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Sleepovers: Sweet Dreams Or Midnight Mayhem?

12/01/2015 00:22 | Updated 22 May 2015

Sleepover

Some people love Marmite; some people can't stand it. Some people love Jeremy Clarkson (or so I'm told), while others would rather gnaw off their own ankles than watch Top Gear. It's all a matter of taste.

It's the same with sleepovers. Some parents love them. 'It's just so sweet standing outside the door listening to them giggling and whispering,' says my friend Jane.

I don't understand. Why would any sane parent want a crowd of other people's children ruining a Saturday night in?

Years ago, when my own children were dear little scraps clutching Beanie Babies, it was a complete nightmare from beginning to end.

It wasn't just the responsibility - who had what allergy, and whether some child you didn't know would find a death trap in the house you hadn't even thought of. It was just that no one slept.

You'd stand there, hollow-eyed, watching some overexcited tearaway trampolining on the blow-up mattress at 2am, and then you'd be woken at 5am by a dawn chorus of shouting. Where's the fun in that?

Your own child would be catatonic with exhaustion, collapsing in tears the minute everyone left, while the rest of the family would snipe at each other all day, light-headed from lack of sleep.

'It is a bit tiring,' says a friend with twin boys who recently had 10 other nine-year-olds over to celebrate a joint birthday party. 'But they have so much fun.' It turns out that her husband spent the night outside in the car.

Parents who love sleepovers - who are, I freely admit, much nicer than I am - seem to fall into two camps. They're either hippies going with the flow, turning a blind eye to chipped paint, smeared chocolate and computer games in the early hours, or they're strict disciplinarians, running the whole event on military lines. 'I tell them when they arrive,' says one mother-of-three, 'that if anyone makes any noise after midnight, I'm ringing their parents.'

It's sad, but generally true, that children behave worse at sleepovers than at any other time. Maybe it's because they're fizzing with all the sugary treats they've smuggled in. Or maybe it's because en masse they egg each other on.

'What are you doing?' said one mother in horror when she found a breakaway group of ten-year-olds settling down to watch Saw. One boy yawned extravagantly. 'I've already seen it,' he said.

Sleepovers do, of course, get easier as children get older. Six-year-olds find the idea of running round the house at midnight terribly exciting, but 16-year-olds just want to kill animated figures on screen (boys) or settle down in nests of duvets and pillows to talk (girls).

You do run into the whole question of mixed sleepovers. 'Son sez all in 1 room. Is OK?' said a frantic text from a friend. I live in London, which may well have weird codes of conduct compared to the rest of the country, but most of us have wearily accepted that older teenagers tend to go out in mixed groups and then settle at someone's house, like a flock of birds, in the early hours. It's safer to stick together in a group, and better than paying out a fortune in taxis.

My eldest son once found himself crowded out of someone's living room and spent the night in the empty bath. Predictably, of course, one of his friends turned on the taps.

I may be resigned, but I still don't like sleepovers.My 15-year-old is wise to this. We came back from a Saturday night out recently to find a large notice on her door. 'HOPE YOU HAD A NICE PARTY. DO NOT DISTURB'. The following day, just as I was thinking about making lunch, she emerged with her two best friends.

'You see?' she said triumphantly. 'You didn't even know they were here!'

Surreptitious sleepovers? Now I'll spend every night wide awake worrying about who's in the house.

If you host a sleepover:

DO

• limit the numbers

• limit the sugar (or they'll be climbing the walls)

• expect tears

• expect at least one of them to throw up/feel ill/be homesick/refuse to go to bed

• have a hip flask of gin

DON'T

• bother about clean sheets - they don't care

• try to divide them into separate rooms - they want to be together in a huge heap

• sob hysterically at 2am - you have to pretend to be in control

• expect anyone in the family to be able to do anything useful the following day

• ever, ever have a sleepover again

Do you love or loathe sleepovers? Share your best and worst experiences here.

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