Friday, April 5, 2019

The Sleepover Manifesto - Why We Won't Do Sleepovers

The childhood sleepover. It is high up there on my Wish-I-Didn’t-Have-To-Deal-With-It areas of parenting, right along with questions like, “When can I have a cell phone?” and “Can we get a puppy?” Sometimes I just don’t feel like I have the energy to withstand the backlash that comes along with saying the hard “no” and doing what I feel to be my parental duty. Especially when “all the other families get to do it” which I hear no less than twelve times a day. “Well, we aren’t the other families, are we?” I hate saying it just as much as they hate hearing it. I’m still waiting for someone to hand me the user guide for these kids of mine, the easy how-to guide for getting it “right” and raising excellent humans and contributors to society. Somehow that instruction manual must’ve slipped out of the diaper bag when we took them home from the hospital. So I’m left to just sort of wing it. For the most part, I try really hard not to parent out of fear. I work hard to make decisions based on sound reason, evidence or conviction. This was one of the reasons we opted to put our kids in public school. We knew that they would be taught some things we didn’t agree with. We didn’t want to hide these differing beliefs from them. Rather, we wanted them exposed to diverse beliefs and opinions, knowing we would have to amp up our game at home to have intentional conversations about how these ideas might contrast with our own values. We don’t want to shelter them. We want to equip them. This felt really important to both Graham and I. Sometimes I have to stop and really think about whether I am making parenting decisions out of fear or out of sound logic. It is easy for the line between fear and wisdom to blur. We make concerted effort to talk to the kids about hard things, to not keep uncomfortable topics hidden from them. We want the kids to know why we make the decisions we do. Enter the the ever-present request for sleepovers with their friends. We were at our school’s science fair when another mom I’ve spoken with only once approached me. Our daughters are in class together and enjoy each others’ company, though honestly I haven’t been hearing her name around the dinner table at all recently. This mom told me that her daughter’s birthday was coming up and I knew what was coming the instant she opened her mouth. She said they were planning a sleepover and that Emma was on the must-invite list. “Oh how exciting,” I started. “Emma would love to come for all the evening activities but we have a ‘No Sleepover’ policy in our house so I would be happy to pick her up before bedtime.” The mom looked at me, obviously a bit shocked. “Like no sleepovers at all?” she asked. “Yeah. Unfortunately that’s our family rule right now,” I told her. She heard the words “right now” and spotted the space for a loophole. She began to push a little and, under the pressure, I accidentally let it slip that big sister had done a sleepover with a couple very close family friends when she was a little older. “I mean,” she said. “I know you don’t know me or anything but….” she faded off. On the one hand, it sounded like she was hearing my reservation. But on the other, she was continuing to press. My level of discomfort was growing and I began to babble awkwardly, as I’m prone to do in situations like these. “We let her sister do a sleepover when she was 9 so we’re waiting until then,” I finished. Now, what I’d intended to be my iron-clad no sleepovers family policy, was slipping. How could I let this lady know, without offending her, that I was not going to allow my 7-year-old to sleepover at her house? I was feeling pressured and guilty. I was starting to second guess. Was I drawing this line out of wisdom or out of fear? This wasn’t the first time a fellow parent had given me pause and caused me to reconsider whether our stance was in fact a bit ridiculous. After backpedaling some more and finally giving her a few more awkward lines about how we just weren’t doing sleepovers with Emma, she responded with “Good luck with that,” and we went our separate ways. I felt sick to my stomach after this interaction. I had nothing at all against this mom in particular. In fact, her invitation was incredibly appealing on numerous levels. It ministered to a tender space in my heart that was hurting for my daughter, who had been struggling socially. I wanted her to expand her friend pool. I wanted to foster better, closer relationships with her friends. In a weaker moment, I might've fully sacrificed my “bigger-picture” values (no sleepovers because safety is my top priority) to remedy the hurts of the “now” (I want her to have friends!) But the bottom line was that I wasn’t okay with sleepovers. I had heard enough from friends about the unsafe encounters that take place when kids sleep together unsupervised and I just didn’t think it was wise. This decision was based in wisdom, not fear. Despite all this, my self-talk after this encounter was pretty ugly. I chided myself for buckling under the pressure and not presenting our philosophy with greater confidence. “Decide something and then own it with conviction!” I tell myself. This will perpetually be an area of great struggle for me. I teeter dangerously on the ledge of caring too much what other people think of me. To cement my conviction, I want someone else to tell me the decision I’ve made is the right one. I’m trying to have grace for myself, to realize not everything in life can be that cut and dry. To allow my own personal experiences to be reason enough. I was still wavering a little on the sleepover issue. There was a sliver of space remaining where someone could have squeezed in a really solid argument to convince me to permiss them. Until yesterday. My 4th grader reported that one of her classmates had shared with her about a co-ed sleepover that he had participated in the night before. After the adults went to bed, the elementary-aged kids present decided to play “Quack Diddly Oso,” a clapping game where kids sit in a circle and place their hands together and clap around the circle to the words of a song. The person who receives the clap on the last word of the song loses. This particular group of kids decided that the loser of each round should have to kiss the feet of all the others. This lasted for a little while until it lost its novelty and they decided to up the ante. One thing led to another and pretty soon the loser’s penalty involved both nakedness and other body parts that need not be named for you to get the picture. Yeah. That was all I needed to hear. These kids are in FOURTH GRADE. Curiosity killed the cat, y’all. And if this is what happens at ages 9 and 10, use your imagination about what might be coming down the pipes in the teen years. I don’t think I need to say more. If ever I needed evidence to cement my opinion, I got it this week. And, for the record, my stance on sleepovers is the same regardless of whether it is girls only, boys only, or coed. We’ve all got body parts that can be used in unsafe ways. And I’m just not willing to risk it with my kids. I think this is wisdom, not fear. So, if ever you want my child to sleepover, I can politely decline and refer you to this here “Sleepover Manifesto.” It’s not personal. It’s just how we’re gonna do it over here. Plus, no one ever gets any sleep at sleepovers anyways.

