Like most families, when I was growing up there were a few rules and requests set for my sisters and I. Mostly it was stuff like: don’t take drugs, don’t get a tattoo, don’t take risks, do well at school.
There were two other rules we had though which no one else seemed to have:
1. No singing at the dinner table.
2. No sleepovers at other people’s houses until 13.
The first one still makes us laugh and probably only came about because we were a musical family (I think choking was the main concern, although more likely it was because it was just darn annoying and after a long day my parents wanted to eat in peace.)
The second rule however was the source of many tears and fiery debates in our household, with my sisters and me all pleading for our parents to change their minds, even just once. We wanted to go to slumber parties and friend’s houses for sleepovers, just like everyone else.
It was really my Dad who enforced this rule, and each time we tried to bend it the answer was the same – no. We could have friends over to stay at our house, but never the other way around. In our minds we were the “freaks” who were missing out exciting fun times. We were the only kids who went to slumber parties and got picked up by their mum just as everyone was getting into their PJs, and then dropped back again in the morning for breakfast. We hated the rule and couldn’t understand why we had to be different.
Now many years later and a parent of three young children myself, I finally get it. What seemed so strict and unfair to me as a child, was actually quite common sense from my father whose goal was to protect his three young daughters as much as he could. His argument to Mum (who I think did try and twist his arm for us occasionally), was that you just never know what goes on in other people’s houses.
And how true that is.
Every day there’s a fresh news story about child abuse, abduction and worse; with a key message being that it’s often the people you know who are the culprits. Of course this doesn’t mean that you should suspect everyone on the block as a dodgy paedophile, but how do you actually know which is a trusted house? And even if the parents themselves are fine, how do you know there isn’t another person like a family friend that’s visiting when your child goes to stay, who you don’t know from a bar of soap?
To date my boys have only ever stayed over at my mum or sister’s house without me or my husband there. I trust my family and the boys love it. This year though, the topic of sleepovers at friends’ houses was raised a few times by my six-year-old, as many of his friends have started to do it. For now we’ve managed to avoid it by doing sleepovers with the cousins, or having friends over with their parents to camp in our backyard (a winner every time).
But next year I know the requests will come stronger and louder, so it’s time to decide where we lie on the matter.
It might seem harsh, and my boys will probably hate me for it, but I think it’s best to do as my dad did. Certainly it won’t protect them from lots of other situations (how can anyone protect a child 24/7)? But at least it will eliminate one area.
It Ain't A Kid's Party If Nobody's Drunk on This Glorious Mess.
Am I being too dramatic? I asked Elizabeth Neal, a psychologist who regularly works with families. According to her, sleepovers for young children are OK if the parents are well known to each other (e.g. trusted family members) and the child feels secure, but at the same time there’s nothing wrong with being protective of your own child and reserving some things for older ages.
And the best way to go about enforcing a ‘no sleepover’ rule with your kids?
“Confidence in your decision. These are our rules, some families have other rules. Validate how the child may feel about it, ‘I know it seems unfair but at the same time we are going to wait until we’re older for sleepovers,’” says Elizabeth.
OK I think I’m ready to lay down the law now. And in the meantime, I guess I’d better get ready for a whole lot of backyard camping action over the next few years!