© Monkey Business Images | Dreamstime.com
Visiting grandparents for the weekend. Attending a slumber party. Spending a week at sleepover camp. Long before our children leave home to forge a life of their own, they take small steps towards independence, growing through experiences they have outside our care.
It can make us proud or sad (or a little of both) to drop off our children and drive away into a life without them for a spell, but it’s the stuff parenting is made of. It’s a dry run for the end of active parenting, looming somewhere ahead in their late teens or early 20s. If we do this parenting thing right, our kids will eventually leave home to begin building lives of their own.
If You Love Them, Let Them Go
When our children first begin forays into nights away from home, it’s important to help them find the sweet spot of comfortable independence. Sure, you worry about their first season away at summer camp, but don’t shackle them to your anxiety.
Don’t make your fear of snakes theirs, too. Yes, they might get into poison ivy or hear stuff you’d rather they stay naïve about for a few more years. But you know about the seedy underbelly of the overnight sleepovers because you went to them yourself. Children grow in different but important ways when they spend time away from the core family and share experiences with their friends, extended family, camp counselors, or scout leaders.
As parents, we get the privilege of having the most powerful influence on our child’s developing sense of self, their worldview, their understanding of their place in society. But children also need to see how others think and behave. They need to see that there are many ways a life can play out, many roles a person can play. These paths may be more or less pleasing to you as a parent, but ultimately, which path to take is your child’s decision to make. Children should feel comfortable making that decision independent from you, but parents should take comfort knowing your guidance will be a help color that decision.
They Do Come Back
Mom may make a great peanut butter sandwich, but she doesn’t make the only one in the world. Your family may play Monopoly with the Free Parking cash bonus rule, but not all families do. Your traditions feel right but they’re really only right for you.
Others do things differently, and a child that understands this, and can be totally fine with it, is growing up with the kind of social adaptability that will open doors in the future. There is a whole wide world of individual points of view out there, and some day your child will be faced with making their way in it, living among peers.
Your child should feel happy to have an adventure away from you. Certainly they’ll be thrilled to return to the warmth of your love and care at the end of their journey, and to tell you about and get your perspective on the things they’ve learned.
When Can I Go on a Sleepover?
- Age 5 to 6 is generally a good first time for friend sleepovers.
- Make sure your child can manage self-care tasks (toileting, bathing, brushing teeth)
- Talk to the other parents about the evening’s activities and let your child know what to expect.
- Send a backpack with PJs, toiletries, a pillow, and an extra set of clothes.
- Make sure phone numbers are exchanged in case of an emergency.