Saturday, January 12, 2008

Sleepover Shame

There has been quite the discussion over at my friend Wendy’s blog.

Wendy posed the question of whether parents (who read her blog) allow their children to have or go to sleepovers. She and her own husband are against them, and she wanted to know what other parents thought.

Now, I am a Non-Mom and probably should have kept my mouth shut (but when have you known me to do that?).

I waded right in. Several parents had already commented and the across-the-board answer was “no sleepovers.”

I was mystified. Now, I know I don’t HAVE kids, but I WAS a kid. More to the point, I was a kid who lived for sleepovers. So, I asked the question WHY so many parents were against any kind of sleepovers.

Wendy, who reminds me in shades of my dearest friend October, pointed out it was a protection thing. Actually, she called it “Mama Lion,” which I found not only descriptive but charming. Wendy, you have the soul of a writer!

First, she explained her and her husband’s no-sleepovers-decision was based mostly on family issues. Some people in their family want their kids to spend the night, and they just aren’t comfortable with it.

Then, she went on to explain the nature of danger that can arise at a sleepover. The house in question could store guns. An older brother or sister might be into drugs. An uncle could drop by and wander into the kids’ rooms. You don’t know what other parents might think is acceptable entertainment for your kids.

The list went on, and I started to get a little horrified.

“How awful,” I thought. “Being unable to trust anyone else with your children for a single night. Just think what might happen to them!”

I posted a second comment and thanked Wendy for explaining it to me.

On the drive home, I contemplated that maybe I don’t want kids after all. What a weighted responsibility! And I was ashamed I’d never thought of those things happening at a sleepover.

Later that night, as Brett and I sat in the Jacuzzi, I asked him if he’d ever had sleepovers as a little boy.

“Sometimes,” he said. “I remember at a couple of friends’ houses and my cousins’ once or twice.”

“That’s it?” I was surprised.

My experience was apparently rare. I practically lived at sleepovers growing up.

The common practice in my school/church was the whispered “You ask your mom if I can spend the night at your house. If she says no, we’ll ask my mom if you can spend the night at my house.”

This happened (I kid you not) once a week. At least. The only rule was NOT to ask any moms in FRONT of the kid you were asking over, since moms hate being put on the spot!

Sleepovers were usually on Friday nights, but I remember lots of sleepovers on Saturday night with the parent exchange on Sunday at church.

I spent the night with church friends, neighbor kids, my classmates, and sometimes some girl I’d just met at a birthday party.

I don’t ever remember my parents being opposed to it.

Except for one time, I guess, when my friend Ady’s dad (her parents were divorced) came to pick her up. My parents had already given me permission to spend the night at Ady’s dad’s house, but when he rode up on a Harley – all bets were off.

Ady was disappointed, but my Dad talked to her dad, and just explained he wasn’t comfortable with me riding on a motorcycle. Especially not with two other people.

Other than that, I don’t recall it ever being a big deal.

I have such fond memories of those sleepovers! As an only child, I loved spending the night with others – getting to see how their nighttime routine was different than mine.

I also remember being shipped off to sleepovers when Mom and Dad needed to have a “sleepover.” If you know what I mean. Eww. That’s what I thought then, and that’s what I think now.

I never once thought about the fact that Amy’s parents let us watch The Facts of Life. Since we didn’t have a TV, I was just happy to be entertained. Although, we spent most of the night in her room playing Barbies.

I remember sharing under-the-sheets secrets, whispered through the rosy glow of a Strawberry Shortcake flashlight.

My best friend Tania still came for sleepovers in high school. Since she was deaf, we never watched TV, but played games, baked cookies, and ate frosting out of the can. YUM!

I also LIVED at my cousins’ house. With their three girls to my one, it was a natural sleepover waiting to happen. And the times we had!

I recounted my stories to Brett last night, along with the discussion on Wendy’s blog.

“Do you think that parents today are overly protective, or that they have to be overly protective because the world today sucks?” I asked.

Now, I don’t know why I expected a straight answer. Brett is, after all, a Soderstrom. And Soderstroms are notorious for being unable to GIVE a straight answer.

“I think it’s a little bit of both. They become the former because of the latter.”

Note: If you ever give Brett a choice, and one choice includes the words “because the world sucks” THAT is most definitely the answer he will choose.

He went on to explain that the “world today” is different than the world we grew up in.

“But I rode my bike to Ben Franklin and the library. I played in the neighborhood all day, and Mom had no idea where I was until it was dinnertime!”

“Me, too!” He agreed. “But it’s different now.”

