The Great Sleepover Debate
When it comes to sleeping out, Cath Jenkin has a checklist that needs to be checked off.
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Now that we’re out of the woods around the big battles of babyhood and toddlerdom, we’re confronting new topics that raise big questions for most families.

While I’m far beyond the days of breast vs. bottle and trying to figure out a way to help my kid learn her ABCs, the big questions we’re asking ourselves aren’t any easier to tackle, as she grows up.

School Friends and Play Dates

In pre-school and the foundation years of primary school, play dates were all the rage. I loved them, because we get to distribute the mess of playtime between all our houses, and I got to make some truly great friends along the way. The kid my kid considers her ultimate BFF? Her mom is one of my closest confidantes too. I guess we got lucky in the playground politics and I’m ever so grateful for her.

Sleeping Over?

But if there’s one thorny issue she and I have always agreed on – it’s sleepovers. She and I have shared the view, from early on, that sleepovers are something to work towards, not something we sign up for the moment we’ve met another mom while doing tuckshop duties.

As it turns out though, we’ve both had to deal with many arched eyebrows and curious looks, because our approach seems to be the exception to the rule.

Your Family, Your Rules

For us, our rules are simple. They are pretty easy to understand too and take on the form of simple questions I’ll either answer myself, or ask the person who has invited my child over. Let’s call it a checklist:

  • If my child is invited to a sleepover at your house, do I know you? (You’d be amazed at how many people I don’t know at all, have invited my child over for a sleepover)

  • Is my child independent enough to sleep over, away from home? Of course, this question is easily answered nowadays, as she’s far out of the years of nappies and needing help to get dressed. But I still check on that independence every time, and my daughter takes her phone with her so we can stay in touch.

  • If I don’t know you, are you willing to form a friendship with me, so that I can get to know you better, before sending my child to stay the night at your house?

  • What are your rules around sleepovers, and who will be at home with the kids when my child is at your house? (Again, I’m speaking from experience here, when someone invited my kid over for the night, and then promptly told me they’d be going out, but would hire a babysitter that I didn’t know).

  • Is there a backup plan? If my child gets sick, feels unwell or just wants to come home, what is my backup plan and yes, if I have plans to go out while my child is away from home, I will cancel them immediately. Whatever the time or circumstance, call me if my child needs me.

  • What are you planning for the sleepover? Are you going out to dinner, or planning an excursion? Please tell me beforehand so that I know where my child will be at all times.
  • And lastly, how often has my child had a sleepover this month? Sleepovers aren’t supposed to be a regular Friday night event, in my view, because family time is precious too. So no, sorry, if my child slept out already this week, she’s not coming over to yours tonight.

Exceptions To The Rule

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule – popping over to grandparents for the night, or spending the night at her cousins’ house is different. When it comes to family I trust, sleepovers are never an issue, unless there’s a diary clash.

You Need To Let Go A Little, Mom

And this is where I need to stand on my soapbox. When I’ve asked that list of questions above to parents that have invited my child over for the evening, I have, in the past, been rebuffed.

Worse still, I’ve been made out to be some sort of extra-paranoid mother who doesn’t trust anyone. In that respect, they’re totally right and I’m doubly so when you start questioning the way my family operates.

It’s our family, these are our rules: you may have different ones to us, and that's okay. I’ll respect yours and you respect mine (but no, my child isn’t coming over for a sleepover).

That’s turned out to be a great way to sniff out people I would trust my child with, because the moment I feel anything but comfortable, my answer becomes a straight “No, thanks.”

You’re Welcome In My House Anytime

There’s another element to this, and I think I’ll cover it here: when we invite your child over for a sleepover, I expect you to ask the same questions of me…in fact, I invite them and try to answer them before they even come up.

Before I have a child sleep over at our house, I’ll also check if they have any food allergies, ask mom or dad what their usual bedtime is and hey, do you want to pop in for coffee when you drop your child off? Just as much as I want to be able to trust fellow parents with my child, I want them to feel that they can trust me with their child too.

After all, our children are our most precious gifts, so why wouldn’t we want to be absolutely as certain as possible of their safety and happiness?

What our readers say:

We asked our Facebook fans what they thought about sleepovers and the rules around them:

From what age do you allow sleepovers? What are your rules? Send us an email to chatback@parent24.com and tell us your thoughts?

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