The Time My Kids Broke Me Out of Jail by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir

When I was a child, I liked and hated the game Monopoly. It was interesting and exciting, but it was also cutthroat, ruthless, competitive, and often seemed to involve cheating by the banker. My vague memories are mostly hurt feelings and distrust. So when my younger daughter Z pulled my ancient Monopoly set up from the basement and asked me to teach her how to play, I agreed with reluctance and trepidation.

My older daughter E noticed us playing after an hour or so and asked to join. Of course, E played at a significant disadvantage since she joined late. My trepidation increased. E was paying lots of rent but collecting hardly anything. The hurt feelings and distrust would erupt soon. I played grimly on, trying to act relaxed and cheerful as my dread mounted.

At one point, I couldn’t afford to pay rent to Z, so I mortgaged some properties. My daughters were horrified. “No, Mummy!” they kept repeating, “you don’t have to do that! We will give you some money!!” But, see, that’s not how The Game works, so I kept refusing their money. “It’ll be fine, honest!” I said, confused and unsure how to handle their anxious concern. I tried to be Nonanxious Presence Parent, modeling that I don’t mind losing The Game. They were equally confused. Why wouldn’t I accept their help? We played on.

The next thing I knew, Z (who had most of the money by now) had begun trying secretly to slip money to E and myself. We caught her doing it and tried to return the money, but she was relentless. She declared a New Rule: anyone who can secretly slip any amount of money to another player gets $5 from the bank.

Suddenly, the game became utterly hilarious. The subterfuge was incredible. E (who was mostly broke) kept trying to slip me $5 and $10 bills, and Z kept trying to give the two of us every other denomination, even including $500 bills.

As we played on, the constriction around my heart began to ease. “Maybe this will be okay,” I thought, tentatively allowing myself to hope.

Then came another twist: Z, seeing that her older sister didn’t have a lot of money, told her not to pay the full rent on a property she landed on. “Just give me $50,” she said cheerfully. “Or whatever you feel like.” I was stunned. Then it kept happening. We both decided to sell E some properties cheap, so she’d have better rental opportunities. We all merrily traded so we’d have matching colors, bought houses, and just… paid whatever rent we felt like we could afford, no matter where we landed.

We played every day for a week. The Game never ended because anytime one of us started to run low, the other two would balance the system by paying her more and charging her less… and, of course, slip her lots of gifts. At one point, Z was supposed to pay the bank $50 for something or other, and she cheerfully decided the bank should pay each of us $50 instead.

I kept thinking and thinking about how The Game would have ended long ago if we had played by The Rules. The Rules involve a lot of chance and, in our case, inequality from the start. I thought a lot about how in real life, oligarchy has fixed The Game to keep most of us players under its heel. Only in real life, the result isn’t only hurt feelings and distrust. It’s poverty, illness, deprivation, trauma, and death. I wondered how many of us have been trained by Monopoly to accept Oligarchy as inevitable and acceptable, to laud politicians who grind us less cruelly as heroes. In Monopoly, once the other players are too poor to play, The Game ends, and the winner can’t make any more money. In real life, Oligarchy relies on an endless supply of slaves to keep it going. I wondered how our society would look if my daughters could take the reins and cheerfully make everything fair.

The only hurt feelings were entirely my fault. At one point, Z had redistributed so much of her wealth that she was feeling a bit of a pinch. She landed on a property of E’s and jokingly handed her $1 in rent. I said I thought she should pay more than that; unfortunately, some of my childhood wound must have crept into my voice. Z immediately became tearful and said she was done playing. To use a phrase Z coined as a toddler, I “broke her fun.”

Of course I apologized. “I hurt your feelings, didn’t I?” I asked. “After how hard you have tried to make the game feel fun and fair for everyone, I made you feel like I don’t trust you to do what is right and kind. You were only joking, and I made you feel like I thought you were trying to cheat your sister, when you weren’t. Right? I’m so very, very, very sorry,” I said. “This game was a horrible experience for me as a child. I am still carrying wounds from that, and my wounds caused me to speak in a way that was wrong. I will try extra hard never to do that again. I want to tell you how much you two have healed me by playing this game with me in such a loving, happy way.”

The girls were, of course, sad to hear how painful my childhood experience had been, and touched and proud that they had helped me find healing. Hugs, snuggles, and lots more playing ensued.

