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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.

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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.

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