by Brock Benson
As I begin this post we are on the eve of another school year. Once again and before we know it Fall will be in the air. Football, chili, and cool mornings are only a blink away. With school on the horizon and new blossoming relationships happening between all of our kiddos, I think for just a moment it’s important to consider some of the different dynamics and challenges this inevitably presents. While I can’t address all the challenges we as parents will experience as our kids go back to school and form new relationships this Fall I think there is one I can specifically address here in this post that we can at least dialogue on and consider. While it hasn’t officially happened in our home yet I can only imagine that having a now first grader, the day is drawing nye when we will be asked “Mommy and Daddy can I spend the night with ______?”
Let me be really clear about some things. First, I don’t write this out of a heart of judgment but out of a place of conviction about where me and my own family are personally. I’m sure there will be some who don’t believe me. But at least I’ve tried to communicate it so maybe some of the negativity can be defused. Secondly I realize there are going be many who read this post who know who I am already but I think it’s only fair I tell you a little bit of my background in case there are some who don’t know who I am.
My wife Cassie and I have lived in Nolensville going on three years now and we have two little boys we love and cherish. Kandler who will be a first grader at Mill Creek and Garner who just turned 1 a few weeks ago who goes to Revive Church’s PDO program two days a week. Kandler has played baseball and since I pastor a local church in the community we’ve gotten to rub shoulders with other families in Nolensville at various times over the last few years. I mention all this to say that I’m a part of this community in a real way. My life is invested here. And I want God’s best for our town like I know so many others do. That is the heart in which I write this post and the lens I hope you’ll read it through.
A few weeks ago during the middle of summer break Kandler was playing with a friend in our neighborhood of Bent Creek and I just happened to be listening in on their conversation. They were talking normal boy talk about their trucks and other toys within the make-believe world they were in at the time. Then for some odd reason the conversation switched randomly and they began the sleep over discussion. Kandler has only ever spent the night with family and cousins and so I was interested to hear how the conversation would go. They talked for a moment about what it would be like. And then they went back to their boyhood world. This seemingly innocent conversation sparked a deeper question for me that I hadn’t really pondered much until they brought it up. Why are sleepovers so rare now days? And more alarmingly why am I personally so uncomfortable with that concept?
Their conversation allowed me to do a quick inventory of my own experience with the topic. Personally growing up there were a few different families that my family and I attended church with and who lived in our neighborhood (who didn’t go to church with us) whom my parents eagerly let me stay the night with once I was of age. (I’m sure it was because I am one of five kids and they wanted any break they could get. lol) By God’s grace I was protected from any horrendous experience or situation during these sleep overs and now looking back I can see how providential that really was.
So then I asked if my experience was so favorable why am I so fearful? Furthermore why has such a shift taken place that sleepovers are now a thing of the past? Obviously the reasons each parent has are varied and complex. Like most decisions we make are. Combine a mixture of our over-protectiveness with fear and I think you have the start of the reason. But let me be fair too. I think there is a great deal of wisdom being exercised by those who choose not to let their kids sleep over at a friend’s house. The world we live in is filled with constant cases of sexual abuse and perversion that leaves innocent children scared for a lifetime. And we as parents can’t bare the thought of letting that happen to our little ones, and rightfully so. A few months ago I noticed some posts on Facebook about this particular question and what questions parents should ask the host parents before their kids sleep over with a friend. Some of the questions were really thought provoking and I really appreciated it being shared. But in my opinion the sleepover choice dilemma reveals an altogether bigger issue we all need to wrestle with.
Why is it that we are so uncomfortable letting our little ones sleep over at their friend’s home?
I think the answer is rather straightforward and simple. We’ve unknowingly drifted into an era of severe isolation. In the world of social media, technology, and culture we believe we are as connected as ever but are we really? Collectively it’s my core belief that deep inside we all realize how isolated we are from one another that’s why the sleep over question is so easy to answer with a resounding NO! Since we have no idea what it means to actually “know” each other anymore the thought of letting our kids sleep in the home of someone we don’t “know” is unthinkable. Sure we will go to the pool together, schedule play dates together, or even occasionally allow our little ones to play in the home of those we really think we know for an afternoon but do anything more than that and the red flag is waved. Overnight is out of bounds because then they are out of our control and eyesight and we can’t let that happen.
I could be wrong but I believe isolation is a really deep struggle of our Nolensville community…and world for that matter. Sure we get together for festivals, concerts, sporting events, and what have you. But really and truly I’m not convinced they aid in us knowing each other better. And it’s not the fault of these festivals or events. The bigger issue is we don’t even know how to get to know each other. While I believe our parents’ generation was a bit more adept in this area than we are, they still had some gaping holes in their ability to connect and build interpersonal relationships that went beyond surface level interaction. And some of those gaping holes have been passed down to our generation and have turned into craters.
No generation does this perfectly. And ours won’t either. There will always be times where we struggle in the darkness of the night to be seen in the light the gospel God’s grace has given. But if we don’t at least struggle together, we in turn will create continued areas of darkness and sin we won’t let anyone see.
Coffee shops, neighborhood pools, community spaces, dog parks and backyards are all great places for good conversations to begin in going deeper with each other. But let me push into this for a moment. Can we really get to know each other intimately if we’re always on neutral turf with each other?
I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m uncomfortable when I’m in someone’s home I don’t know a natural tendency well. But hopefully the more I interact and know them, the greater ties of community that will form and we let our guards down. And our homes will become safe places for each other.
Let me just go a little deeper here for a moment and share a personal point of conviction. I’ve never had my neighbors inside my home. Why? I’ve had no reason to. Translation – I’m so siloed in my own world that I’m only prioritizing relationships I already have instead of trying to nurture new ones. We are never going to drift into seeking community. The enemy is incredibly good at his job and he can make us think we have community when all we have is a profile. It’s the classic bait and switch.
Will the sleep over trend ever return? I don’t know. And I’m not going to think all is lost if it doesn’t. Regardless, the issue itself reveals how crucial it is that our misplaced fear and isolation tendencies have to be challenged if Nolensville is to be what we all are dreaming it can be.