For many girls, her first sleepover is a rite of passage. Just the prospect of getting to spend an ENTIRE NIGHT with one of her besties is enough to fill her with so much excitement that you’d think she was going to hang out with a real, live, honest-to-gosh unicorn. Plans will be made over the phone, in the cafeteria, and elaborate lists will be drawn up that detail every food to be consumed, movie to be watched, and every friendship bracelet to be braided.
I still remember fragments of my first sleepover – in maybe 2nd or 3rd grade – that included learning that jumping on a waterbed is not a good idea and that touching an electric fence was an even worse idea. Despite those things, I apparently wasn’t too emotionally scarred because I went on to have many more sleepovers throughout the rest of my school career.
While I made it out alive and mostly unscathed, when I look back on some of the things that occurred at sleepovers, it definitely gives me pause when someone invites my elementary-aged daughter to spend the night.
I have had parents, on more than one occasion, message me to ask if my daughter can spend the weekend at their lake house hours away. Some of these parents I’ve never seen with my own two eyeballs, or even heard their voice. The fact that near-strangers expect I’d let my child go away with them strikes me as odd. And like I said, this has happened more than once and involving different families.
It makes me wonder – are these people crazy or am I being overly cautious?
From a young age, my parents and grandparents always instilled in me how important it was to tell them if someone tried to touch me inappropriately. It was an especially ominous warning, due to the fact that a relative had been groped by her friend’s father while staying at the friend’s home.
Obviously not everyone is a child predator. But some people are and I’ve had close brushes with a couple of legit child molesters that scared the Hello Kitty out of me. One of these was a friend’s stepdad, who I was supposed to spend a night with in junior high. Something just felt off and I had my mom pick me up in the middle of the night. Thank you, intuition. It wasn’t until years later I found out he had been molesting my friend for years.
The most recent encounter was with a guy I considered a friend. I hung out with him and his girlfriend many times before and after I had my first child. His father was a preacher, he was involved in religious clubs in college, and attended church services regularly. I would have never hesitated bringing him around my child. Imagine my surprise when he was arrested by the FBI for highly disturbing photos of children, some taken himself. It completely shocked me and made me hyper-aware that people aren’t always what they appear to be.
Aside from potentially inappropriate behavior, I also worry about the general safety of my child at another child’s home. And by child, I mean anywhere from a grade schooler to a senior in high school. It isn’t a given that we have the same ideas about parenting, and it is an uncomfortable conversation to have to have.
Do you have guns in your home and are they locked up safely? Do you use recreational drugs or prescription drugs that may alter your ability to adequately supervise the kids? Do you have alcohol in your home where the kids can access it? Will you be actually keeping up with what the kids are doing or will you be locked in your bedroom, letting the kids have free reign?
Yes, I may be a bit of a worrier, but my own experiences at friends’ homes over the years have led me to want to protect my kids from situations that they are not equipped to navigate. I’ve stayed at friends’ houses where we were running around and sneaking out in the middle of the night. I’ve been in homes where there was underage drinking and smoking. I shudder to think about my children being exposed to some things I was exposed to while under the care of another’s parents.
Full disclosure: my daughter has stayed the night at her best friend’s house twice. Although I’ve been acquainted with her parents for many years – even predating the birth of our children – and I’ve spent enough time with them to get a good idea of the kinds of people they are, my heart still skips a beat thinking about all the what-ifs that could happen. It’s a calculated risk to try to give my daughter some normalcy. Lord help me when she goes to college. Do they make Baby Bjorns to carry 18 year olds?
But seriously, my kids are irreplaceable and so are yours. No one wants to be the crazy mom who says no to everything, but it’s okay to do due diligence. Ask the uncomfortable questions.