As I laid there, desperately trying to get my daughter back into bed, trying not to get angry or frustrated, using every trick I know to achieve the desired outcome and get her asleep I realized just what I was involved in. It wasn’t parenting, it wasn’t a little girl deep into being ‘over-tired’, no, this was a boss battle.
I have been gaming since I was five, that's thirty two years of experience, so I know a boss battle or two. I can’t say I have beaten every single boss I have ever come up against in a game, certainly there has been a few that have caused me to much trouble I eventually gave up on the game altogether. The giving up bit doesn’t really apply to parenting, but the core loop of a video game boss fight is almost exactly the same, just less physical weapons.
Where in a game you will use guns, swords, magic powers etc to whittle down the health of the big bad guy until you win when you are trying to get a three year old to lie in bed and go to sleep your weapons are words and manipulation or threats and treats to be gained. The loop is the same though, and therein lies the trick.
A boss battle in game requires quick analysis of the enemies movement patterns and attacks so you can figure out, depending on the game, when to counter attack, parry or jump. You might also have to suss out which of your attacks are most effective, or elemental weaknesses which can help you out and get that health bar down.
With my three year old however, the health bar is her willingness to actually lay down and, more importantly, calm down. It can be a slow process, but a belief that I will eventually win, despite repeatedly being told “But I’m not sleepy though!”, helps get me though. As for my weapons, well as I say those become words and I have a few very effective ones.
I slowly chip away at that bar, with light attacks like kissing her on the forehead and telling her good night, reading a bedtime story and getting her to switch her gro-light to night mode. We go through all the usual bed time routines, but when that night light goes off that is when her ‘second form’ kicks in.
As she is getting up out of bed to go get a drink from the cup on top of her drawers, I might tell her that is the last one and to finish it. It’s simple enough, but means an excuse she uses to stay up has gone away. She counters of course, and isn’t dumb, so it then becomes “Can I have some water please Daddy?” even after downing a full glass of milk.
Sometimes I might also be hit with “Daddy I want something to eat” and this is where I bust out one of my most powerful counters. I response with “Well, if you lie down and be still and quiet for ten minutes, I will go get you something”. Now, this particular counter is super effective because it has a hidden rule: the timer resets.
Simply put, if she moves or talks, the ten minute counter resets to zero and starts over. So, so long as I stay the course, keep saying that's what she has to do, even when she asks if it has been time yet, that ten minutes might be half an hour but she will soon forget what she was asking for as sleep does in fact take over and that bar gets tantalizing close to zero. While this means I can ‘beat the boss’ so to speak, after only two forms, I know that some bosses can have a third more powerful form. My Daughter does too.
This third form, most recently unleashed the night before I wrote this, comes out when I misjudge the last stage of the battle, when there is still a sliver of health left on the bar. It comes when I think she is down, happily fast asleep, so I get up to leave the room. I messed up, and she wakes, however groggily, there are no words that come from her just screaming and a raising of arms. I quickly try to get back into position and calm her down so she will fall easily and blissfully back asleep but I fail and Daughter: Final Form is here.
There is kicking, there is screaming, there is the weirdest thing that small children do: lock themselves into a loop because they really want something so keep asking for that thing over and over again. For thirty minutes. At their loudest volume. This stage of the fight is simply a war of attrition, so close to the end that I just have to bare the brunt of it and chip away at the final chunk of health with a warm and gentle face, lots of shussing and gentle cuddling until finally, that glorious win is mine.
Can I honestly say that emotion doesn’t get the better of me sometimes and I don’t, however slightly, lose my rag? No I can’t, but who reading this can honestly say that they have never wanted to throw the controller across the room when a boss gets the better of them? Its the same as parenting, sometimes you just can’t help it. My advice? Remember your child does in fact love you, and isn’t actually possessed by some kind of incredibly irritating demon.
Most of all though remember that you can do this. Bosses are meant to be beaten, they gate progress but also access to new abilities, and each time you beat them you get a massive experience boost. All of that applies to both games and real life, and I know I can win the nightly boss battle without a shadow of a doubt. You can too.