I remember my first sleepover vividly. I was 9 years old and it was a school friend. Nice house, nice parents, nice friend.
It just wasn’t my house.
By dinnertime, I was freaking out. Their food was different, I didn’t like it but forced myself to eat it. Then I got a headache, and my dad came and picked me up. I can’t recall if I actually had one, faked one or willed one on. What I do know is this: I had never been so relieved to get home to my own bed.
Teenage years arrived and a sleepover happened here and there, mostly at my best friends house. Her place was like mine, I felt comfortable there. But I was still a homebody, then and today. I don’t like staying at anyone’s house, I prefer a hotel.
My first son had sleepovers and then went to boarding school: the never ending sleepover. It was during his second year that I was told a story by someone close to me that changed my views on them for good. This man years prior had lived in a unit with his wife and small daughter, who played with the kids next door. The wife had already had her first daughter when they married, and they added two more. The two fathers used to have a beer together. They were two normal families.
Or so it seemed.
Years later it came out the man next door had been sexually abusing his step-daughter, and no one knew. Not her mother. Not her sisters. And not her neighbours.
From that point on I was turned off sleepovers. Apart from family members, my kids were staying in their own beds, with me and my husband close by. Where I knew where they were, what they were doing, and that they were safe.
“Sleepovers are a child’s rite of passage. Sleepovers are fun. Kids enjoy them. You can’t wrap them in cotton wool forever. Kids need to learn to be independent. You’re depriving them. Not everyone is a paedophile.” They’re just some of the reactions I’ve heard when I let people know we don’t do them.
What a load of bullshit. If I’m not going to wrap them in cotton wool who is? How is sleeping in someone else’s house a necessity? How is it beneficial at 5, 7 or 9 years of age being in unfamiliar
surroundings in the middle of the night? What if my middle child who sleepwalks does that in a strange place? Do I think everyone is a child molester? No, I don’t. Not at all. I just see no reason for sleepovers now, or in the near future for my children.
And I won’t be changing that rule until we decide to, if ever.