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  1. Hi Kelsie — Beautifully written as always! It may be reassuring to know that all of my kids have had friends whose families don’t do sleepovers. So when Meredith makes a list of who is coming to a sleepover, she just knows that this one and that one will come for the evening but go home to sleep. At this point, at age 14, the kids all seem to just accept it — no big deal. And often times, when they’re hugging at the door to say goodbye for the night, I feel like the one who is leaving looks a little relieved. And I’m always a bit in awe of the parent, tiredly picking up their child at 10 PM, because they’re doing what they believe is right in the face of a lot of pressure.. And then I wonder if I’m doing the right thing? :) You’re right, a guidebook would be extremely useful! Your kids are SO lucky to have you as their mother!!

  2. Love this. Thanks for sharing! Hadn't even thought about sleepovers because they feel so far down the road from us right now. I'm so thankful you parents trailblazing these seasons and delicate aspects of parenting in this crazy day and age! Appreciate your candidness and honesty! Also had to laugh remembering waking up with whipped cream in my hair at a sleepover at your house back in the day���� more evidence nothing good happens at sleepovers �� stay strong mama ��

    1. Oh my word I TOTALLY forgot about the whipped cream!!!! lol. We were horrid hosts, weren’t we? Unbelievable.

  3. Ok clearly emojis don't translate on blogger:) read lots of laughing faces and pound it's :)

  4. Amen, cousin! We are also a no sleepover house...but man, it's getting harder at times! We forgot about our rule and let Hailey go to a cousin's b-day party sleepover a few weeks ago...I think the fact that it was at the cousin's house made us forget our rule... We are mostly okay with cousin sleepovers (still not super excited about them), but not groups at the cousins (I don't know those kids!). I had a terrible 'older brother' incident at a friend's house when I was young, so I'm on high alert for brothers of my girls friends. It's just NOT worth it. AT ALL. Stay strong and thanks for being another voice of reason reminding me of our rule and why we have it! It is awkward to say no, but here's one for you...what about camps??????? Hailey went to a girl scout camp earlier this year and was supposed to go to one last weekend. Well, our schedule actually created a conflict...but after thinking long and hard about the campout, I decided I didn't actually want her to go, because I don't know the kids in her troop like at all...and I hardly know the parents! I was glad our conflict came up, despite us losing $40 for her reservation... Thankfully she didn't really feel pulled to go, so it wasn't a big deal. But if she'd wanted to go? That would have been a hard decision to make.


posted by kelsie