His response gave me pause. Is it really different now?

I thought of my friend Jill who wouldn’t let her son play in the front yard of their very safe neighborhood. She lived in constant fear of someone snatching him out of her yard if she looked away for a second.

I thought of my friend Julie who moved out of her urban neighborhood because people drove their cars too fast for the residential speed limit. She worried her sons would wander into the street and get hit.

I thought of my friend Angie who wonders what her kids are “watching” while at their friends’ houses. She aims to be THE neighborhood house where kids come to see her kids, so her kids won’t feel the need to wander to other homes.

I thought of my friend Wendy, and her parent friends, who won’t let their kids go to sleepovers. To protect them. To guard them. To keep them safe.

And I pondered again the questions of “Is it really a different world?”

You know, I don’t think it is.

I believe there are the same number of child molesters now as there was then. The same number of kids on drugs. The same houses with guns. The same creepy uncles.

The difference is –we didn’t know about it then.

The expose culture that exists today can scare us to death. Anything can go wrong. And it can. But it won’t always. Anything can happen. And it can. But it won’t always.

I’m not judging any of the parents above. I love and respect these people. I hold them in high regard as people and especially as parents who see it as their duty to protect the young charges God has given them.

Perhaps, what I feel is the loss of community. The loss of the safeness I felt as a child.

It is very possible I could have been molested at any of my hundreds of sleepovers. I could have been exposed to drugs, accidentally shot, or seen a movie that traumatized my young mind.

I could have. But I didn’t.

Later, in Junior High, when I WAS approached to start smoking and drinking – at a sleepover, no less – I had the strength to say no. Because my church friends and I had practiced how we would say “No” to drugs and alcohol – at another sleepover.

I don’t defend the sleepover, here, you see. It was good parenting and godly friends that helped me resist the siren song of addictives.

And perhaps the sleepover is gone. Poofed. Vanished in the shroud of the might happen, could happen, and To Catch a Predator.

And it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It’s just sad.

I feel for all those lonely little girls out there who will never experience secrets shared under the covers, the “lights out” bellowed by sleepy parents, and the nighttime smiles, giggles, and laughter illuminated by the rosy glow of a Strawberry Shortcake flashlight.


Charity said...

This blog really got me going! We can't protect our children from bad things all of the time. We can only pray over them and teach them to know what to do and how to handle themselves. Bad things can and will happen and yes I do believe we need to carefully guard their hearts and their life. But as parents you can't keep the FREEDOM of childhood from them. We went over to people's houses all the time but our parent's were very selective. Kids need to know how to be without their parents because they won't always have them with them. Parent's need to let their children go off, not on their own, without them hovering. Then parent's need to make sure that if something does go wrong they are prepared to handle it in a correct manne, by freely allowing their children to discuus events that may have taken place.
I don't mean to sound like I know what is going on when it comes to parenting but I have been around kids and parents quite a bit. I had a wonderful pair of parents myself and I think they gave us just the right amount of freedom growing up so that when we left we knew how to behave without them but we also knew that if something went wrong they were there to help us fix it.

psturg said...

I concur. We have already let Molly sleep over at a neighbors house a couple of times. We let our kids run around the neighborhood without us. Spencer rides his little bike around our neighborhood with his friends and usually gets left by himself due to the fact that they are all much older and he rides a really little bike that goes a lot slower. As a result he ends up riding around for a while and coming home by himself. That's okay. It's good for him. We have received a few subtle statements and raised eye brows from people at church because we don't constantly worry about our kids. We have kids over alot and our kids go over to other people's homes alot. We have had to teach our kids not to say things they learned from other kids. This is all part of life and each instance is an opportunity to teach our children. Our neighborhood is full of kids and they are all, for the most part, running all over the place. I think it's great. HERE! HERE!

Heidi said...

I would have to agree with Charity and Aaron. I do think it is a different world than when we grew up, but we don't have to deprive our kids of some of those things. I don't let my kids play in the front yard unsupervised, but the fenced in back yard is okay. They have not been invited to sleepovers yet, but I would have no problem of letting them go, depending of course on the house. If the parent smokes pot, then it is not okay. If they are a Christian and we know them well, then I wouldn't have a problem with it.
I think we can protect our kids too much. We have to give them to God as He is Sovereign. When kids live life in a bubble, then they freak out when they get into the real world.
Hey, that's my 2 cents for what it's worth.

kittifrickit said...

I concur 3x.

Anonymous said...

