To Sleepover or Not to Sleepover?

sleepoverpicOur kids’ annual birthday marathon just finally ended—thank God. Seriously…it’s the biggest pain every year to have three of our kids’ birthdays back-to-back. July. August. September. No reprieve. And having two of them at the beginning of the school year just convolutes things even more. Nevermind that my 40th b-day was also thrown into the mix this year.

It’s all about the kids, right?

My husband and I decided a few years back that we’d switch to the every-other-year birthday celebration idea, but somehow one slipped through the cracks this year. This was actually supposed to be our off year.

“What happened? I thought we were going to skip birthday parties this year?” my husband asked.

“Yah. I don’t know what happened. But we started the cycle—no going back now,” I replied.

Our March birthday kid must have somehow hypnotized me. Either that or she used her covert charm and mad skills to cast me under her birthday spell.

Anyway…she totally snuck past my radar.

But now we were stuck and obligated to fulfill the rest of this year’s birthday round. One kid was also turning 13—so that was a significant milestone. Next year, my other daughter will turn 13—it always seems to be something.

Somehow we keep getting looped back in.

Birthday parties wouldn’t be such panic-inducing material for me if I had better boundaries with my children. My overly optimistic perspective is my downfall every year. Somehow each of my kids manages to slyly cram two birthday parties into one event. And my alarm bell must be broken, because it doesn’t RING that it’s a bad idea until it’s way too late.

“Sure you can have a couple of kids spend the night after the party. Why not?”

But the couple of kids somehow turns into four or five. And it’s never a quiet night. It usually turns into eight wild banshees running around my house, having the time of their lives, and a 10pm food fest—as the natives become starving again.

Shoot. I only planned snacks, dinner and dessert, and breakfast for the next morning. What do I feed them now?

Our yearly birthday hoorah wouldn’t cause me nearly as much anxiety if the kids could just invite our regulars—aka those kids who have been over before and whose parents already know the drill. You know…the families who totally get it when I answer the door in my pajamas Sunday morning in total sleep-deprivation, birthday-hangover mode. No judgment.

“Yah, I WON’T be going to church today. Can you bring me coffee when you pick up your kid?”

Seriously though, I think the two hardest party variables that I deal with every year are the new-kid ingredient and the sleepover element.

The new-kid ingredient usually entails a lot of extra planning and detailed communication. It means texting new parents from tiny scraps of paper that my kids have brought home from school. It means awkward introductions and really hoping that the numbers are correct. It means using my college marketing degree to parent-smooze and YES, even includes name dropping. I mean, COME ON, I’m trying to sell someone on coming to our party, right?

“You know so-and-so, right? Yah, their kid is TOTALLY coming to our party. Their parents trust me. I’m legit. Promise. Oh, and I have my daughter looking up at me with her puppy-dog eyes, so please don’t say no.”

Then once I get past the awkward introductions, I get to tip-toe around the hot sleepover topic because I actually told my daughter YES for some crazy reason. I’m a glutton for punishment apparently.

My mommy friends tell me every year that I’m loco for trying to cram so much in.

But back to the sleepover topic. It’s a very real and hot issue among parents these days. Our world is such a crazy, messed-up place. It’s wise to be aware and careful about where we leave our children unsupervised.

If I could be completely real and transparent when texting a new parent about a sleepover, I think I’d give this party and family disclaimer:

“Hi. My kid would love to invite your kid over to our house for a sleepover party next Saturday. I promise we aren’t psychopaths, your child won’t get molested at our house, and we don’t watch porn. But YES, I will feed your kid gluten and sugar, they will most likely be inundated with “high school musical” songs, and they will probably come home totally zombified from too-much play and not-enough sleep. I’ve been told our house is like Disneyland. Hope your kid can come.”

Keeping it real, right?

I TOTALLY get it though. Slumber parties, aka sleepovers, are such a tricky dynamic. Plus, they are a TON of work. I encounter it every time I plan one of my sleepover-obsessed kid’s parties. And every year I swear that next time, I’m only going to let my kids invite our regulars—that is, if I ever do a sleepover again.

Sleepover parties are like giving birth. I don’t remember the pain of them until I actually have another one.

I USED to be one of the ANTI-sleepover moms. I didn’t let my kids do ANY sleepovers when they were little. It was just too much emotional and physical hassle to even think about. Plus, I knew that once I unlocked that door, the floodgates would rush in, contagious sleepover-fever would hit, and my kids would start keeping detailed tallies. My kids are like fairness Nazis. They are zealously aware of any scale imbalances.

