THE SELFISH GAME
To teach a child the joy of taking responsibility, working together, and being a part of the family. It is absolutely crucial that the game is played with a fun-loving and gentle spirit. This game may only be played one time, per child, every three or four years.
*One, or more, mostly mature adults
*One child, between the ages of 8 and 12, who strongly desires to have unlimited time to do as he wishes and who believes that he does too many chores and does not get enough time to play. The child must demonstrate an inability to recognize the already-scheduled free times and holidays provided by the parents, such as birthdays, holidays, Sundays, family trips, etc. The child must have strong selfish impulses, must generally sport an I-feel-sorry-for-myself attitude, must feel mistreated and overworked, must frequently whine and fuss, must have a propensity for justice and fairness, and must have a willingness and ability to forgo the pleasures of family life.
Preparing to play the game:
*Parents and child have several different discussions in which the child gets to fully express desires and complaints while the parents make note of what the child is saying. The parents, in turn, must be very clear that the child will not get everything he desires (fun on a platter), while at the same time stressing the fun that the child will have.
*The parents set the rules for the game. The reason for each rule must be carefully explained and different scenarios ought to be conjured up and thoroughly discussed so that everyone is clear on the expectations.
*The guidelines should be written down.
*The parents should prepare the child for the feelings he or she will experience, both positive and negative.
*Prepare to start the game in the morning, immediately upon waking up.
Playing the Game:
1. The child may do nothing to help another person. This is absolutely forbidden and non-negotiable. The child may do no chores (may not feed pets, fold clothes, empty the compost).
2. Nobody may help the child:
*The child may not be chauffeured anywhere for any activity that is for the sole purpose of his pleasure (clubs, sports, games, friends’ houses), and no friends may be imported.
*The child may not eat food cooked by other family members.
*The child may only eat certain foods that are agreed upon prior (for example, eggs, toast, carrots, apples, granola, and milk), and it should be pointed out, in advance, that the food the child is eating has already been purchased and prepared by someone else.
*The child must wait to eat foods (if cooking them) till the rest of the family is done working in the kitchen.
*The child must clean up his own messes (dishes, toys, books).
*The child may not be read to, unless the parent is already reading to other children.
*The child may not play games with family members.
*The child may not be taught new skills.
*The child may go to bed and wake up whenever he wishes.
3. The child must continue to follow the rules of the house and will be disciplined in the standard ways.
4. Throughout the game, the parents should inquire how the child is feeling (lonely, excited, peaceful, frustrated, sad). Periodically the parents may offer an invitation to the child to rejoin the family, but they should in no way pester or coerce the child.
Ending the Game:
*The child may rejoin the family at any point. The decision to rejoin is final. The family welcomes the child with hugs and smiles and genuine joy. The child must do several chores that were agreed upon prior to beginning the game, such as washing the next batch of dishes, cleaning a toilet, washing some windows.
*Over the course of the next several days, the players should discuss their observations and feelings.
I didn’t come up with this game all on my own; my mother played it with me when I was a child. I have fuzzy memories of living off Special K for every meal (and loving it), staying up late, and coming down with a flu bug when the game was over. The illness was probably a coincidence, but it made a very big impression on me.
Yo-Yo Boy played this game a couple weeks ago. It took us a couple days to prepare for it, and several phone calls to my mother who spent a good deal of time discussing it with Yo-Yo. A third party was helpful for us because we were having trouble maintaining a fun-loving spirit, and besides, she was the originator of the game so she held a lot of clout. (“Can you feed Francie? Oh my no. Absolutely not. That’s directly helping someone else and that is most definitely not allowed. You can only do things for yourself, honey.” And, “You do know, don’t you, that you might feel kind of sad? Are you prepared for that?”)
Yo-Yo played the game till two o’clock in the afternoon when Mr. Handsome just happened to come home early from work. Yo-Yo wanted to go work with Mr. Handsome in the barn, so he came in to tell me he wanted to end the game.
“Are you sure?” I asked, surprised that he was done so quickly. He hadn’t even gotten around to frying himself some eggs, something he had been excited about.
“Yes, I’m sure,” he said.
I still couldn’t quite believe it. Was eight hours for the game really enough time to get the point across? “You realize that means the game is over, for good. You can’t switch back.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“And you will have dishes in a couple hours.”
“And just because Papa’s home early doesn’t mean that he’ll be playing with you, or working on the clubhouse. He probably has work that he’s trying to get done.”
“Yes, Mama, I know. But I want to end the game now.”
“Well, okay then.” And I gave him a bear hug and kisses and he went running out to play. The game was over.
So you tell me, does this game have a winner?