Friday, March 23, 2007

Where Sleepovers Are Difficult

When I was a kid, one of my greatest joys was having my current best friend over to my house for overnight stays on the weekends or for several days during the summer. Good friends are like candy when you're a kid. You can never have too much.

While a friend was staying over at my house, my parents generally ignored their presence and went about their business as usual. They didn't feel they had to be overly solicitous or accommodating. They only felt the need on occasion to tell us to shut up and go to bed when giggling or talking carried on late into the night.

A few days ago, I was conducting a lesson with a student and one of the questions was about whether or not the student would like to be famous. She said she would like to be famous because her extended family (cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.) would have more contact with her all the time. When I asked her why they did not have much contact with her now, she said that they lived too far away. She said she liked hanging out with her cousins and talking with them for long periods of time when she was younger and they lived closer and said she envied me because I grew up living near 8 of my cousins (whereas she only has 2). For the record, my student is a friendly, happy, charming young woman and there's no way her family avoids her because of her personality.

Since most young westerners are generally less attached to their family than their friends, I asked her why her university friends weren't sufficient to keep her company. She said that it was very difficult having them over or going to her friends' houses because their fathers came home from work tired and couldn't relax around a visitor. I asked if she ever had her friends stay overnight with her when she was younger and she said that she never had. When I asked her why she felt friends rarely stayed overnight in Japan, she said she thought it was because houses were too small for the parents to have any real privacy when guests visited. She could have her cousins over without putting her parents out because they felt comfortable being themselves around family.

I didn't discuss this point with my student but I wondered if part of the reason parents couldn't fully relax around their children's friends is that Japanese culture is generally more concerned with what others think than American culture. My Dad might have felt perfectly fine in his casual clothes, watching television and drinking a beer while ignoring my friends but a Japanese father may be somewhat concerned with how his actions may be viewed and mentioned to the parents of a child staying over with his child.

I felt rather bad for my student because she never experienced the giddy joy of carrying on with a friend in an extended and relaxed fashion. That sort of camaraderie and bonding doesn't come as easily in public spaces or in small spans of time.


Anonymous said...

Maybe that is true for girls, but my two sons often had their friends sleepover. It was so much fun for them and their friends. But I have to admit my sons didn't get to sleep over at their homes as often probably because of the rabbit hutch style. We had a huge king sized water bed that one time slept 6 little boys! I threatened them with a goodnight kiss if they didn't be quiet and go to sleep!
Viki in chiba

Shari said...

I was thinking it was more of a Japanese cultural thing than the size per se. I'm guessing you're not Japanese since your name is "Viki." ;-)

However, I guess you're saying your sons get to sleep over at their Japanese friends homes on occasion. It may be something that varies from family to family.

Thanks very much for commenting!

Joanna said...

My mother being Japanese, I understand what the girl means. I recall when I was a child (around 8 or so, I first came to America when I was 7) I asked if I could invite my friend over for a sleep over.
1. First had to explain this concept to my mother. According to her, this type of thing just doesn't happen in Japan very often.
2. I had to try to explain why this would be fun or remotely interesting for me.
3. Then she called my friend's parents to tell them no harm will come to their child, even though I told my mother that was a given. She also stated there were no males in the house so that they would feel safer, I guess. (my father was in the Navy and was away often)

For the longest time I couldn't sleep over at another person's house if a male was present in that household, my mother was paranoid about men/boys molesting me.

Anyway, my mother at first was concerned about people sleeping over, but I also made it easy for her because I made sure they were in "my" room, away from my parents. In fact, I didn't invite people in my house very often because I was concerned about my parent's comfort. I guess because I knew it bothered her. When I did invite people I hushed them into my room and closed the door so that she wouldn't notice them that much. But then again, I might have done that because I felt uncomfortable with their presence too... For me, my room was the only place my friend’s could go. The living room and kitchen was my parent’s territory. In fact, I often found it uncomfortable to go to my friend’s house and sit in the living room. I felt like I was invading the parent’s place. I would only start to relax if they hushed me into their room away from the parents.

I think for me it was respecting my parent’s private life and they respected mine in return. They never really bothered me if I was playing with my friend in my room. When they invite their friends over I would disappear in my room as well, only coming out if I wanted sometime to eat which I would take back into my room to eat.

Even to this day, I find it rude that kids bother their parent’s so much when they have company. I never stayed with the adult company unless I was specifically invited to hang out with them. And it was likewise when I had company.

Shari said...

Thanks for your comment, Joanna. Your sentiments mirrored my students though your detail (which I really appreciated) was much greater than hers.

The point you mention about respecting your parents' privacy and having them respect yours is a very interesting one which I'd never thought much about. I assumed in relatively small houses that it was difficult to have any sort of privacy but it appears there are ways to find it even in smallish spaces.

Thanks again and, if you have you own blog, I'd love to read it. I'm sure that as the child of a Japanese parent, you've got a lot of insights to offer.

Nanny Haha said...

I had similar situations when I was growing up. I NEVER, EVER had friends over (for sleepovers or otherwise). It wasn't a matter of space or my parents not wanting to be seen "kicking back" but rather my mother's paranoia about "what people will think" even though our small southern home was clean and nice. Nothing fancy and certainly nothing to be embarassed about, but my mother was very insecure and always felt that we didn't have things as good as others. I really feel sorry for her having that kind of unnecessary angst and worry. I feel the same for Japanese parents who might experience the same feelings of "what will our guests tell their family and neighbors". It's all so unnecessary! Because of my mother's unfounded fears, I missed the wonderful experience of being in a sleepover. Now I'm in my 30s and I have never had this experience. When I have kids I'm definitely going to let my kids have friends over and I will make them feel welcome, and I will help my kids entertain and have all the fun they want!

Joanna: your story about your mom is so cute. Personally, I think it's adorable that she went through the trouble of making sure your friends' parents would not have "the wrong idea" about anything happening in your home. Even though she was doing it because of her culture, it was still a nice gesture. If only more American moms would go through this kind of trouble to not only make sure they own kids are secure, but to also to have this sort of networking with the parents of their kids' friends. Also, I laughed out loud about your mother forbidding you to go over to friends' houses with males present. My mother had EXACTLY the same fear (and we're not Japanese--just normal, small-town North Carolinians). I never once in my whole growing up years went to the home of a friend. My mother was sure I would be molested by someone's father or brother.

Interesting how many of these fears and worries that we have in common would seem cultural, but in reality they are just *human*.

Maura said...

I think it has to do with Japanese hospitality. When a visitor comes to the house, they change their demeanor entirely, and the mother especially tries to tend to every need of the guest. There's a lot of cooking and cleaning involved. I got a sense of this from reading through something online geared towards homestay students:

So I think that there is a cultural difference beyond caring more about what people think.. There's also a different cultural norm for dealing with guests. Japanese people do this as a way to honor their guests, and show their respect. The website above deals with college-age guests, but because of what your student said, I suspect that it extends even to children. I'm not saying that Westerners don't go out of their way for guests, but Japanese people seem to do it much more so.