A voice cried out in my house recently, “You have to go to college, or you’re going to waste your life.
Another voice answered, “No. I want to have fun. I’m skipping college and making money.”
This might sound like an argument between a parent and high schooler. In our case, it was our 5-year-old daughter and her 4-year-old sister, as we began playing the board game “The Game of Life.”
If you ever want to see what your children learn from you, try playing a board game with them. Our youngest two children are going through a phase where they would play board games every night if we let them. We try to play with them at least once a week.
Our 5-year-old daughter became obsessed with Life after seeing it on a portable device. When she realized it was a board game too, she convinced us to buy it and play it as a family. (She can be quite persuasive. Her primary tactic, repetition, makes me wonder if I could secure a pay increase at work the same way.)
Perhaps it’s been a while since you’ve played Life. It’s the game with colorful cars, carrying little blue and pink pegs you add to your car as you marry and have children. You spin the contraption in the middle, picking up paychecks, having babies and gathering Life tiles for experiences along the way. At the end, the person with the most money wins, with each of those Life tiles worth some unexpected figure.
The game maker updated some of the jobs and salaries since I played, and it simplified some of the more confusing parts of the game. Still, it’s a systematic way to determine a winner in life. The analytical side of me loves that someone devised a formula to pick out its winners. As my children soon taught me, it’s not quite that simple.
As we sat down to play, their argument began. The 5-year-old, organized and logical, swore the only way to succeed was the college route. The 4-year-old, wild and care-free, wanted to have as many experiences as possible on the game board.
The differences became more clear the first time the 4-year-old lost her job in the game. She welcomed it. She drew another career card and became enthralled with her new calling.
The 5-year-old wanted the shortest possible path to retirement. She didn’t want to take any chances. She didn’t want to reinvent herself with a new career or spend too much time on excitement. She took a little too much pleasure in taking money people by suing them. She just wanted to get to the end and see if she won.
Our 11-year-old just wanted to get married and have babies. She got bored with the game about the time she became a grandparent.
I don’t know if I’m proud or ashamed of our parenting thus far based on the way they played the game.
That first decision on the board can be troubling. I know some very respectable people who didn’t attend college. While I did attend Ohio University and loved me experience there, I’m not certain my classes there were really a prerequisite for my career nearly as much as my experience at the student newspaper.
It gets even more complicated when you think of factory work. I spent my summers in college working at an old-school factory in Findlay. My most grueling experience involved moving 50-pound steel shells from one line to another after they left a furnace. Factories like that are more uncommon now. The ones I’ve toured are often cleaned than our newsroom, with workers monitoring computer screens more than shooting screws or lugging items from spot to spot.
The trouble we all face is no one knows how you should lead your life but you. That doesn’t mean the rest of us might see some really bad decisions you’re going to make and try to warn you about them. That’s also not to say what I consider ridiculously risky might not be preposterously profitable for you. I’ve always respected people who could freelance in life, as my brain needs that steady paycheck and knowing how much I’ll have from month to month.
That’s the path I wanted to take, and I’ve generally been happy with it. Children will choose their different paths. I’m sure I’ll have to repeat what I said during that family game night.
I answered, “It’s her choice. We just have to hope she thought it through and made a good choice, and then we support her.”