Never In A Million Years: Playing the Parenting Game

video games kids

Most days, I pop into my teenage boys’ rooms to plant a kiss on their heads. Sometimes it’s because I walk by, see their sweet little (actually, big) selves at the computer, and have the urge to say hi. Other times I realize I haven’t seen them in awhile, so I stop what I’m doing and go in search of them. Those 10-second visits have become a simple, recurring way for me to show my love, nothing expected in return. Occasionally I stay awhile, watching as they play online with friends, observing their weapon selection, and listening as they chat over Discord (a social app used by gamers so they can talk to level up the game).

Never in a million years did I think that online first-person shooter gaming would be the daily touchpoint that keeps me connected to my boys. We were, once upon a time, a no-play-gun family, only relinquishing control when their friends’ birthday parties took us to airsoft or laser tag facilities. We were also, once upon a time, a strictly controlled screen time family. Our kids had zero allowed minutes Monday through Thursday, with 2 hour limits Friday to Sunday.

Years later, during these daily peek-ins, I wonder when and how both limits were so completely and utterly annihilated. What caused us to change our minds so drastically?

Parenting will always and ever be a balance between what our kids want and what we think our kids need. In theory, parents know best. We have years of experience, and if you’re anything like me, thousands of tips from parenting books milling around in our brains. And yet, we are not raising mini-mes. We are raising one-of-a-kind humans who need our support as they discover how to live their one precious life.

As for our rule relaxation, the reasons we changed our minds are varied and irrelevant. What matters is not the control we relinquished, but the control they gained.

Most of us would agree that the way we spend our time forms our souls. It is why many of us intentionally spend time with scripture and with friends. We surround ourselves with goodness so that we may be good. But our ideas of how time is best spent are not always shared by our children.

When I was a child, I loved to read. I still do. I have been an avid reader since my kindergarten teacher unlocked the magic of letters. Every day, I packed book after book from the classroom library into my bag, pouring them out onto the floor the minute I arrived home and immersing myself in the lives of these fictional families. My mom was not a reader and wondered if my incessant reading stole moments from my real-life family and friends. How could a person whose senses were absorbed in other worlds be fully engaged in this one?

Yet I am convinced that my love of reading is the reason I am able to love people so well today. Through reading, I find myself enmeshed with lives completely unlike my own, opening my heart to love in ways I never thought possible.

It is a stretch for me to believe that my children’s love of first-person shooter games might provide a similar pathway to love, but God works in ways I will never comprehend, so I’ve decided to let him work. Our kids deserve the opportunity to follow their passions, even when the thing they love is not even on our list of mediocre likes.

I truly do not understand online gaming. The frenetic pace makes me nervous, I don’t care for graphic blood spatters, and I still cringe when they spend their birthday money on “skins”: digital outfits that their online characters wear. Even so, I listen carefully as they tell me why they prefer a sloop over a galleon while sailing the high seas. These small, quick discussions give me a chance to be present for them while they are involved in an activity they love. Watching them play online feels to me like watching a sport I’ve never seen before. I have no idea what’s going on but I recognize the beauty that happens when people band together for a common goal. I’m grateful to be a part of it, even from the sidelines.

If I were a different type of mother, writing for a different type of publication, this is where I would lay out the parenting gold. Something about how supporting your child’s unique loves will be the thing that allows them to live the lives God intended. This feels true, because it mostly is, but there are no guarantees in parenting teens. The truth is that once our children enter the teenage years, they have already begun to navigate their lives without us. All we can do is live out the ordinary moments placed in our path, allowing room for those moments to grow into extraordinary love.

Eventually, my children will tire of me popping in unannounced to see how they’re doing. That’s okay with me. There will always be another way to recognize the ordinary and make it extraordinary. God lays a multitude of paths towards love for us each and every day.

Holly Forseth is a high school theology teacher and writer. She earned her B.S. from the University of Notre Dame and her Master of Pastoral Studies from Loyola University New Orleans. Holly has held many roles in life, but her favorite is loving people for who they are. She and her husband live in Arizona with their two teenage boys.

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1 Comment

  1. GailJ on 23 January 2023 at 2:32 pm

    This essay is so beautiful and wise. I am the mom of a soon-to-be-29 year old man, I could have written what you did 15 years ago, except back then he was playing a more primitive game, RuneScape, full of magical people. He’s now an engineer with a girlfriend and a tight friend group and loves extended family too. Just now, I had the joy of him texting me, “When can I have brunch with you?” He wants to download about his job and knows I will listen avidly without giving advice or expecting him to not be himself. Even (especially) when I don’t get it/understand (I work in tech in an adjacent industry and know the lingo but won’t map his course).

    What it does give me, as I think you agree, is a lot of thoughts to take to prayer, instead of opinions to load on my son.

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