Growing up, I used to resent my parents for saying no to the vast majority of sleepover invites. I felt like I was missing out on something, some important aspect of growing up. I remember begging my mom to attend a friend’s birthday party for weeks, only to hear no over and over again. When I asked her why, my mom’s answer was always the same: I don’t know her dad. I didn’t really get it. In fact, I thought she was being paranoid. He was a dad, he had kids; how could he be dangerous?
As I grew older, we reached a compromise: My mom would drop me off at the start of the sleepover, I would stay for a few hours and she would swing back by before the adults in the house went to bed for the night. A few times I was given the green light for a sleepover, but a yes was reserved for invitations from families my parents knew well, longtime friends they felt they could trust.
The craziest part of this whole thing is that as I have grown older and my relationships with childhood friends have changed, I have learned from these friends that there were dads and brothers and friends in our community who were dangerous and that my mom had probably protected me from sexual abuse by saying no to sleepovers.
It’s funny, as much as I hated this family rule as a kid, I totally get it now that I am mom. In fact, this is a page I am taking from my mom’s parenting manual.
Our kids won’t be going on sleepovers anytime soon.
My reason behind this is exactly the same as my mom’s. I know it is my job to protect my children the best I can, and saying no to sleepovers is one way I plan to do that. I know that an estimated one in 10 children will be sexually abused before they turn 18, and that that number may even be low because of underreporting. I also know that 90 percent of the time, a child who is being abused will know the perpetrator.
This means, if I want to do my best to protect my children from abuse, I need to be paying attention to the time they spend with friends, family members, teachers and the parents of their friends.
It is really awful to consider that the people we casually hang out with or see in passing at church might be dangerous to my children. But as far as I am concerned, until I know someone really really well, I am not putting my child in a situation where they could be alone with another adult or even an older friend. Because of this, we just plan to say no to sleepovers. An overnight feels like too much time to trust my kid to someone I don’t know very well. We even specifically chose a church that background checks its volunteers and has strict rules that a single adult can never be alone with the kids in the nursery or Sunday school.
Moving forward, we might loosen the reins a bit. I can see myself saying yes to some of our closest friends or letting my kids stay into the late evening like my mom did as I grew older. I don’t look forward to saying no to my kids or trying to explain to friends why I would prefer my child didn’t stay the night at their houses, but I know it is my right and obligation as the mom to draw the boundaries I feel will keep my kids safe.
Making a decision like this isn’t easy. It is really important to me that I don’t parent out of fear, or over-analyze every situation I allow my child to enter. I understand that I can’t protect my child from every negative experience. I know that even if I am hyper-vigilant about teaching my kids about protecting their bodies and keeping them away from compromising situations, there is still a chance they could become victims. Still, when I weigh the potential consequences of loosening the reins on this rule, it seems too risky. I would much rather annoy my kids or even offend a friend by drawing a line in the sand when I think it will keep my child safe.
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