me that I should expose my children to computer games. The tricky part is when and what games. There are so many stupefying games out there on the market but there are also plenty of interesting and mentally challenging games too. The big question is where to draw the line? This one concerns me in the same way that any long term exposure to media such as television shows and smart phones. Phones are useful but can also be massive time wasters for no gain. Same with TV shows but then there are some fantastic TV shows out there which are worth watching. My current thoughts on the matter are to try and expose my children to shows and games I value and hope they develop a good sense of their own interests media wise.

I also mentioned sports. I did that to remind people that a sport is no different to the other games I’ve mentioned except that there is an active component and often a co-operative element. A person who is pro sports but anti gaming has probably just not tried gaming. Similarly a person who is into gaming but not into sports should really give it a try. I’m sure they’ll find that there is just as much mental activity going on in sports.

I could go on and on about the merits of gaming and child development. Or the merits of gaming and having a fulfilling life. I’ll leave it there though since i feel I’ve covered the main reasons I’ll game, play sports and role-play with my family.

In the shadow of fatherhood

When i was younger I hated my father. The kind of hate born of love. I suspect that had I been a physically stronger person; eaten properly and worked out, I probably would have attacked him. Although my brother was stronger and he never did so perhaps I wouldn’t have. As a parent now I sometimes feel the shadow of my father creeping over me. When i feel anger, frustration, or rage I can feel my father’s presence. I’m terrified of repeating history. I don’t want to be my father. Those feelings rising up there are my own though, not my fathers. They belong to me. How I decide to act on them is who I am. I am not my father. I wonder if he felt the same way. By all accounts his father was a true terror. Did my father have such doubts? Did he fear that he would be just like his dad when he was raising us kids? As a child I often told him he was just like his dad. That was my vengeance. I wonder now if that hurt him more than I could have imagined.

It is the duty of the next generation to improve on the parenting on the previous. Wouldn’t it be nice to get it right? To raise my children in such a way that they look back and think ‘I want to raise my children the way I was.’

Time and parenting

Single people think they don’t have time. They always mention how busy they are. I’m sure there are some busy single people out there. Every time some single mentions to me that they don’t have any time I laugh. Oh sure  when I was single. I was under the impression that I was busy too. Looking back though I wasted hours on television and computer games thinking after my hard days work I deserved some downtime. Being a parent though time becomes a desperate commodity. Every spare moment you try to fill with something meaningful. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. As a single I had tonnes of time to write but didn’t. As a parent I have barely in time to write but fill any moment with it. The question do i sleep or write always comes up. More often then not sleep wins. So to those single people out there. Quit procrastinating. Use your time well. To the parents out there I recommend getting good at time management while being prepared to throw that timetable out the window.

Toddlers aren’t too young to help out around the house

Our oldest one is two and a half years old. We’ve been putting her to work around the house. She loves vacuuming and she loves washing the dishes. We’ve even got her cleaning the bath before we use it. The thing is that toddlers want to do this. It’s their instincts. They have reached an age where no only do they want to do everything for themselves they also want to do the things they see you doing. They watch you vacuuming and in their minds cogs and gears are turning. Humans vacuum, I’m a human, I should vacuum. Toddlers want to help out. They want to do what you are doing. Give them a dustbin and broom. Put a vacuum cleaner in their hand. Put them up at the sink with you and show them how to clean the dishes. Have them mix the eggs when making pancakes. Give them toys that replicate things you do. Do these things and be amazed to see your little two year old try. Don’t worry if they can’t do it well. Don’t think it’s menial labour that they don’t want to do. That’s bullshit. Their brains are geared to get them to do what you are doing so they can learn how to be human.You want to clean the house? Do it with your kid. Praise them for it. Guide them through it and reap the rewards.

Parenting in Japan and Australia

Perhaps one day I’ll write a thesis on this but not today. Today it’s just some observations on differences I’ve noticed between the two countries.

Recently we had our second baby. She is two months old. As you’d expect from a baby this age she tends to cry a lot between 9pm and 12pm. She then wakes up every three hours crying. My wife and I started doing research on what we could do to help our baby settle. The results were quite surprising. Almost all of the English sites on the topic said the same thing. Just let them cry. The Japanese sites though were stressing the importance of giving the baby comfort and be patient until they settle. All sites both in Japanese and English said this is just a phase and in the third and fourth month the baby will adjust to day night patterns. Either way the baby will settle after a month so which is better? For us letting the baby cry is impossible. This kind of response is only possible if you have a wide open spaces perspective. In Australia the baby has it’s own room away from yours. You can’t hear the kid cry anyway unless you set up a two way radio or a video. In Japan the baby is right there with you. I couldn’t ignore the baby’s cry if I wanted to. The other thing about this though is that I don’t want to ignore the baby’s cry. I want to comfort the baby and honestly I think that’s important. The baby in its first few months is only just adjusting to the world. I don’t need to lay down the law with it tell it this is what life is. I want the baby to know that it’s surrounded by love and happiness. If that means occasionally getting up and walking back and forward in my kitchen rocking her back to sleep I’m OK with it.

