When do you know when your kid is old enough to have sex and wants to have someone sleep over at your house?
This question is perplexing many of my friends at the moment, the ones with teens around 15, 16, 17.
As with most parenting dilemmas, I had to figure this one out on my own a few years earlier than my friends because their kids are mostly younger than my eldest. I’m not sure if I got it right or wrong. But I’m happy with my decision and I’m happy to share how I came to making it.
My son had his first serious girlfriend at age 16 and she was a year older than him. It was a lovely relationship and lasted almost a year. The first time he asked if she could stay over, they had already been together a few months. I said sure and then I made her sleep on the couch in another room.
I have no idea what happened after I went to bed but I can guess because I’ve been 16.
Luca rolled his eyes at the fact he even had to go through the motions of separate rooms. He thought it was ridiculous. But I was adamant.
Until I wasn’t.
You can follow Luca on Facebook, here.
I thought a lot about it. And eventually I realised I was being silly. I was also being a hypocrite.
Before I did a backflip and allowed her to sleep in his room, I reflected on my beliefs:
- that sex is a healthy part of a good relationship
- that sex is better and safer when it's indoors and in private rather than in a park, at a party or in someone's car
- I want my children to experience and enjoy their sexuality in a loving, committed relationship at an appropriate age
I also reminded myself that my son and his girlfriend were both over the legal age of consent. The law says they are old enough to have sex.
So what was my problem here?
Sure, my parents didn't allow sleepovers before I was 18 but that didn't stop me having sex or even slow me down (you can read about that here). And just because I had certain rules growing up, being a parent is about making your own.
So that's how I came to allow my son's girlfriend to stay overnight in his room. With the door closed.
Here are some of the things you might be wondering at this point:
What about setting a bad example to your other kids?
Yes, I had younger children in the house. Still do. At that time they were five and eight. But whenever they had sleep overs, their friends slept in the same room so it's not like they were aware of any big difference for their brother. And a 'bad' example? Again, see my beliefs above. Even if they did realise their brother was having sex (they didn't), there are lots of things older people do that young kids know they can't. Like drinking alcohol. Driving a car. Going out at night. Paying taxes.
Mia talks about her reasoning on the latest episode of Mamamia Out Loud:
Would you apply the same relaxed rules for your daughter?
Excellent question. Yes, my eldest child was a boy. Perhaps I would have felt differently if he were a girl but I don't think so and I don't plan to have different rules for our daughter. Let's see how my husband and I feel about that when the time comes......although based on the risks for girls having sex in parks and at parties and being filmed, it could be argued that it's even more important for them to be able to have their partners stay over.
What about the other kid's parents?
This worried me for a bit. Was I responsible for upholding rules or boundaries for other people? In the case of my son's girlfriend, she was a full year old than him and I'd met her mother and spoken to her on the phone before when she'd joined us for a few days on holidays. If she'd raised sleeping arrangements with me I would have asked what she was comfortable with and then willingly complied.
But she didn't so I decided it wasn't my business to police what someone else's child was or wasn't allowed to do. My house, my rules. And my rule is that sleepovers in the same room was OK - for my son in this situation. Every parent has to make their own decision based on their own circumstances and their own kid.
In case you think our house is some kind of teenage sex den, let me alleviate you of that delusion.
My son has never had a girl I didn't know stay over. Or if he has (he probably has), they've been gone by the morning and I've been none the wiser. I assume he put them in an Uber to make sure they got home safely and treated them with the utmost respect because that's how he's been raised (he wrote more about that here) and that's the kind of man he is.
Now he is 19 and has another girlfriend and she stays over regularly and we all adore her and how can any of that be a bad thing?
What they do behind closed doors is none of my business.
As a parent, it can be hugely confronting to think about your kids having sex. I KNOW.
If they're little right now, the whole concept can feel surreal.
It's on par with thinking about your parents having sex.
I'm sorry for that mental picture. Please replace it with this image of me wearing a ridiculous outfit:
In my book, Work, Strife, Balance I have written more about sex and teenage girls, in particular. It's a hugely fraught area for parents. All my friends with teenage daughters are traversing terrain that feels far more complex and nuanced (and frightening) than my relatively straightforward decisions about my son.
So much of parenting, in my 20 years of doing it with mixed results, is about sorting what you feel you SHOULD do from what you believe, what you want to do and what your child wants.
I'm completely comfortable with my rules around sex under my roof even though I realise that the ability to have sex freely at home has always been one of the main motivating factors for kids moving out of home. Banning sex sleep-overs is a guaranteed way to empty your nest sooner rather than later.
So my kids will probably all be here until they're 30. I'm cool with that.
They have to buy their own condoms though. You have to draw the line somewhere.
Listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud here:
Do you agree with Mia? At what age is it ok for your kids to have 'sleepovers'?