Building good family memories doesn’t have to cost any money

New York Ave
Apple iPhone 6s, 2016

For a number of years when I grew up, my family played Monopoly almost every Sunday. Dad was always the battleship and Mom was the thimble. I was the iron. I forget what my brother was, but he always wanted to be the battleship. I think Dad relented a time or two.

Dad’s personality didn’t let him play games for relaxation. Not only did he play to win, but he had little tolerance for players who didn’t as well. Our games were spirited and emotions could run high.

My brother’s strategy was always to get the monopoly on Boardwalk and Park Place, and then try to get the neighboring green properties to “own” that whole side of the board. When he succeeded, he usually won. It was up to the rest of us to keep him from buying those properties. When I owned any of them, I refused to trade them. Mom would trade those properties with my brother anyway when she had them, and then he would gain those monopolies and crush us all. “It makes for a more interesting game!” Mom would cry when I protested her ill-advised trades.

These Monopoly games were such a simple thing to do. They took up a couple hours of Sunday morning. But they built family connection like nothing else we did together. Dad didn’t like to travel, so we didn’t take vacations. Evenings were spent quietly at home, with Dad reading the newspaper and Mom cleaning up after dinner while my brother and I did our homework. Once in a while Dad took us fishing or worked on a project with us in his wood shop, and once in a while Mom took us downtown or to the mall for a little shopping and lunch. Otherwise, our lives were quiet and predictable. Sunday Monopoly did a lot of heavy lifting to create shared memories in our family!

When my kids were young I made sure we built other shared memories, especially of the kind I didn’t get as a kid. More than anything else, I made sure we took vacations together. But I didn’t forget the value of a good game of Monopoly together. Fortunately, unlike my dad I could just relax into a game and have fun with it, even when I lost.

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16 responses to “Building good family memories doesn’t have to cost any money”

  1. sonny rosenberg Avatar

    Nice to read this article! Things like this are something that in truth, I haven’t been all that aware of. When my family attempted any of the activities you mention they always became a very negative thing. I enjoy reading about how you pay attention to the small but important things in life.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m sorry that was your family reality. My family wasn’t perfect but we could generally get through a game of Monopoly okay.

  2. Joe from The Resurrected Camera Avatar

    I’m a big fan of board game days myself, either with my brother’s family or friends. In fact I even made a little short film about it once.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m ambivalent about board games in general. I know they’re A Big Thing now. If my family wants to do it I’ll play along but I never suggest it.

  3. -N- Avatar

    Nothing like Monopoly to bring out the beast in us! I have always liked the shoe for my token, and I always played to win, but think I could gracefully lose. Board games teach competitiveness, and sometimes that is good, sometimes bad, but more, they teach how to deal with disappointment along with sharing a good social time. A great game is called “Forbidden Island” and it requires co-operation to win.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My brother struggled with graceful loss back in the day. I think a reason we kept playing was so that he could learn.

      My sons liked to play Pandemic with me, a cooperation game. We never saved the world, though.

  4. -Nate Avatar

    What a great article .

    Your family sounds idyllic .

    I remember trying to play Monopoly in the late 1950’s , our family was far too competitive to make it any fun, the only thing I learned was “need to leave this mad house as soon as I can”.

    Board games like Sports, Fishing and myriad other group activites can be incredibly useful to teach important life lessons .


    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My family wasn’t idyllic, we had our problems. Perfectionism, lots of judgment, achievement held above all else. But we generally liked each other and enjoyed being together.

  5. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    Our daughters love Monopoly. She has become a banker!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It follows!

  6. Daniel Brinneman Avatar

    When I was a kid before the internet and email existed, depending on who we visited, we either played with friends outdoors and went catfishing in West Africa (, climbed trees, read books, made houses with bed sheets and chairs, made wearable robots from cardboard boxes and tins, played with wooden cars, or played with metal and plastic farm equipment lookalikes. It was fun and didn’t cost a lot of money.

  7. J P Avatar

    My father was never much for board games, but my mother was. Monopoly was usually too involved unless we were snowed in. Aggravation was a favorite.

    When my kids were younger they had a Nintendo64. I didn’t much care for most of the games, but they and I had some epic Mario Kart races. Any of the 4 of us could win and each had a favored track/circuit, so the competition was fierce. We had a lot of fun.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      We played Aggravation, too. Dad made a custom board for us out of a big piece of laminated plywood. Drilled indents for the marbles.

      I love Mario Kart!

  8. brandib1977 Avatar

    This sounds so fun! As an only child, I rarely had anyone to play games with other than my parents and that was sporadic. My dad was kind of competitive too. So I mostly entertained myself. Friends mentioned having a board game night a while back but it hasn’t happened yet- likely because they saw me visibly cringe. Haha. I clearly need a better poker face but I never really played cards either…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Only children in my childhood neighborhood had a few dozen other neighborhood kids to play with. No sibs to fight with either! Best of both worlds.

      1. brandib1977 Avatar

        That would be amazing. There were no kids close on my country road and we were a one car family so visiting at school friends’ homes required orchestration.

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