Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: My daughter is home from college and wants her boyfriend from another state to visit … including sleepover benefits. I have younger kids at home. What do you suggest?
DEAR SLEEPLESS: Figure out now what you believe, top to bottom, including what rules you’ll have for the younger kids when they get older.
Too often we act reflexively, declaring that kids shouldn’t see X or be permitted Y because that’s what everyone says and it seems right so yeah, OK. But situations like yours are good at forcing us to prioritize our values, beliefs and enforcement thereof.
What message do you want to send your younger kids — that no unmarried adults can ever share a room? Or is it just adults who are your children? Or just adults still under your household umbrella (e.g., under age XX and/or accepting tuition money) — and you wouldn’t presume to tell their unmarried 45-year-old Aunt Susie she can’t share a room with her partner?
Will whatever rules you make now hold up later for your youngest, with no younger sibs around?
Or do you want your message to be that adults have agency to make these decisions, and your younger kids will too when they’re old enough to handle the consequences of these decisions themselves?
If it’s the latter, are they old enough to have a nuanced conversation about this? Or, alternately, are you ready to choose not to explain, except to say that the rules evolve as people get older, and you’ll talk about it when they’re older, too?
Of course you can just say it’s your home, your rules — heads of households have that prerogative. And some people really do find black-and-white to be the best colors for their parental worldview.
But people with comfortably gray value systems often go black-and-white in discrete situations just because it’s easier to do that than it is to come up with a more nuanced, gray-friendly solution that stands up over time and remains applicable in many different scenarios. And I think copping out like that tends to come back to bite people when future gray situations come up.
So, yeah. What’s your message? That’s my message.
RE: SLEEPLESS: There are plenty of reasons they might want to share a room that don’t involve sex — for instance, meeting your significant other’s family is a stressful experience, and there’s always the opportunity for misunderstandings. Having a shared room lets your daughter and her boyfriend talk these issues out together in privacy. If they’re both still in college, they might not be able to afford to get a hotel room. It might even be a big deal for him to travel to see your family.
They’re doing a nice thing by reaching out to you in this way. Do you want to feel welcoming? If not, there should be a really good reason for it, not just one that you can articulate, but which is backed up by your values and the way you’ve always lived your life.
RE: SLEEPOVER: This is a hard issue to face given the physical and emotional negatives of casual sex. Isn’t this a big consideration?
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Sex between adults in an established relationship isn’t “casual sex.” So, no.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at noon ET each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.