As hinted at we sleep in the same room as both our babies. Well one is two years old but she still wants to be babied sometimes so I call her our baby. When we had our first one everyone from doctors and midwives to parents and friends said ‘Don’t sleep on the same bed as your baby, you’ll crush them.’ Honestly I don’t see how this is possible but a little research revealed that this has happened. In Japan the opposite is the case. Doctors, midwives, parents and friends all recommend sharing the bed with your babies to better cater to their needs at night. Two years in and neither my wife and i have ever come close to rolling over onto one of our kids. That said though if you aren’t so sure about your ability to wake up don’t try it or test yourself by putting a doll in your bed and see if you wake up after rolling onto it. Interestingly enough it isn’t so rare to people to keep on sleeping in the same room. Our neighbours all sleep in the same room and their kids are seventeen and twenty. I don’t think we’ll be doing the same.

Another interesting difference between the two is the question of teething. In both countries there isn’t even a question. In Australia teething is an accepted theory for why babies cry. All sorts of goods can be purchased to combat this discomfort. There is no such theory in Japan. People I’ve mentioned it to look at me as if I’m totally crazy. They ask me ‘Why would teeth coming in make them cry?’ As far as I can tell I’m going to agree with Japan. Why would it be a problem? I don’t remember my teeth coming in ever hurting. I also don’t remember losing my teeth ever hurting either except when they were being pulled out by the dentist. A dentist pulled four of my teeth out believing it would stop my teeth from being so crooked. Shakes head. Those poor four teeth, you aren’t forgotten. The point is that my wife and I haven’t done anything in regards to teething neither has a whole nation. Japan is probably not the only one either. Perhaps there’s another thesis here. Whether or not teething is a thing or just made up to make parents feel better. I suspect it’s the later.

There are probably more differences. I suspect I’m just scratching the surface. I’ll keep a log of it and perhaps one day there’ll be a great big book about it. I think I’ll call it How to make an Australian or a Japanese person. Or perhaps something simpler.

Encouraging Creativity

One of the things I appreciate the most about my childhood was my mum’s encouragement in all things creative. She was particularly encouraging of music and writing. I never really developed much of an aptitude for music but writing is now a hobby I hold dearest to my heart. My mum encouraged all of us to write short stories and poetry in our spare time. When we finished she’d type it up, print it out, bind the story with tape and get us to illustrate it. There are still copies of these stories around the house. They were quite good. The whole process was very enjoyable. My sister and I both share a love of writing and my brother is a genius on the piano. Although I don’t know if my brother would attribute his love of music to mum. Writing was more her thing. I hope to do the same for my children and continue the creativity streak running through my family.

What I Learnt Not to do From My Parents About Parenting part 1

Needless conflict

When I was a little boy I liked the colour pink and I wanted to have long hair.  My mum fought valiantly against this.  Every chance she had she tried to convince me that pink wasn’t a good colour to like and that long hair didn’t look good on boys.  As you can guess this was a major point of contention between us.  From my mum’s perspective I was being decidedly unmanly.  She wouldn’t have put it in those words though because she is university professor in gender studies and would balk at realising that she had been engaging in gender construction.  My liking of pink didn’t really have any consequences.  I had no interest in clothes shopping and if I was given money it would go towards buying lego but the length of my hair was a monthly argument.

As a sidebar as a child I never based my actions, likes or dislikes on gender.  For me I was a boy therefore everything I did was what boys did.  It was a perfect bit of logic which led to many moments of frustration at other people’s gender obsession.

Onto the hair fight; From as far back as I can remember I wanted long hair. The reason was simple.  I thought short hair looked stupid.  It was purely a style thing.  I hated the way I looked with short hair and loved the way I looked with long hair.  For my mum it was the other way round.   Looking back on the whole situation it seems unreasonably stupid.  Simply because it was an unnecessary conflict made all the more unnecessary because it wasn’t backed with any kind of logic. Both of our positions were purely subjective and thus we were unable to convince each other of our position.

What can be taken away from this?  As mentioned this is a case of unnecessary conflict.  There was no reason to have this conflict and all it did was create bad blood.  If you are having a conflict with your child ask yourself what is the conflict about?  Why is it important to me and why is it important to my child?   The last question is in fact the most important.  Children are logical thinking beings.  There position on things is just as logical and reasonable as yours.  Their logic may be childish and a little foolish but they have still thought it out.  If you are going into direct conflict with something they believe you should give them a good reason.  You should back it up with logic.  If your logic is based purely on your own subjective experience then it probably is going to be a prolonged and ultimately useless conflict.  Since it is just a matter of opinion.  Any conflict where your logic is “because i think it looks dumb.” Will not go well.

As a parent I won’t tell my children that they need to do something without giving my reasons why.  If mum had asked those questions I had written above she’d probably have stopped arguing.  Her answers would have been “It’s about the length of my son’s hair.  It’s important to me because long hair doesn’t suit him.  It’s important to him because he thinks short hair doesn’t suit him.”  I say she would have stopped arguing because neither side is right or wrong.  We had opposing perspectives that were part of who we were.   Which is the crux of this lesson.  If you sit down, think about the conflict and try to get to the core of it you may realise that your position is just as childishly illogical as your child’s.