The Games Parents Play

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Chutes and LaddersParents play games. Yes, Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, and Hide and Go Seek are among them, but there is also a dark underbelly of parenting games that parents play with each other. These games are part of the constant back and forth over who gets stuck with the poopy diapers and other unmentionables of parenthood. These games are rarely discussed... at least among spouses... but they are endless fodder for laughter and eye-rolling at any mothers’ day out. Here are just a few of my favorites.

Are You Sleeping? Are You Sleeping? Brother John?

You’re lying in bed. You hear the baby (babies) crying. You’re awake, and you could go check on them. But you just can’t seem to summon the energy to do so. You listen intently. Not for additional cries from the kids’ room, but for any signs that your spouse is awake. You try and breathe as evenly as possible, so as not to give your own status away. Your spouse may well be doing the same thing. It’s now a game of chicken as to who will flinch first.

Mine, Mine!

Before kids, menial chores are... well... menial. After kids, they are a vacation from chaos. Exhibit A: Remember last winter’s blizzard? I do. I remember being trapped indoors day after day because of the excessive snowfall. (I did try and take the babies out at one point just to get everyone a bit of fresh air, but one of the babies got stuck in a snow drift and screamed bloody murder, so back into the Overlook Hotel – I mean house -- we went). A lot of shoveling needed to be done to get our cars dug out. By way of background, I don’t really like to shovel, but let me tell you, during that blizzard, I would have fought my husband for the job of chief shoveler to the death (I won by the way). I not only shoveled behind our two cars, but also behind several of our neighbors’ cars. I shoveled so far, in fact, that my neighbor complained to my husband that the “snow plow” only went half way down the street. He got quite a laugh telling our neighbor that it wasn’t in fact a snow plow, but me. That night I had blisters on my hands, and I was so sore I could barely move, but it was wonderful.

Yours, Yours!

Is there anything more heinous than taking multiple children to the doctor at once? Is there anything more glorious than Saturday doctor’s hours? But who will take the sick child in for the delightful experience of waiting in the sick waiting room in the doctor’s office? You know... the waiting room that is chock full of toys for the sick kids to play with while they wait -- the toys you anxiously try to steer your crying child away from, because you know that the sneezy, snotty, coughing child sitting across from you just played with them. These visits are always a hot potato in our house -- you take him, no YOU take him... come on... it will be fun…you can take him to get a special treat after the appointment... please!!!

Musical Chairs

If you are crazy enough to take multiple kids to a restaurant, you are well-versed in this game. This is the game where parents switch and swap seats to try and keep the various members of their brood from screaming their heads off and generally wreaking havoc as other childless diners try and eat their meals in peace. The trick for this game to “work” is being at a table, which allows for easy access to all members of your family. While this option is not possible with a booth, there is the booth-benefit of being able to trap your children in their seats... until they figure out how to slide under the table and escape.

Mattress Hopping

It’s not what you think. When kids are sick or awake in the night, parents implement all manner of options for getting their kids to sleep and keeping them that way. Case in point, the other night there was a terrible storm and the power went out for several hours. Everyone started out in their own beds, but that didn’t last for long. After a strategic parenting conference in the hallway by candlelight, the end result was something like this: our daughter wound up in our bed with me, and Baby B wound up in my daughter’s bed with my husband. And what about Baby A, you might ask? He fell out of bed, of course, and slept on the floor. Ironically, I think he had the best night of sleep out of all of us.

Life with kids is amazing, but it is also wildly insane... all the time. In the last twenty-four hours alone, I have evacuated three kids out of my home for an earthquake -- IN VIRGINIA -- and spent the night in the ER with a child having breathing problems. We all need parenting games of some sort -- both those that are out in the open -- and those we discuss secretly with our other mom friends -- to keep us laughing and mildly sane. So the next time you see me and I say, “On your marks... get set... go!” Please know that I am probably just having a really hard day and am challenging you to a race to either the wine store or the bakery... or if it has been a REALLY bad day... maybe both.

Shannon Hembree is a stay-at-home mother of three, an expert strategist at parenting games, and co-founder of


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