7 tips to balancing parenting and gaming
The biggest adjustment with having a kid is just the sheer amount of time they take up. And I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. Especially after they start walking and needing constant supervision. I regularly find myself recalling pre-child times and wondering just what the hell I did with all my time. The following tips are just a few things that I’ve learned throughout the last year and a bit, that are mostly common sense. I thought I’d share them anyway. Some of you may relate, some may find inspiration, some may be able to add more!
1 – Reevaluate your priorities
You know this one already. Your child/children have to take priority over your gaming time. It takes a split second for little hands to get into mischief, so you absolutely need to be watching for threats in the room, rather than watching for threats on the Battlefield. Not to mention that your children crave your love and attention. They don’t want to be ignored, and given how quickly time seems to pass, and they grow up, you’ll no doubt regret any missed time now.
The bottom line though, is that your life has changed. As much as you and I love our video games, they’re just that, games. A child is a huge responsibility, and is now your number one priority in life. That’s just a fact, and instead of fighting it, you just need to embrace it and enjoy the organised chaos that is to come.
2 – Schedule your gaming time
One of the great things about children is that they absolutely thrive on routine. Once they reach a certain age (for my daughter it was about 3 months), you can start putting together a bedtime routine. This has the side-effect of giving you a fairly good idea when your evening will be freed up each night. Once the little one goes to bed and you do the obligatory post-dinner clean-up of all the discarded toys, food, and clothing, you’ve got the rest of the evening to do whatever you want, whether that’s sleep, spend time with your partner, or play some games.
For example, I know that my daughter will be in bed each night from about 7:30 on. So if my wife’s away out, or is working or doing something else, I can get a good couple of hours Xbox time in before I need to think about bed. Likewise, if it’s just me and the baby. She still needs a nap during the day, and has got into the habit of taking 60-90 minute naps, so I know I can get some time in then if I want.
3 – Find a balance
I still struggle with this one to be perfectly honest. It’s hard not to keep playing into the wee small hours of the morning sometimes, especially when you get into a game that has that “just one more go” gameplay. But it’s important to remember that you have so much more in your life now, and you need to find a way to fit it all in. A small child doesn’t understand that you’re tired because you were up until 3am because you wanted to rank up again in Battlefield, or unlock that new Gear Set in The Division. They certainly won’t give you a break, even if you can barely keep your eyes open.
And of course, there’s work, too. The majority of us still have jobs to do in order to pay the bills, feed the family, and keep our gaming habit going. I’ve definitely noticed a shift in my attitude to work since becoming a father, and am (usually) able to have a bit of perspective about just how important my job really is in the grand scheme of things. But as a parent, your main function is to provide for your child, and to do that, that means holding down a job.
Not to mention your partner, friends, family, other hobbies…there are still all the same demands on your time, you’ve just got one extra little voice that’s demanding a lot of that time now. So it’s important to make sure that while you’re getting your gaming time that you don’t overdo it and leave yourself burned out (at least, not too often). Looking after a little one can be tiring at the best of times, not to mention when you’re completely knackered.
4 – You’re not alone
At times, multiplayer gaming can feel like a very hostile experience. From the screaming, potty-mouthed, pre-pubescent teens, to MLG-pro, 360-noscope wannabes who look down on anyone on their team that gets killed, it can seem like even the slightest faux pas can result in a tirade of abuse, or getting kicked from the game. It can be even worse as a parent, when you may need to drop everything and run-off mid-game to attend to a screaming baby.
The good news is that you’re not alone! There are great communities out there where people are understanding of the responsibilities and limited time of parents, and are okay with the fact that you might need to be AFK for a while in the middle of a game. Dads of Destiny was set up as a clan in Destiny that would cater for those parents who still want to enjoy the grind of Bungie’s MMO extravaganza, but with the understanding that we all have other commitments going on. They offer all sorts of great support for parents, even doing things like guided Raids to allow n00bs and time-limited parents to enjoy the end-game stuff without having to worry about skipping out if the little one starts crying.
And that’s just one example. There is lots of support out there for gaming parents, you just need to look around to find a community of people dealing with the same adjustments that you are.
5 – Enjoy
When you do get a good block of gaming time, enjoy yourself!
During the early days of my daughter’s life, she slept a lot, as new born babies tend to do. My wife was tired too, so I found myself with a lot of free time and very often a sleeping baby. Fortunately, a sleeping baby fits extremely well on your chest while you’re holding a controller. I managed to get through pretty much all of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag with a sleeping baby on my chest!
Naturally, as babies grow up, they become more active though, and need more constant attention. So when the gaming time starts to dry up a little, it’s more important than ever that you enjoy what time you do get. I slogged through Assassin’s Creed: Unity a couple of hours at a time, and by the end of it was seriously questioning why I kept going with it. I’m a bit of a completionist too, which is extremly difficult in the limited gaming time I have these days.
To an extent, you have to ask yourself what you like about gaming in the first place, and focus on that. It might be time to abandon that goal to reach 100k Gamerscore, or to maintain a completion rate above 90%, and just enjoy games like you used to back in the days before trophies and achievements.
6 – Game clever
As someone who thoroughly enjoys the pay-off of a massive open-world RPG (The Witcher, Fallout, Mass Effect), or ranking up an online shooter (Battlefield, Halo, The Division), I’ve struggled to get through this type of game since my daughter was born. I’ve since developed a real appreciation for shorter, pick-up-and-play type experiences like Wolfenstein: The New Order, Child Of Light, FIFA, and other games that lend themselves to being tackled in 1-2 hour chunks.
The other side of it is online gaming. It can be hugely frustrating for other players, and quite off-putting for you when you try to take part in an undefined-length, can’t-press-pause experience, but are interrupted half-way through because the baby had a coughing fit, or your little one woke crying after a nightmare. In these situations (going back to point #1) you have to go and see to your child, often leaving some furious teammates behind, and sometimes wasting your last hour’s progress. It’s less of an issue when you have an understanding group like Dads of Destiny or similar, but can still be frustrating.
That’s where single-player and drop-in games become a lifesaver. When you can just hit “Save and Quit” or drop out of a multiplayer match without too much penalty, it’s easy to quench your gaming thirst in small chunks, but be able to run off if you need to. Games like Star Wars: Battlefront and Titanfall have pretty quick rounds and don’t punish you too much for dropping out. Single-player games like Wolfenstein and Quantum Break are ideal as you can just pause when you need to run off. Even XCOM, while not exactly short, is well suited to playing in chunks due to its turn-based gameplay.
I still play larger-scale, long-run games, but I tend to save them until I know I have a good chunk of uninterrupted gaming time (2+ hours) and pick them up then, so I can properly enjoy them.
7 – Share the experience
And finally, sharing. Obviously this applies to slightly older children, but why not sit down and play some games with your kids? There are plenty of simple yet fun games out there that both adults and children will enjoy, the Lego series for starters. Gaming is getting more and more mainstream, and the next generations won’t look on it as a geeky pastime in the way that my parents do. A wise person once told me that one of the best things you can do with your children is to get involved in each other’s interests.
A lot of my fondest memories as a young gamer are from sitting around with friends playing couch co-op and split-screen multiplayer. I really can’t wait until my daughter is old enough to start playing Xbox with me.
Everyone has different experiences as a parent, and enjoys different things as gamers. The points above are just a few thoughts and observations that I’ve had while adjusting to being a dad during the first year or so of my daughter’s life. Some may help, some may ring true to your situation. None of it is meant to be preachy. Have a read, share your thoughts, comments, funny stories, or any tips of your own that you’ve got.