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Sleepover-less in Seattle

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Brett Berk: Activities and decisions that may seem simple and straightforward for straight parents are often fraught with additional pressures and concerns for gay parents. Case in point: this letter I recently received.

Gay couple

Dear Gay Uncle,

I have a major problem. My partner and I have two sons, 10 and 7 years old. They know we're gay and kind of understand what that means. But our 10-year-old wants to have a sleepover for his 11th birthday in June. When we last discussed sleepovers, my partner and I decided that they were a bad idea, mostly for just one reason: We're concerned that something might occur that one of the boys will perceive as inappropriate, he'll tell his parents and then we'll have to spend our kids' college funds on legal bills.

How real a problem is this, seeing how we have met all these parents before and our son has known their children for years? The straight world has been taught that "we're all child molesters" for years. Surely this scenario is a possibility. Should we let our son have the sleepover?

Sleepover-less in Seattle

I wrote the dad back right away, explaining how sorry I was that he even has to worry about things like this, and of course advised him to go ahead and have the party. My thinking is that, when confronted with situations like this, it's best to take the problem off your own conscience and put it onto that of the (bigoted) parents who may take issue. The friends' families all know the deal, so if they're weirded out by the idea of two dads hosting a sleepover, let them keep their kid home. Every family with gay parents is not an automatic role model personally burdened with the responsibility for working to change the world's perceptions, and they certainly shouldn't feel obliged to campaign tirelessly for their "normalcy" amongst their child's peers. At the same time, the best way for these situations to become "normal" is by acting like they are normal. No one likes surprises, obviously, so some explanation is relevant. But so long as the folks on the receiving end of the invite know that Hectór Has Two Daddies, I see no issue with just sending it out and letting the chips fall.

Of course, as someone who has been working with kids and families for over 20 years, I recognize the value of choice and alternatives. So I also suggested another option: Give the party an "armor" theme. Kids that age love the medieval stuff, so on the invitation, they could simply state that each family is required to dress their son in correct period costume -- e.g. a lockable suit of plate mail, to which they (and only they) have the key. Then, everyone will be sure that nothing at all untoward could possibly occur. Of course, this will also preclude any of the kids actually using the bathroom, so each family will need to have their son wear an adult diaper beneath his get-up. I believe those can hold at least an overnight's worth. (Kidding, of course!)

I also provided my general advice for anyone hosting a tweener sleepover: Limit the number of kids. Any more than four or five, and you'll need to hire a zookeeper (which might not be a bad idea, regardless).

What about you? What advice would you give these dads?

next: Anna Nicole Smith's Daughter Naps on the 'Today' Show
21 comments so far | Post a comment now
Theresa May 13, 2010, 2:44 PM

My first advice is to use a different stock photo to illustrate this article — one that at least suggests gay dads, instead of shame-filled frat boys.

About the main question, I just worry that the idea of a sleepover may awaken latent homophobia in some other parents, even if they have no problem with other kinds of playdates, so they won’t let their kids attend.

Is it possible to test the waters by inviting a couple of good friends for a sleepover before the party? Or maybe the dads could drop hints to other parents about the plans and see if the reaction is positive.

I hate that we still have to worry about this.

black iris May 13, 2010, 4:32 PM

I don’t know. You can say it will be on the consciences of the other parents who won’t let their kids come, but the gay couple’s kids are the ones who would be hurt. Maybe they could find good friends who would co-sponsor a sleepover somehow. Then the other parents couldn’t complain.

Alison May 13, 2010, 7:39 PM

I like the idea of a co-sponsor that the previous commenter left. Is there a grandmother or aunt that could also be involved for the sleep-over? Having a mixed gender in the household for the night might allay any concerns. Also, in our area (CO) I know that you can sometimes do sleep overs as part of special a science museum or zoo programs. Perhaps this would be a compromise between dads and the son?

M.mum May 14, 2010, 9:15 PM

I think its a shame that these guys are having a problem with this, but it is what it is. I personally think that they should just let the other parents know that they are a gay couple and let the other parents make their own decisions. I think that a co-sponser is a unique and very good idea, but if that doesnt work out, I think just being the parents you are and throwing your child a party is just fine. It is very nice of these men to be thinking of every one elses comfort level. They are doing the right thing.

Abel May 26, 2010, 12:52 PM

Have the sleepover. Grow up and stop caring what others think. If you want a socially repressed son, don’t have a sleepover.

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