I agree that it the world seems different because of the publicity...and if it's not bad news, then it's usually not news at all... so if you listen to the news and you have kids, most of the news seems to be about that father who threw all four of his children off an 80 foot bridge...and you think -- Wow! if my kid was at his house would he have thrown him over too? But then, if you know your neighbors, or whoever the kids will be with is it really so dangerous? I spent lots of nights at friends houses. I enjoyed it most of the time. I was always safe. I can't remember not having fun. No bad movies, no guns, no drugs, EVER. But I don't like my kids staying at other people's houses. Then what would I have done if Jodi hadn't kept them for me when the last one was born? And when they wouldn't let me take my own baby home and my husband was out of the country and my parents were three states away... what if Wendy hadn't kept them for me one night? I just don't relish it. I would be more inclined if I lived by my brothers or my Dad and Mom.

PS A LOT .... it's two words, just like A LITTLE.

LaurenA said...

It may seem like a different world, but perhaps it is only a better known world. The passage of the Mondale Act in 1974 required states to report suspected physical and sexual abuse of children. As a result, there was a 2000% increase in reports of sexual abuse of kids. As this became known, parental assumptions and optimism were deeply affected.

Ann-Marie said...

First of all, thank you all for reading that freakin' LONG post. I didn't realize HOW long it was until I was scrolling through just now.

Charity, Aaron, Candice, and Heidi - THAT'S WHAT I THOUGHT! When I saw so many parents were against the sleepover, I was shocked and thought, "Maybe I'm the one who's in the dark." You have restored my sanity. Apparently, it's a divided subject matter.

Tob - I love you, a lot. Not just a little. I think it's super sweet you want your kids with you. And your kids are lucky to have a mom who wants them nearby. I know people who'd sell their kids at a garage sale, for a moment of peace.

Welcome Lauren! I'm glad we are operating in a safer world. The statistics are much appreciated!

WendyJanelle said...

Hmmm...ah, dear friend. I like your post. But now I'm scared to even answer. I riled up enough people on my own blog!! I thought it was a pretty tame question. I just stated what we do and why, and asked what others do. No judgements or anything. Everyone has to do what they feel is best for their children.

But here goes:
I'm not against sleepovers. I'm just against them for MY kids and I have good reasons. I'm not an ultra-over-protective mama lion. I'm a well-adjusted and precautious mama lion who lets my kids play sports, go to church activities, spend time at relatives' homes (some of them), and go to birthday parties...all without me around. They also play alone in our fenced yard, with me checking in on them every so often. But I wouldn't ever let them go overnight... partly because my own experiences were much different than yours, Ann-Marie. And I would never let them ride out of sight on their bikes. Of course, my kids are 8-, 6-, 3-years old and a 9-month old baby. They will get more freedom as they get older and show that they can be responsible.

And, for the record, I do think the world has changed. We know more now, but it has also gotten worse.
So there! ;-) heh heh (You don't really know me that well but I'm pretty laid back, I think, and I'm not easily offended... )

Ann-Marie said...

Wendy, I already like you so much! You are obviously an excellent parent.

And (though I didn't ask permission, oops!) thank you for letting me piggyback off your post. You're an angel!

Our own experiences no doubt shape us and change us and make us into the people and parents we become. I'm sorry to hear your experiences as a child were less than stellar.

It's sort of like - if my child (God willing I ever have one) has a childhood bully in shades of the one I had - you better believe I'll get involved. I wouldn't want the same hellish experience - because of mine.

Thank you for not being offended by the post - I'm all for the discussion, though, in good nature, since I love that we can talk to others and discover other points of view. Or why certain people do or don't do things. The more we understand how we are all the same; I think we realize we can't judge anyone.

Thanks again for being so great! (I feel like I'm getting to know you better...and let me tell you - I can TOTALLY see why you and Tob are friends. And I'm just grateful you're both mine, too! – I’m kinda weird)

LaurenA said...

Although there is no way to guarantee a child's safety, a parent's concern can make a big difference in protecting a youngster, and there are obviously a lot of very concerned and dedicated parents reading this blog.
One thing that may help parents and kids is to teach kids the "escape hatch" rule, which is that you never go into a place that you can't get out of. I learned this as a child when my sister used to call me down to the basement, and then race upstairs and lock the door, trapping me. I would howl and yell, and she would laugh like crazy. But after a couple of times, I learned to watch out for her, and to avoid going into places I couldn't get out of.
Any child can learn this, so that when a youngster is asked to get into a car or a van or a garbage truck or a motorcycle, or a friend's brother's basement, she runs away.
We don't have to instruct kids on the details of sexual assaults, but we can teach them to make sure they always have an escape hatch in any situation.