No sleep till retirement

Sue Elliott-Nicholls’ children have had one too many sleepovers and, she says, it’s time to make them stop.

Illustration by Claire Jones.

Illustration by Claire Jones.

The sleepover party, or rather the don’t-sleep-over party is one of the more hideous additions to modern parenting.

I don’t remember having sleepover parties when we were young. We may have had a friend to stay the night but this invasion of the happily family home by ill-behaved, hysterical, sleep-deprived little so-and-sos? No.

It begins with the dreaded request:

Child: Mum, can I have a sleepover party for my birthday?

Mum: Erm… (feeling of dread washes over said mum) How many were you thinking?

Child: Not many, 10?

Mum: I’ll think about it. (I’ll think of a million alternatives.)

Child: Jake’s mum has them all the time; what she does is she puts all the duvets and sleeping bags downstairs with loads of pizzas and DVDs.

Mum: Yes, well he’s got a bigger living room than us.

Child: They live in a small flat.

Mum: Well, you’ve got a little brother.

Child: So has Jake, he’s got two.

Mum: Well maybe Jake’s mum’s a bit nicer than me. (*harbours grudge against Jake’s mum*)

So, although every instinct in your body is yelling NOOOOO, you say yes.

“I have friends with stories of children creeping into the parents’ room and weeing – weeing – in the bin.”

Why? Because you are weak and don’t want your kid to grow up having never had the ultimate best possible childhood ever and then resent you like you do your mum. (Joking!) (A bit.) That, and you don’t want Jake’s mum stealing all the glory.

Before you know it, the night is upon you. It seems to be going better than expected, until…

12.00 MIDNIGHT: You sweetly go into their room, call them “guys” like a lame social worker. “Come on guys, you need to keep the noise down now.” This works (for four minutes).

1am: You adopt a sterner tone: “Right, now listen, you’re keeping everyone up and you’re actually going to have to go home if you can’t pipe down.” Someone throws a damp flannel in your face; everyone laughs – everyone except you – and how did that damp flannel end up in your son’s room anyway? You’re not too sure who threw it but you suspect it’s Jake. You blame the mother.

2am: You stop your partner – who is in full Sergeant Major mode – from going in, because he might actually have some clout but that would mean him raising his voice and then the kids might get scared (Phyeah right) They might go back home and say the dad shouted at them. No, it’s cool. You’ve got this.

3am: They are running around the house spraying Lynx at each other, waking up the baby brother. They seem sorry, for approximately eight minutes. You feel the red mist coming down.

3.08am: The Lynx fight progresses to the hall. Something snaps deep inside you. You fly out of bed like a banshee, dressing gown flying, smudged mascara streaming down your distorted scarlet cheeks, and scream blue murder at them. Your voice goes into the back of your throat, rasping, hyperventilating, as they desperately try to stifle their giggles.

3.10am: Sergeant Dad comes out to back you up as you feel the tears rising. The ringleader (you choose Jake) is marched by the scruff of his neck onto the sofa. Your child is banished to sleep in your room. Now they are sheepish; now they know they’ve pushed it too far. You pull the duvet over you, and silently cry yourself to sleep.

6am: The first of the little bleeders wakes up. You abort the mission to make them all pancakes with blueberries, slam the cornflakes on the table and debate how early is too early to call their parents.

“Someone throws a damp flannel in your face; everyone laughs – everyone except you – and how did that damp flannel end up in your son’s room anyway?”

I have friends with stories of children creeping into the parents’ room and weeing – weeing – in the bin, tales of a broken window from an indoor baseball game, seven-year-olds running around the street in their pyjamas with the dog at 2am. Girls being sick, boys crying because it’s all too much and wanting to go home at 3.30am but you can’t send them home because their mother is at an all-night rave.

It is de rigueur to shout and then cry afterwards. Humiliating for the child? Don’t you believe it. Making a parent lose their rag – that’s a huge success and ensures the party will go down in the annals of history.

But, when the parents come to pick them up, do you admit how revolting they all were? No, of course you don’t (heaven forbid they should find out what madness occurred last night, under your watch. It’s the last taboo. You don’t want to be the subject of the smug mums’ playground tittle-tattle).

But it’s time to come of the closet. The fact is that mass sleepovers can scar you for life. “My name is Sue and I hate sleepovers.” Come on, everyone, we can do this if we stay together. “My name is *insert name here* and I hate sleepovers.”

We must stick together. We must swear we will never do them again, limit the amount of friends allowed to sleep over to three, and then, even then, we will rule with military precision. We must be Miss Hannigan, Lady Macbeth and Carrie rolled into one.

Or we just say NO…

Leave it to Jake’s mum – she loves them.


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Written by Sue Elliott-Nicholls

Sue Elliott-Nicholls is an actress and writer. Often heard washing her dirty laundry on Woman’s Hour. Sue is currently on your TV screens playing Moody Margaret in Horrid Henry and Nanno in Hugglemonsters, as well as appearing in Tracey Ullman's show on BBC1. She is also a lone female voice attempting to be heard in a family of Alpha males.