“But I haven’t had a sleepover in two weeks. That’s not FAIR!”

You’re right. It’s because I play favorites. I must not have balanced my Excel-sleepover spreadsheet this month. Not to mention that my son doesn’t understand why he can’t have sleepovers like his sisters.

Sleepovers are just a PAIN. Plain and simple. I’m still not really a fan. But I host them anyway, and I let my kids go to a fair amount of them now that they are older.

Why?

Two reasons:

First reason: I have SO many good memories from my own childhood sleepovers. They were, for the most part, positive learning experiences. It wasn’t just about the fun. I was able to watch how other families lived. It was like traveling the world and learning about other family cultures. I also got to know some of my friends’ parents—a little outside mentoring never hurts.

Yes, there were the occasional times when I watched a scary movie that I never would have been allowed to watch at home. There was one friend’s brother who was highly inappropriate in his conversations. But for the most part, what I gleaned was way better than my handful of negative experiences.

I know that I CAN’T protect my kids every minute of every day. I know my kids hear bad words and other inappropriate material even at school. But I know what I CAN do. My kids and I talk about these things afterwards. And I PRAY.

Every morning I pray for God’s protection over my kids’—spirit, soul, and body. I pray that God guards their eyes, ears, and hearts. I pray that God edits their people interactions. I declare the promises of Psalm 91’s protection.

The second reason I allow sleepovers is that I decided years ago that I didn’t want to make my parenting decisions out of fear and paranoia. Instead, I wanted to make them out of wisdom and peace—which is actually a much trickier road to navigate.

It WOULD be so much easier just to say NO. To say our family doesn’t do sleepovers.

I’ve encountered two common sides of this Sleepover Road in my lifetime. One is the side of permissiveness and naiveté. My parents landed on this side. They were pretty clueless in general about what could happen at a playdate or sleepover. Trust me, bad stuff can happen at playdates in the daytime too. I had way more bad things happen to me as a young, unsupervised child dropped off at a friend’s house than I EVER had happen at a sleepover in my older childhood years.

The second is the side of fear or paranoia—usually including but not limited to the complete opting-out of sleepovers. I know many parents who choose to walk on this side of the Sleepover Road. I have zero judgment for them. I totally get it. Anyone who has ever experienced trauma in their childhood has a tendency to take this route. And even without the experience of trauma, opting-out of sleepovers feels much safer, is less hassle, and it avoids those awkward conversations of having to say no to invitations.

People generally respect the family sleepover opt-out.

There are days when I think about re-opting back out of sleepovers. But each time I see the excited anticipation in my kids’ eyes and hear of their fun sleepover exploits, I decide not to.

Instead, I try to walk in the middle of this Sleepover Road. I walk cautiously and I have to use discernment. I have certain friends’ homes that I allow them to frequent, and there are certain homes I will not allow them to go to–no matter how much they beg me.

But with new people, I have to check in with God and see whether I have peace about any upcoming invites. I ask questions that will help me weed out uncomfortable variables. I want to know who else lives at the house, who else will be spending the night, and what movies they will be watching.

I also try to be clear about our family’s own rules and boundaries, because I know that each family is its own organism with differing values and norms.

I have to always use communication, discernment, peace and prayer. These are crucial tools to use in making any decision. I also employ the weapons of research and education. I try to learn more about the families of my kids’ friends and I educate my children on how to stay safe. 

I try to educate my kids on how to walk in authority, have good physical and emotional boundaries, and how to also trust their intuition when someone or something feels “off” or “creepy”. Plus, they know that they can always call me if something goes south.

These are tools I never had as a child.

And honestly—a lot of times if I say no to an invitation, it’s just because we are already busy or oversaturated in parties. So if I say no to your kid’s party, don’t take it personally.

I promise not to take your no personally either. If I happen to invite your kid to one of our future sleepovers and you say no, I will not be offended. And I won’t automatically assume you have some deep trauma in your past.

Instead, I will assume you are a fantastic parent who adores your child and is trying to protect them to the best of your ability. Your kid can still come to Part One of our party. Because that’s how I roll.

To Sleepover or Not to Sleepover? That is the question.

Because it’s not a question of morality: what is right or wrong.

It’s a family decision.

You get to decide which part of the Sleepover Road to walk.

Party on.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

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