One last anecdote: One time when I landed in jail, E handed me her “Get out of jail free” card. After that, if one of us had a card, we always gave it to anyone who landed in jail. Until the very last time we played— I landed in jail, and none of us had that card. You know what happened:

My daughters went to jail with me. They did not pass Go, they did not collect $200. They piled their tokens on top of mine in the little jail cell, and then they hatched an exciting plot to break us all out. You can, I think, imagine the laughter we shared. The next morning, I found the following note on my toothbrush:

Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me, and forbid them not, for unto such as these belongs the Kin-dom of JustPeace.” (Mt 19:14) and “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kin-dom of JustPeace.” (Mt 18:3). My children freed me from more than one jail, didn’t they? There are so many kinds of prison in our broken world. Can we listen to the wisdom of divine beings, and unlearn our cages of fear, distrust, and greed? Can we accept the Healing Grace that is offered to us so freely and abundantly? I say, let’s do it. This is OUR Game. Let’s play it right.


Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.

24 thoughts on “The Time My Kids Broke Me Out of Jail by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir”

  1. This is a-mazing. I remember that many games ended with my younger brother getting angry because he was losing and throwing the board in the air to destroy the game. I of course was eager to win even if I was older and wiser. Your daughters are incredible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Carol. They really are. They teach me so much. I’m humbled by them every day. We are all carefully taught that winning is what matters. Unlearning that is so liberating. <3


  2. If only you as a child had been allowed to play the game as it’s inventor originally intended! Elizabeth Magie designed it to demonstrate the evils of capitalism by having 2 sets of rules. But when it was commercialised the rules of fairness (very like the way your lovely daughters devised) were dropped & it became propaganda for capitalism instead.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ruth, this is amazing to me. And so telling. I really appreciate you sharing this information. I hope this becomes more widely known — what a better world it might be!!


  3. What a fabulous experience and creative way to play and learn, allowing the children to adapt the rules, bringing out their very natures and thus allowing harmony and joy to endure for so much longer and the jail plot, fabulous. I love the wisdom you found and shared in your own exploration of how it almost ended, that’s such a gift to instantaneously be able to access your own wound, identify it, so often we don’t see it or have that level of awareness. Thank you for sharing this, pure delight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Claire. It really was a mind-blowing experience, extended and layered and rich. I have become very good at apologizing to my kids over the years. It takes practice, but I guess it stems from trust… I trust them so much, they are such wonderful beings, so full of love, and I never want to lose THEIR trust. It’s very motivating, the desire to preserve their trust by being as trustworthy as possible myself. Your affirmation means a lot. <3


    1. Thank you so much. I am still learning from it myself. I really can’t get over it. I find them utterly magical and miraculous friends. <3


  4. This story gives me hope and joy. Your daughters are kind and brilliant. I expect they learned a lot from their mother. How beautiful that they are also able to teach you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How loving, Elizabeth. Thank you. Parenting has been a most powerful teacher than I could ever have imagined. I appreciate your kind affirmations – In this uncertain, scary world, being able to spend time with my precious girls feels like an opportunity that I want to make the most of. <3

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you so much for this beautiful and inspiring story. Did you know the woman who created the game intended it to be a lesson against greed and rampant capitalism? Apparently she was horrified that it did not have the desired effect. My kids and I definitely don’t play by the rules – our only rule is that we want to have fun, which for us, often means tossing the rules out the window.

    I love how you have used the idea of jail here. I have a feeling the creator of this game would absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE this story… and maybe it would help her feel better, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Tallessyn. I’m not surprised to learn that you play your own way as well – I imagine you all laugh together a lot, too. I am really fascinated by the story of this game’s history and creator. I would love to think that we can honor her good intentions more with time and learn the desired lessons. <3


  6. Cool story! Hooray for your daughters! They were playing the game the way it should be played and against the Patriarchal Rules of greed and capitalism. I seldom played Monopoly as a child; I preferred Sorry, and I also played Canasta with my grandmother and her friends, but having read your wonderful story, now I wish I’d played Monopoly. I wish I could have played it your way. But I guess we were all clueless back then.Ya think??

    Let’s all play it your way, especially in these days when the bank-folks and their guys in D.C. are trying to make The Rules even more unfair to people like us, not to mention our blessed planet and all life on it.. Onwaaaaard! Up and outta here! Into your daughters’ kind of jail!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Barbara! I agree, we were all clueless. Maybe we are capable of learning better now, and fostering healthier communities and society? I am with you, friend – onward, up, and outta here… I am right there with you!!! <3

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What a great mother you are! Joyful game playing and compassion in the mix. I can’t get the scene of you and your girls partying it up in the jail together out of my head. I don’t have the monopoly game but if I ever find myself playing it I won’t be able to play it was it once was. And I love the awesome bonus there of you sharing your experiences, your healing and your girls’ participation in it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Janet! I can’t get it out of my head, either. Mind blown. Just amazed. I appreciate your affirmations very much. I hope someday you play it and have a total blast. It makes me wonder what other childhood wounds my daughters will uncover and heal for me. And I can think of a few more they have already healed as well. I hope we can all be healing healers together. <3

      Liked by 1 person

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