Handling Sleepovers


Handling Sleepovers

by Kirsten & Lucy

My 13-year-old daughter is dating a girl and wants to bring her along on our weekend family trip to the beach. How do I seem inviting and excited about their relationship while still establishing ground rules about PDA and no sleeping in the same room, etc.?
— Anonymous

Kirsten says:

Man oh man, do I feel your angst on this one, and I commend you for thinking of this in advance.  We did not.   I remember one fateful evening when Lucy’s then-girlfriend ended up snowed in at our house overnight (such poor planning on our part…don’t even get me started).  When we told the girlfriend she’d be sleeping in the guest room, tears instantly started streaming from her giant animé eyes. She looked for all the world like we’d killed her puppy.  Lucy pulled us aside, saying, “Fix this!”  through clenched teeth.  We caved.  The guest room remained vacant, and the girlfriend slept in the spare bed in Lucy’s room (with the door open).  And I tossed and turned all night.

But here’s the thing.  When I raised this very topic with friends, looking for the same kind of advice that you are, the first thing almost everyone would say was, “Well, she can’t get pregnant.”  And yes.  That’s true.  But is that the only thing that we as parents are concerned about when our teenagers are in a relationship? That as long as no one gets pregnant, or contracts an STI (a risk in any sexually active relationship, gay or straight), we’re all good?   I think not.  We want our kids to be not only physically safe (from pregnancy, STIs, violence, etc.), but also psychologically prepared for the complex emotions that come along with relationships and intimacy.

But like my friends, I had a hard time figuring out where the lines should be, so in the beginning, we did not set firm boundaries.  (Hence the crying girlfriend.)  This is probably my hetero-normative bias, but something that really helped me gain clarity about what I thought was OK was to imagine that Lucy’s girlfriend was a teenage boy.  I’d run scenarios in my head, like this:

If Lucy had a boy over, would I let them watch a movie in the TV room with the door closed?  NOPE.

If Lucy had a boy over, would I let them spend time alone upstairs in her room (door open) without FREQUENT checks?  NOPE.

If Lucy invited a boy on our family vacation, would I let them sleep in the same room?  NOPE.

Trust me, it’s hard to set limits once the proverbial genie is out of the bottle, so definitely figure out your own expectations first and then engage your daughter in conversation about what she thinks the rules and limits should be.  But remember, you’re the adult, and in the end, you need to be clear about what is acceptable for your family. While she’d never admit it, your daughter is relying on you to help establish rules and boundaries.  And at the beginning of the trip, as awkward as it may be for all of you, it’s probably a good idea to include your daughter’s girlfriend in the discussion too, so you can take your daughter out of the middle and make sure that everyone is on the same page about expectations.

A final note: something we have tried to ascertain when Lucy has invited gay kids over – girlfriends and friends alike – is what the gay-tolerance level is in their own households.  We have wanted to be prepared for any potentially uncomfortable conversations with adults who may not be as gay-friendly as we are.  So far, so good.

Lucy says:

this question is a hard one to answer. i have been in this situation once before and it was an uncomfortable and awkward and generally messy one.  but rather than tell you the sordid tale of crying girlfriend and sympathetic parents, i will simply tell you what i learned from that one snowstorm sleepover.

the main thing is that the parents have a trusting relationship with their kid, and their kid's partner.

depending on how much the parents trust their child and their child's judgment, they can establish their own personal ground rules. for some parents that may mean separate rooms, for others it may mean separate beds, and for others, it may even mean that the kid and their person can sleep in the same bed.

the kid in this situation also needs to trust their parents and obey whatever ground rules are set. while i love playing devil's advocate and encouraging rebellion and low-key anarchy, this is a special case, and one that needs to be treated with sensitivity. if the parents decide that separate rooms would make them feel more comfortable, then the child, no matter how pissed it may make them, must be content to text their partner from their separate rooms.

set ground rules that keep both parties comfortable and content and establish a layer of trust.

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I’m Kirsten. I’ve been married to Richard for 20 years (!) and in addition to Lucy, we have 2 dogs and 4 ¾ cats (one of them only has 3 legs!). I work full-time at a non-profit social services agency. I’m basically addicted to Instagram and I love to read, bake, and make art. I’m dying to get a new tattoo. Suggestions? Find me on Instagram or Twitter @kjerstieb.

I’m Lucy, I'm 15, I'm queer, and I have a real passion for making sure that dogs know they are loved. I post stuff on instagram @yung_olson