My Daughter's First Sleepover Nightmare: The Internet Search That Sent me Spinning
The info I found on the father that made me panic
My kids are 11 and 7, but neither of them had ever been to a sleepover with a friend.
There had been several sleepovers with cousins, and the kids had stayed at their grandparents’ houses before. But not the friend sleepovers.
You know friend sleepovers. The ones with the crank-calling boys, and watching movies slightly inappropriate for you, and whispers and giggles.
Little did I know a friend sleepover was close at hand for one of my kids, and that the events that followed would instill in me just how important open dialogue with our kids is.
My son is the older of my two kids, and he never pushed too hard for a sleepover with friends. There might have been passing mentions, but nothing that stuck.
And the pandemic sort of put everything on hold because no one was leaving their house anyway.
My daughter, though, got it firmly in her head recently that she was GOING to have a sleepover with her best friend. It was all she talked about for several months. The friend’s mom said she didn’t feel comfortable just yet letting her daughter sleep at another house, but that I could have my daughter stay there.
We decided her daughter’s birthday party was the perfect occasion.
My daughter eagerly packed up her overnight bag, sleeping bag and pillow, and I accompanied her to the party before leaving her there for the big event. The sleepover.
Even though she was just 7, she was much braver than I was at 8 the first time I successfully spent the entire night at a friend’s house without calling my mom to come pick me up just as the sleeping bags were rolled out.
She hardly blinked as she waved me on my way home, running around with her friend laughing.
The mom is an educator I’ve come to trust, and her husband is a nice guy. Good people.
It was a rush of sadness instead of worry that I felt as I walked to my car to drive home. My little girl was growing up!
Late that night, as I laid in bed next to my husband surfing the internet on my phone as we tend to do, I typed in my daughter’s friend’s dad’s name purely out of curiosity.
What I found sent me reeling, fuming and panicking.
The newspaper articles popped up like awful ducks in a row.
He had been accused of being sexually inappropriate with high school girls he had coached and supplying them with alcohol. Although criminal charges were dismissed, a civil lawsuit was also filed.
How had I not looked up this man sooner? The whole family, in fact?
I was a former newspaper reporter on the crime and courts beat and quite the amateur Google investigator, but I needed to step up my game much more, I told myself.
Hollering at my husband about what I’d found, I sat up in a fright.
Should I go pick our daughter up now at midnight from the house?
What would I say to them as I picked her up?
Lay down, my husband told me. You’re not going anywhere.
You just talked to our daughter earlier that day about her body and that it belongs to her, he reminded me. Trust her.
It’s true. Before I sent her off for the sleepover, I’d reminded her that no one should touch her body or ask her to touch theirs. That if they did, she should tell Daddy or me right away.
Granted, these types of conversations don’t stop sexual assault or abuse. And we should do what we can to protect our children.
But I felt confident that my daughter understood appropriate and inappropriate behavior from an adult. She was most likely having fun with her friend under the supervision of the friend’s mom. And I knew I’d talk to my daughter about her night in the morning.
For now, I had to trust her. Because we can’t trust everyone else. And we can’t protect our children from everyone and everything they will encounter in the world.
I’ve always been an open book with both of my kids. We talk about the dangers of drugs, and appropriate touching, and I answer whatever questions they throw my way.
I had to lean into this trust and openness now.
When I picked my daughter up in the morning after a restless night for me, she was sleepy-eyed but happy.
She’d had an awesome first sleepover with her bff.
As predicted, they’d stayed up too late and eaten too much sugar. Both girls fell asleep on the couch in front of a movie.
When I asked my daughter about any encounters she’d had with the dad and if he made her feel uncomfortable, she said he’d spent most of the evening in his office doing his own thing.
I don’t know what the future holds for sleepovers and my kids.
My daughter likely won’t be back at that house for the night anytime soon.
But there will undoubtably be other encounters for my kids with less than savory folks.
I hope my kids have the tools they need to protect themselves as much as possible.
For me, the moral of this story is not to keep our kids home and never let them go to sleepovers. It’s to talk to them whenever we can, even about the uncomfortable stuff. To build those open channels of communication. That way when the uncomfortable stuff rears it’s ugly head, Our kids are ready to face the monsters.