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John Rosemond: Ease up on micromanagement – sleep on it

Q. My husband and I have decided that we do not want our children to participate in sleepovers. We recently moved to a new community and are just making new friends and meeting new families. All of these parents, it seems, love to do sleepovers. We, however, are sticking by our guns. As a result our kids are beginning to feel left out. What should I say to these other parents who think we’re crazy and their children who are making mine feel bad about it?

A. You never told me why you are so strongly opposed to sleepovers. That suggests – but maybe I’m just playing psychologist here – that you think your objections are self-evident. If that’s the case, they are not self-evident to yours truly.

I have heard of problematic situations that arose during sleepovers, but I fail to see the basis for a sweeping indictment. Pillow fights? That was a joke, of course. But seriously, I’m suffering from “possibilities block” here.

In my (naive?) estimation, the issue is not sleepovers per se; the issue is how well a given sleepover is managed by the supervising parents. Before letting a child attend a sleepover, a finite set of “givens” should exist: First, you are more than just slightly familiar with the host parents and know them to be conscientious, responsible people; second, that they know how to quickly get in touch with you should that become necessary; third, that the sleepover will be attended by only one gender; fourth, that siblings, especially if they are older than the attendees, will be kept at a distance – ideally, farmed out for the evening.

Your concern hints at a tendency to want to control everything that happens in your children’s lives. That’s called micromanagement and I would be remiss if I failed to point out that parental micromanagement always, without exception, creates huge problems of one sort or another in the long run. The problem is that micromanaging parents always, without exception, justify their anxiety-driven overcontrol. They also tend to think apocalyptically, as in, “If I let my child attend a sleepover, some other child who comes from a family that does not share our beliefs may permanently corrupt my child’s values.”

In short, the fears that lie behind micromanagement are rarely realistic. Plus, the parents in question fail to accept that they are not omnipotent, that try as hard as they might, they simply cannot control everything that happens in their kids’ lives.

When my wife and I were in our active parenting years, we would purposefully allow our children to get themselves entangled in certain problematic situations that we could have prevented. In other words, we managed risk for the purpose of helping our children learn, by trial and error, how to keep themselves out of trouble. The result was win-win: the kids enjoyed a good amount of freedom and we enjoyed the peace of mind of knowing that they were steadily coming to grips with the relationship between freedom and responsibility. Some lessons cannot be “talked into” a person.

Anyway, concerning this sleepover issue, I’d take a deep breath and give it a go. Sounds like your kids need a break from your oversight. It also sounds like you and your husband could do with some parenting freedom as well.

Visit family psychologist John Rosemond’s website at johnrosemond.com; readers may send him email at questions@rosemond.com.