Pin It
Thursday, October 9th, 2014

The Cultural Battleground of Sleepovers

Should sleepovers be allowed via shutterstock

Ever thought about how you and your partner’s different cultural baggage can lead to interesting discussions about what your children will or won’t be allowed to do? I am convinced that your own childhood sets the stage for what you will let your children do. In multicultural families, that can be a pretty complex mix.

Monocultural Standards

If both parents come from a similar cultural background, they will likely have similar ideas on raising children. Of course, mum and dad might have wildly different characters. One might be cautious, the other wild. One might be artistic, the other more pragmatic. All of that influences your children.

Managing the degrees of freedom for your children depends on how your characters complement each others. I guess that’s pretty obvious. But there’s another, more profound influence at work: social standards.

Monocultural partners will have similar social standards, a foundation that is rock solid. They will argue about details, of course, but there is no need to question the underlying assumptions. No need to discuss the big picture as they’ll likely agree on it.

Most couples are not aware of any of this. It just works, much like gravity.

It takes a multicultural relationship to realise that sometimes no common ground exists. Compatibility of social standards is no longer a given if your partner’s background is different from yours, which leads to a lot of discussions about seemingly basic things.


One example that will come up soon and that my wife and I will have to discuss is sleepovers. For her there is no such thing, whereas I am pretty sure I had sleepovers at the age of four, if not earlier.

Where I would expect a discussion about when and how exactly our six-year-old daughter might stay with her best friend, my wife first has to establish whether that will happen at all. Our different backgrounds mean that we have to discuss and sometimes defend the values or judgements that most of our peers never even think about.

I find it really hard to rationally discuss the pros and cons of whether our daughter should be allowed on a sleepover, mostly because, well, of course she should! I mean why not? In my world, children sleep at their best friend’s place. It’s just totally normal. Also in my world, parents can generally be trusted. I never had to really question any of this.

My worst case scenario would be our daughter waking up in the middle of the night and wanting to go home, in which case I would pick her up, no big deal. But my wife has a different worst case scenario in her mind, one that I cannot possibly guess. And because there are no sleepovers in her world, she doesn’t ask “why not?” but “why would we allow that?”

Where I approach the question from the “of course” angle and then think about whether there is any reason why she shouldn’t go, my wife comes from the opposite direction: “Find me a good reason why she should.” Tricky.

And then there’s the outside pressure as kids at school will start having sleepovers soon. Although, if I’m totally honest, I don’t know how these things work in the U.K. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. If anything it’ll be interesting…

© 2014, Jan Petersen. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:

Primary School Privilege

Time outs due to whistling versus school's out due to poverty

Birth, Loss and In Between

Life after devastation

10 Best World Maps for Your Children’s Room

Because every little global citizen needs a map

How I Reclaimed My House from My Mother-in-Law

A whole year of arguing in the making


Jan, who is German, works mainly from home as a software engineer. His wife, who is Algerian, stays at home to look after their three girls aged 7, 4 and 1. They live in the U.K. and are raising their children multilingual in Arabic, French, German and English.

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsHeidi   |  Friday, 19 August 2011 at 6:42 am

    This is a great topic! I grew up in a no sleepover allowed house, except for my aunts/uncles and grandparents. My father is from Albania/Eastern Europe, my mother Canadian with Italian parents. As an adult looking back, I am happy I missed out on this.
    I won’t get into details, but I could think of a handful of grade school friends who had awful experiences, and I feel as though keeping me home at night may have spared me. Whether or not that is the truth, I am not sure…
    I have two boys, and my husband, who is Canadian, agreed that there is no need for our kids to sleep out until they are at least 10-12. May be extreme to some, but it feels right to us.

  2. CommentsInes   |  Sunday, 21 August 2011 at 5:32 am

    I’M spanish married to an algerian man living in london…never experienced sleepovers growing up, you only went to your close family’s houses for the night when your mum was in hospital…when our daughters reached the age of wanting to go for sleepovers we were both a bit worried …. so i decided to hold the bull by the horns and organized a sleepover at ours…pretty soon we both realized that as long as there were apppropriate ground rules there was no problem with the girls going for sleepovers as long as we both were happy with the organizing family set up and lifestyle…

  3. CommentsBridget   |  Thursday, 09 October 2014 at 12:01 pm

    Oh man, sleepovers are so fun! I too didn’t realize this could ever be an issue, I mean why not? It isn’t like you let your precious child sleep at a friend’s house when they are toddlers (pending emergency). It is when they are a bit older and in grade school. Some of my BEST memories are from sleepovers with best friends. I was only ever allowed to spend the night with families that were well known to my parents, were nearby in case of emergency, both parents had contact details for each other and ground rules were established ahead of time. It was usually PG movies, popcorn, making crafts and always lots of giggling. Fortunately, as long as it is a family well known to us, my ex (Filipino) is comfortable with sleepovers for our oldest even though many members of his family do not allow this. I think he also sees the value now that she has attended several and sees how happy she is to spend this quality time with her friends.

  4. CommentsTulani   |  Thursday, 26 February 2015 at 2:50 am

    I am Australian with a British background. I have five daughter’s and I am not keen on ‘sleep overs’ at all. I do not think I’ll be allowing it. My husband is Australian with an Italian background. He, also, is not keen on sleep overs.

Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!

A Children's Book for Raising Global Citizens

Every life is a story. It’s easier to understand someone when you know their story.

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!
[…] Peru, 97 percent of newborns are breastfed, according to LLLI. In Culture Parent reported that 69 percent of Peruvian children are breastfed exclusively from birth to five months, and ou...
From Breastfeeding Around the World
Hi I was googling Islamic beliefs when I came across your post. We are American and our neighbors are from Pakistan I think. Our kids love playing together but their dad doesn't allow the kids to co...
From An Islamic Perspective on Child-Rearing and Discipline
Mother’s Day is the most perfect and accurate Occasion to express your Love and Gratitude towards Mothe...
From Holi Craft: Straw Painting
[…] Muslims fast for 30 days every year for Ramadan, which is one of the five pillars of Islam. Ramadan this year is happening during most of the month […...
From Ramadan: June 28-July 28
[…] Raising a Little Buddha – Part 1, InCulture Parent — Post by a Buddhist Minister about raising an enlightened child.  It starts with intimacy, communication, and community. [R...
From How to Raise an Enlightened Child — Part I
[…] Breastfeeding in Jordan, InCulture Parent — Not as restrictive as one might think. […...
From Breastfeeding in Jordan
[…] Best and Worst Countries to be a Mother, InCulture Parent – “The 2010 Mothers’ Index rates 160 countries (43 developed nations and 117 in the developing world) in terms of th...
From Best and Worst Countries to be a Mother
[…] Why Americans Value Independent and Competitive Kids, InCultureParent — Interesting look at how our values impact our interactions with our children (babies in particular). […...
From Why Americans Value Independent and Competitive Kids
[…] Multiple Fathers and Healthier Children in the Amazon, InCulture Parent — a fascinating look at cultures in the Amazon where pregnant women have sex with more than one man as a means...
From Multiple Fathers and Healthier Children in the Amazon

More from Our Bloggers