The Joys (And Challenges) Of Extended Family Sleepovers

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Every summer, we spend two weeks with my in-laws. Every summer, we have a good time. But every summer, I’m very, very, very glad to get home by the end of it all. So are the other kids (not the grandkids; the grandkids cry every time we leave). Because the family sleepovers — well, the family sleepovers are a lot to take in.

Let’s start here: we’re truly grateful for them. Really. My father-in-law pays for everything, and these family sleepovers aren’t the type of vacation we could ever afford otherwise. So it’s very kind of him to invite us, very kind of him to include us, and a really important experience for our children. They look forward to them every single year. They ask us all year: when are we going? Is it soon? Will our cousins be there? Which cousins? When? For how long? The family sleepovers are one of the biggest highlights of their year.

But, well … the house has four bedrooms. The bedrooms are small. Into these four bedrooms we cram my children’s grandparents, my family of five, and my brother-in-law’s family of four. That’s a hell of a lot of people for family sleepovers. My sister-in-law usually shows up at some point and overlaps. She doesn’t stay in the house until someone else vacates, but she’s over with her brood of five during the day. Sixteen people. No one hangs out in the bedrooms, so we’re left with a living area … and eight kids ranging from preteen to age 2. Doesn’t help that three of them have ADHD, and another three speak at a volume usually reserved for those who have just exited a Metallica concert.

Family sleepovers usually mean a lot of people in a space meant for much fewer people. Everyone’s on top of one another, stumbling over each other for coffee in the morning, trying not to wake each other up, trying to make sure they don’t keep people up at night, assuring they aren’t offending people by what’s on TV.

In our house, the kids inevitably annoy each other; there’s nowhere to play unless we go to the beach, and you can only stay at the beach for so long, in between riptides and high temperatures and storms and all the beachy things that prevent the beach from being beachy. So people yell at the kids. Then other people yell at the people who yelled at the kids. I retreat to the bedroom to get away from all the noise so I don’t have a panic attack.

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That’s another problem: how do you discipline your kids? Because it’s guaranteed your family does it differently, and you’re going to clash over it sometime. It’ll be icky and ugly no matter how nice you try to be about it.

Family sleepovers make for a great time to catch up. Except when you have things you don’t really necessarily want to catch up on.

This year, I was thrilled to see my sister- and brother-in-law. We hung out. We talked. We watched TV. I told them about what was going on in my actual life, and they told me about what was going on in theirs. We talked kids and jobs and everything. Pretty awesome.

But then, with family sleepovers, the stuff you can hide on shorter visits comes out … like your new tattoos. You can’t hide those suckers for two whole weeks. Or maybe you smoke pot for pain relief (totally legal!) but you know your family will disapprove. For that length of time, too, eventually, awkward conversations about your life decisions will come up. You know, those life decisions your family doesn’t approve of. Maybe it’s the way you educate your kids, or the sports they play or don’t play, or where you choose to live or the job you have. It’s something. And in that amount of time, it will rise to the surface.

But the kids are always glad to see everyone. That’s what makes family sleepovers worth it: the kids. The kid don’t get any of the tension, so they’re happy to see Mom-Mom and Poppy, who shower them with presents; they’re glad to see aunts and uncles, who hug them, no matter how much they annoy they hell out of you. They love their cousins.

Well, most of them anyway.

Because — and this is the problem with family sleepovers — there may be some cousins who are more like frenemies, especially if they live far away. And you may need to mediate.

And it sucks, because everyone knows they hate each other, and everyone knows they don’t get along, and everyone sort of wants to blame it on one kid or another and you really hope it’s not your kid.

But in the end, you have a good time at family sleepovers. You get to see people you love (mostly), talk about things you all care about (mostly) and everyone makes an effort to assure people have a good time (mostly). You may be sleeping in close quarters and trying really, really hard not to annoy people, but it’s probably character-building or something.

Anyway, these are the people you have to live with for the rest of your life.

So you might as well learn to like it.