When our youngest turned 3, I thought we were done with sleep-related issues. Little did I know that when our oldest daughter hit first grade, the sleepover obsession would begin. They talk about them, they plan them (making lists of what activities will take place), they ask with annoying frequency when they can host or attend one.
I didn’t actually mind hosting the sleepovers at all. I’d put the giggling group of girls in the basement and turn on a movie. I’d open the door every hour or so and throw down some junk food (because if you think your kid is getting healthy food at our sleepovers, you can take your organic, non-GMO, misguided self elsewhere.)
It’s not me, it’s you.
Now here’s the thing: Of course I don’t mind hosting your kids at my house. Your kids are lovely. I’m great too. My husband is a fabulous human being. We’ve had background checks. As far as I can tell our house is free of any safety hazards too: no pool, no dog, no teenage boys lurking around. But your house? Well, I’m not so confident about that.
I’ve read the blogs that say you should NEVER let your child sleep over at a non-family member’s home, that the trauma of sexual abuse is just not worth the risk. I’ve heard the horror stories of guns in the hands of curious kids. However, this reasoning seems extreme to me. I tell myself that at some point I need to trust others and my own child, but I also argue with myself a lot. Here’s one of those blogs in case you need to cite sources when arguing with yourself. Here’s another just in case you want two sources.
I tried to be the cool mom. It didn’t stick.
Back in Ohio, we did sleepovers with a dear friend we had known since the first day of preschool or with members of our Girl Scout troop. I had hung out with these moms. I had been to their houses. Fast forward through a move to Arkansas, a new school and new friends. My oldest got an invite to a birthday party sleepover. She was ecstatic. I was trilled for her. I tried to be the laid-back, cool mom. I said “yes” without thinking.
Then I started thinking. I had met the mom of the birthday girl once, for thirty seconds. I had no idea where these people lived. I was 97.5% sure that they were wonderful people, but how could I be sure?!? My husband suggested a phone call, but what do you say? “Hi. I’m Audra. I’m calling to check if you and your husband are totally normal before I let our daughter sleep over. What evidence can you provide for me?” I started to panic. Sorry sweetie, you didn’t get the laid-back, cool mom. Your mom is a control freak.
We ended up with a compromise. Our daughter went to the party and we picked her up at 10:30 p.m. I know that the time is approaching where I will not know every parent, but I also know that we need more conversations with our daughter about how to avoid or exit unsafe situations. I know that at some point I will have to let go and trust, but right now she is 8 and I’m going to hold her tight just a little longer.
You can’t save yourself, you can only plan ahead.
When I said “Save yourself from the sleepovers,” I was just doing it for dramatic effect. There is no way to save yourself. They are coming. You need a plan. My very un-expert advice is to think about and discuss with any important parties what your comfort level is. Will a minimum age make you feel better? It was nice to be able to say to our 4-year-old, “I know you want to sleepover at Milifred’s house, but you have to be at least seven to do sleepovers. It’s just a rule.” In hindsight, I think it might have been better to hold off on the sleepovers altogether.
Hopefully with this heads up, you will have more time to work in all those important conversations about safety, tricky people and funny-feeling situations with your child. Because we all know that as soon as you say “Yes, you can go….” they’re not listening to a single thing that follows it!