The other day, Connor came home with a birthday invitation. Normally this occurrence does not cause any concern, other than “what are we going to get for a present? What do you know about them? Do they have any wants?” You know, the usual sorta thing. This invitation was different though.
It was an invite for a sleep-over party. And the birthday celebrant is a girl.
I like to think of myself as a fairly modern woman, easy going and adaptable. I try to be an engaged parent, who’s friend enough with her kids that they want to talk to me, and spend time with me, while at the same time being the authority figure. I like to be seen as reasonable, supportive and accommodating. When I read that invitation though, all thoughts of fun and openness flew out the window. “Some hussy wants to spend the night with my baby boy??? I don’t think so!”
Okay, not quite. But you know me: I do have a mild flare for the drama.
It did put me into a minor state of alarm though… these kids are 8 year-olds, for the most part… Is it acceptable to have co-ed sleep-overs, with people to whom you are not related, when you’re this old? So I did what any reasonable person does when faced with a dilemma: I posted it to facebook. And what a flurry of commentary that brought on!
Before I go on, I feel that I should share something very personal with you. Here’s why: it fully colours my perspective and influences my thought processes around parenting. Even more so when considering the “co-ed sleepover” type questions. I am a survivor of sexual abuse. My first offense happened when I was 6. So to be honest, I was surprised when we had “the talk” with Connor recently that he didn’t know what sex was.
There’s a fine line, I think, between responsible parenting and imposing your own experiences on your children. It’s not that I think because he was invited to a co-ed sleepover at the age of 8 that he will be molested, or made to do something that he doesn’t want to do. It’s not that I’m worried about the parents of this little girl treating my son inappropriately either. When I posted my concern about this invite to facebook, a friend of mine who has some shared history with me made her position clear: do not send the kid, kids are into “show me yours, I’ll show you mine” and he will be… for lack of a better word, unsafe.
Because of my history, I know what she’s talking about. I’m not worried about the adults in the host-home for the sleepover, it’s that there will be other children there, who may have had the terrible misfortune of experience like mine. And once that train is out of the station, there is no turning back. Abused children instigate these games because they are innocent and are unaware that what they are suggesting is highly inappropriate. I know this because my first offender was not the picture you think of when you think “child abuser”. My first offender was a child, who was engaging in play with me the way someone else – likely an adult in a position of trust – had played with him.
Ultimately, I am likely to allow Connor to spend the night. What’s important to me is that there is another boy attending because I think that will make him feel a lot more comfortable. I know that Connor has a very strong sense of himself, is not easily swayed to do what he is not comfortable with (have you met MOMD? Connor is so much like his Dad) and he has a very firm grasp on privacy and his need for it. I do not think he will engage in inappropriate behaviour. I trust him to be a perfect little 8-year-old boy.
The 6-year-old girl in me is very proud of him, and is working every day to let him go and live his own life.