Daughter’s Sleepover Disaster Leaves Mother Asking, “Was I a Bad Mom?”

A post on a moms’ social networking site really triggered my empathy genes the other day. Katie’s daughter and her sleepover guest had taken too many privileges too late at night.  Things happened that shouldn’t have, and now the mother wanted to know, “Was I a Bad Mom?” for losing her temper.

My kids also experienced sleepovers that devolved into weirdness, and on more than one occasion. Once my seven year-old daughter came home the morning after a sleepover – one she had begged and pleaded to go to – and told me the parents had let them watch “Dirty Dancing.”  I was livid.  But then the mom gave me a great pair of pruning shears and I kind of got over it.

Katie’s problem appealed to my heartstrings at a deeper level. I gave her my response, which appears below. 

Her underlying problem, I think, is one that many parents struggle with: setting boundaries. And so with the author’s permission, I have reprinted her original post. The names have been changed and I did a bit of editing for clarity and length.

Background: My nine-year old daughter Chloe doesn’t easily make friends, but finally has done so.

Scenario: Sleepover. Second time with the same girl – very outgoing, tells me she’s very comfortable at our house.

What Happened: The first sleepover was planned – it was Chloe’s birthday. The second was over winter break. I was actually going to schedule a play-date, but the girl’s parents beat me to it. The initial plan was that this girl would come at 1:00 and get picked up at 4:00, but because she showed up with an overnight bag “just in case the play-date went well and they wanted to make it a sleepover” I caved and did just that.

What Happened After That: The girls didn’t fall asleep until 5ish. I didn’t stay up all night, went to bed around 2ish, figuring they had to crash sooner or later. When I got up I went upstairs and noticed the top panel on the vanity in my upstairs bathroom vanity had been ripped off. I had just paid a significant amount of money to have that bathroom remodeled this summer, so honestly, I felt sick to my stomach. The girls said they were looking for makeup and that I was asleep, and they didn’t want to wake me.

My Reaction:  I admit I LOST IT.

The Result: And because of that, this girl now shuns my daughter. I don’t want her to lose a friend over the incident, but was I wrong? Did I hurt my nine-year-old, or should I have called the girl’s parents ASAP to explain? This was a sleepover that was thrust upon me. The girls are both old enough to know better. They could have come into my room and asked for my help. The bathroom remodel meant a lot to me and cost a lot, but I’d hoped it would improve things for my girls. Now I feel like crap because this girl has shut my daughter out. : ((

Here’s my reply:

First of all. Stop with the guilt trip. You were responding like any totally exhausted, pushed to the limit and then shocked out of her mind parent. It wasn’t horrible. Just an impulsive reaction.

But here is what else. The friend’s parent assumed a lot when she did not discuss a possible sleepover with you in advance. (I am telling you this because it’s something that is important to me personally.) To me, that’s pretty pushy. I expect to be treated with consideration. You are entitled to that.

You said you “caved” in to the sleepover. So really, down in your heart, it wasn’t okay. Was it? When others put us on the spot and we cave in to their pressure, it sets a bad precedent. It says, “My personal boundaries are not that important. It says, “Your life, desires, plans, are more important than mine.”

You deserve to have your boundaries respected, but first you have to set them.

So, it seems like the mother’s attitude has perhaps rubbed off on the daughter? You have a right to set limits. Staying up until 2:00 for nine year olds is way late. Five o’clock is ridiculous. Of course you cannot leave them alone, two nine-year-olds, awake in the house? I think you might be lucky nothing worse happened.

I’m sure you realize that, and now accept part of the responsibility for what happened. But think about taking back your personal power. It is a good way to teach kids to have boundaries for themselves.

Many times I said “no” to people just on principle. Because they assumed that I was a pushover and would do what they wanted – for their benefit. Saying “not this time,” will not kill your kid or their friendships. Just explain that it wasn’t planned. This is good practice for you and for them. Next time you both can plan ahead. And nine is a perfect age to begin learning how to do that. They can get out paper and make a plan. And that is a huge lesson for kids to learn in life, that they shouldn’t expect anyone to jump when they say “jump.” Some people make a habit of making their emergencies other people’s problems.

Both Chloe and her friend are victims of the situation: the mother’s  presumptuousness, your willingness to cave in, and the lack of boundaries for the girls. Going into your bathroom for makeup was inappropriate. What is yours is yours. Not your daughter’s to use without permission. Period.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but if it were me, I would apologize to Chloe. I would take responsibility for letting them stay up so late unsupervised. And even for giving in letting the girl stay over without previous planning. I would let my kiddo know that it won’t happen again. (Next time things will go much better because you are prepared and the rules are clear.)

You deserve more respect. But you won’t get it unless you think you do. FFG

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