My oldest is now 10. Last year, or maybe it was two years ago, he went to a sleepover birthday party as kids do. At the time, I didn’t think anything of the fact that he was the only boy on the invite list. After the party ended, I forgot it had even happened.
I was at another birthday party a few months ago where the topic was “that party with the boy sleeping over.” The parents were sagely nodding to each other, relieved that one girl just went for the movie and didn’t sleep over. According to the group wisdom, her parents had done well.
“Uh, yeah,” I finally said. “That one boy there was my son.”
I was surprised mixed gender sleepovers would be whispered-about elementary school scandal. I honestly don’t see the risk at that age. I can imagine what parents might be worried about, but really? They’re 8- and 9-year-olds. There are parents actively hosting the party. Nothing is going to happen. Especially in our town of Berkeley, Calif., known for its liberal social and political views, where almost all of these kids have all been socialized to have friends of both genders. This town is supposedly liberal and woke. My son isn’t even thinking about crushes yet, let alone anything physical.
These parents were even more surprised when I told them my mom let me have mixed gender sleepovers … in high school. The positive socialization aspect of boys seeing girls as viable friends and not just as potential hookups is why my mom, and the parents of my friends, didn’t care about our slumber parties. They knew we were friends. I’m still friends with all of them today. If we’re trying to create a world where men treat women as equals rather than only as objects of desire, we need to drop the taboos we put on their social interaction. We need to let them be friends.
There’s more, though. All your fears about mixed gender sleepovers assume your kids are straight.
Same-sex sleepovers and assumptions
Whatever you’re worried about kids doing at slumber parties doesn’t magically disappear for LGBTQ kids. Every parent I know at our school would be fine if their kids were gay, but I wonder what that would mean for their views on slumber parties. It seems like an unexamined aspect of parenting LGBTQ kids. A lot of kids seem to know their orientation at an early age and, especially where I live, they are more likely to talk about or acknowledge the existence and validity of same-sex relationships.
So if your 8-year-old son tells you he’s gay, what do you do about slumber parties? Only send him to parties with girls? Or just with straight boys? Is either really a rational approach? Should you approach things any differently than you would with your cishet (cisgender and heterosexual) son?
No. The fact is, you should trust your children to be children. And if you don’t, maybe it’s time to examine how you’ve parented them. Have you contributed to oversexualizing your children in ways that you’re not aware of?
My other question is this: If people are worried about co-ed sleepovers at this age, what does my transgender child do? Attend only sleepovers with children of the gender they were assigned at birth or with their gender identity? What if the child is gender fluid? No sleepovers at all?
My hope is that my trans child can sleep over wherever xe’s invited. And I hope those invitations come from friends of every gender.
We need to examine our own filters and realize that our fears for our children don’t always align with reality. My young son isn’t a predator, and your young daughter isn’t a harlot. My 8-year-old trans child doesn’t have internet access and xe’s not yet steeped in hookup culture. If xe’s hanging out with your son or daughter, xe just wants to play make believe or maybe Candy Land. Kids are innocent, and we shouldn’t intrude on that with our own fears or misguided jokes about their relationships with people of other genders. If you’re really parenting your kids, you should be able to trust them to hang out with their friends no matter how they identify.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Roberto Santiago could never decide on a job so he endeavors to have all of them. He is a writer, teacher, sign language interpreter, rugby referee and stay-at-home dad. He writes about the intersections of family, sports and culture at An Interdisciplinary Life.