Opinion

Kids' sleepovers: Why I embrace the chaos (all the time!)

Emma Waverman shares why she hosts sleepovers almost every weekend—and why you should embrace the fun (and chaos).

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Photo: iStockphoto

Sleepovers are a regular activity in our household. Almost every weekend we have a couple of our kids’ friends over to spend the night. For birthdays, our kids host a  giant sleepover where they’re allowed to invite as many guests as their age. This tradition recently had me monitoring 12 grade-six boys invited to my son’s birthday—although there wasn’t much sleep for anyone. By the time it was over my basement smelled like nascent hormones and three-day-old socks. My son was thrilled and I was left cleaning up for two days. It was a great success. Some may think our birthday sleepover tradition a little crazy—and it is. We started it when our son was five and, as he got older, we figured “what’s one more kid?” Once you have more than five kids under one roof, it’s all a chaotic mess anyway.

Despite being sleepless and stuck with the mess, I don’t understand why some parents don’t allow sleepovers. Maybe it’s their own fear of losing control or maybe it’s because they don’t want to deal with grumpy kids. Dealing with cranky kids the day after is no party, but I would never deny my kids the lasting memories and blossoming friendships that come from slumber parties.

Parenting experts tend to agree that sleepovers are a good way for kids to gain important social tools and take those first steps towards independence. In fact, parenting author and mom-of-four Kathy Buckworth tells me that an important part of childhood is hanging out with friends without adult supervision, and that denying sleepovers is like “robbing kids of bits of their childhood.”

I think slumber parties are a rite of passage. Do you want your kid going to school on Monday having missed out on all the bonding experiences? What if your 18-year-old goes to university having never spent a night away from home? Your kid can probably handle a sleepover—but can you? To help you decide, I’ve listed some pros and cons of sleepovers based on my own experiences:

Pros
Getting to know your kids’ friends: You see another side of kids when they arrive rumpled and tired to the breakfast table. You identify the ones with good manners and the ones you’d rather not see again. You see them when they are nervous and when they are rambunctious. An overnight stint allows you to get in a little deeper and build relationships with some of the most important people in your child’s life.

Eavesdropping: This is not something I officially recommend. However, overheard snippets of conversations you will let you in on the latest crushes and gossip.

Learning independence: Sleepovers force kids to deal with a different set of nighttime routines and rules. Even if they choose to come home and not spend the night, they still learned a valuable lesson about their personal limits. I want to know my kids will survive even if I’m not there to bring them a glass of water at bedtime. A night or two away from home will build their confidence and social skills.

Giggling all night long: An incredible bonding experience, there is nothing quite like a midnight giggle session.

Afternoon naps: The only time my kids still nap is when they are exhausted from a sleepover the night before. Afternoon naps are nothing to complain about.

The hat trick: This is when all three kids sleep outside our home on the same night. It’s a rare and blessed night off.

Different dynamics at home: As much as I love the hat trick, I also appreciate the times when only one or two of our three kids is out for the night. Whether we go  to a movie or just hang out at home, focusing a little more attention on the remaining kids always feels good.

Cons
Inappropriate movies: It happens—but your kids will survive. Do you remember everything you watched when you were a little kid? Part of the excitement of sleepovers is watching something a little scary or a little too adult—it’s a traditional way for kids to push boundaries. When my husband and I are hosting we always make sure to check-in on what the kids are watching.

Possibility of danger: The fear that something awful could happen to your kid when they’re out of your reach is real. I only agree to sleepovers when I know the parents and I always double check with them about the arrangements for the night. I’ve refused my kids sleepover invites when I’ve had a funny feeling in my gut. However, I try not to let my anxiety get in the way (too much) when it comes to raising independent kids.

Grumpy kids: Navigating the sleepover aftermath with overtired, cranky kids is a pain. Everything is a hassle—particularly if your kids have extracurriculars later in the day or you need to drag them along on errands. The upside: they’ll likely pass out early.

The mess: Crumbs and toys strewn about, broken forts. Sleepovers create messes and sleep-deprived grumpy kids don’t exactly help with the clean up.

Grumpy parents: Playing sleep police is tiring. And getting up early to make sure those kids are fed a proper breakfast is an additional drag. My husband I have a teamwork approach: I take the evening shift and he does breakfast, but it still doesn’t do much to offset the exhaustion.

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them are fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman.

Originally published in April 2015.

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