Before the pandemic drastically changed the way we and our kids socialize, sleepovers were a big part of my nine-year-old’s weekend plans. My twins have had a couple of sleepovers, but they’re younger and not quite ready for overnights at a friend’s house. The rules when having a sleepover—either at home or at someone else’s house—are simple: be respectful, lights out by 9:00 p.m. and asleep by 9:30 p.m., and if you or your friend want to go home for any reason then that is always allowed without shame or pressure to stay. The rules never include restrictions based on gender. My kids have friends of all genders and my ex and I don’t have any problem with mixed gender playdates, camps, or sleepovers. If you have a no co-ed sleepover rule, let me give you reasons why it’s time to update your way of thinking.
The generic idea that boys and girls shouldn’t be left alone or allowed to participate in co-ed sleepovers makes me wonder about the belief systems of the person distributing such restrictions. It reminds me how stuck people are in their heteronormative biases. To simply declare spaces that are out of view of adult eyes as taboo or to consider times spent in the dark forbidden between kids of different genders are gross assumption that all of these friendships are sexual in nature. Depending on the age of the kids, you are also running the risk of sexualizing kids before they have experienced or considered feelings different than platonic love and affection.
Not all mixed gender relationships have the possibility of sexual curiosity or desire, either because of readiness or sexuality. And speaking of sexuality, telling your daughter that she can’t have a boy in her room simply because he’s a boy indicates you are assuming both your daughter and her friend are straight. There is a good chance your child or their friend is gay — and if they are old enough to have raging hormones and more-than-friend-intentions, do you still stand by your all-girl or all-boy only study dates and sleepovers?
Not that anything ever happened—because the objects of my affection weren’t gay—but when I was identifying as a girl and was invited to an all-girls study session or get together as a teenager, I was buzzing with nerves and imagination. My thoughts were not pure and if I knew another girl was interested I can’t say my actions would have been either. The absence of boys wasn’t my problem.
Another big assumption making you look foolish is the fact that you are stuck in thinking all children are either male or female and those children are cisgender—meaning they identify as the gender they were assigned at birth based on their biological sex. Gender is not the same as sex, nor is it binary. I am one of the many who identify as non-binary or gender fluid; our gender can’t be defined as being either male or female, and there is a very good chance your child has a friend who fits this category and they deserve to enjoy all of the defining moments of childhood.
Your child could have a friend who is gender non-conforming or transgender. When an adult believes gender is the same as biological sex, they are forcing an uncomfortable and unsafe label on a child who simply wants to feel accepted and relaxed around friends who support them. This is the driving force for school sports, youth programs, and sleepaway camps to use inclusive language and practices for all gender identities and expressions to participate without placing restrictions on labels or biological sex.
Parents can and should adopt these rules at home too. No matter the gender or sexuality of the kids taking up space in your house and eating all of the snacks, establish expectations and rules about conduct first. Consent should be an ongoing topic of discussion that can be learned in non-sexual ways and then applied to sexual situations as kids get older.
Talk to your kids about trust and privacy and include them in the guidelines that need to be followed no matter who is sleeping over. Are doors allowed to be closed? Is hugging, hand-holding, or snuggling allowed? Are there any romantic connections or crushes between your child and a friend or within their friend circle? What type of boundaries should be drawn if the answer is yes? By having open conversations about these topics with your kids, you are showing them you are comfortable with what can be uncomfortable situations. You are also showing them respect by asking for their buy-in. This will hopefully create reciprocal respect because they are being asked to follow rules in which they had some authority to create.
It’s important to talk to the parents of the kids who you invite into your home as well. Explain why all genders are welcome in your home and let parents know you and your child—as well as their friends—know the house rules and expectations that need to be met.
Welcome to the new and beautiful age of diverse sleepovers. Sorry about the noise and mess—as much as some things change, others stay the same.
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