Why Are Parents Responding So Strongly to Go the F— to Sleep?
So there’s been a good deal of controversy over children’s book for grown-ups Go the Fuck to Sleep, written by Adam Mansback and illustrated by Ricardo Cortés. You’ve heard of this, yes? A New Zealand Christian group called Family First NZ tried to get the book banned from sale there, but thankfully were unsuccessful in their sinister quest to censor New Zealand parents from their God-given right to laugh their asses off with the rest of us.
Before I get into my thoughts on this book, if you haven’t heard or read the book yet, you should check out one of the videos below. Take your pick:
I’ll go make a cuppa tea while I wait, go on now ….
Here’s Werner Herzog, drolly narrating:
Or perhaps Samuel L. Jackson is more your style? Well, here you go:
Hipster parents and yuppies alike, though (oh yes, you have more in common than you’d admit) might prefer this version, read by comedian Judah Friedlander. Hey, I’m not judging you … it’s my favorite:
Okay, back? I’ve listened to this book being read numerous times now. The first time I heard it, I laughed out loud. And right on the heels of that I thought to myself, “Whoo boy, the (insert any number of groups of parents who take things very seriously) crowd is gonna get their panties in a twist about this.” But maybe not. I’d like to think that most folks are literary enough and smart enough to get the genius and genuineness of this book.
Back when I used to write a lot about parenting issues on my old blog, Catawampus!, and other places, one of my soapbox issues was the way mainstream media — including children’s books — portray parenting. And more specifically, mothering, and the expectations we have of women that the physical act of getting pregnant and giving birth will universally and magically transform ordinary women into superhuman beings who can wrestle hormones and mood swings and post-partum depression, get little or no sleep for months on end, and deal endlessly with squalling, squawking, helplessly dependent little beings whose very lives depend upon their caregivers to be loving and nurturing — or at the very least, competent and responsible. And if they can do all that while immediately bouncing their figures back to their svelte and sexy pre-pregnancy states like all the movie stars do (thank you SO much, Angelina Jolie), cook a great meal every night, and perform in bed like a porn star, so much the better.
What’s worse is that it’s not just other people that expect all that of us, it’s that we demand it of ourselves and berate ourselves for our lack of perfection.
Now, I think it’s worth noting that the audio readings of this book so far (and I hear you, it just came out recently, but still …) have been from men. Would it be as funny read by a woman? Which got me pondering on how societal expectations around parenting are generally still lower for daddies than for mommies. We still, largely, expect that women will be the loving nurturers while the men, well, they’re only men, after all, right? And men only have so much patience for dealing with little kids before they have to turn the wee tykes over to their more capable mommies and go sit on the porch to unwind with a beer. Sheesh, everyone knows that.
And this, of course, ties back around to issues around gender expectations more generally, and how we raise our daughters with the expectation of being the self-sacrificial caregivers and our sons to be the (also self-sacrificial, but also in ways no one really likes to think too hard about) providers. And all of those are important tangential issues … but what about this controversial book that started me thinking about all this to begin with?
This book, I think, is striking a chord with so many parents because it speaks to the heart of the terrible guilt most of us carry that, no matter how hard we try, we are and always will be, in the words of the book’s narrator, shitty-ass parents.
That is the guilt we all carry, no matter what parenting choices we make, and this guilt is also at the heart of what I saw so much of when I was writing about parenting: parents attacking other parents for making choices different than their own. Cloth diapers or disposable; natural birth, home birth, hospital birth, c-section; bottle or breast; attachment parenting or cry-it-out; spanking or not; circumcising or not; immunizing or not; and on and on and on. It seemed not matter what the topic, some parent or other (women, most of the time) was ready to attack anyone with a differing opinion.
And most of what drives this anger, this attacking, this incessant need to judge and to fight, is simply that we are each of us so terribly invested in feeling we’re making the right choices that the natural course to take is to attack anyone who thinks that we’re wrong. Because we parents put so much pressure on ourselves to get it RIGHT, to not screw our kids up, don’t we?
You have that first baby, and you look at this fragile, tiny, miraculous bit of humanity you’ve just created and you think, “Oh my God, what have I done? I barely have my shit together to enough to take care of myself. How am I supposed to raise and guide and nurture this child and, hopefully, find that in the end of it all I’ve raised an adult person who is less fucked up and neurotic than I am?” It’s overwhelming, parenting is.
The people who are speaking out against this book are getting it completely wrong. It’s not advocating for abusing children, or for really telling your restless, procrastinating, incredibly energetic offspring to shut the fuck up and go to sleep, already (I can totally picture Samuel L. Jackson doing exactly that, though, and somehow it seems normal if I picture him doing it).
It’s about acknowledging the struggle that is parenthood, about giving voice to that part deep inside you that sometimes just wants to collapse on the floor in a heap, kicking and flailing and wailing because it’s so fucking hard being a parent, so much harder than you ever thought it would be, and sometimes all you want is just a couple hours fucking quiet time with your adult partner to chill and watch a movie without anyone demanding anything of you at all. Even — maybe especially — sex, because you’ll be snoring before the opening credits roll.
Listen to duality of the narrative, the way the first lines of each page evoke a parent lovingly reading a bedtime story to a beloved child, while the second set evokes the inner monologue of the exhausted parent who just wants their child to Go. The Fuck. To Sleep. And any parent who tells you they’ve never, ever felt that way? Is lying through their fucking teeth.
Look, I have five kids. I attachment parented them, I breastfed for ten solid years, I did natural births and home births and washed my own cloth diapers, and I love them all dearly down to their grubby little toenails. And all of them, at one time or another, have driven me bat-shit crazy with issues getting to sleep.
I’ve spent those endless hours sitting in a darkened room with a restless child, singing lullabies or ’80s love ballads, reading sappy bedtime stories (okay, I confess to liking Goodnight Moon), patting backs, getting drinks. Gently untangling my limbs from the death-grip of a child determined to wake up the instant I so much as shifted to relieve a leg cramp. And yes, there were countless times when, sleep-deprived and cranky and utterly lacking in personal space, I thought to myself, “Please, please, please, for the love of motherhood … I love you bigger than space, but … just go to sleep and stay that way for eight solid hours.”
Could this book actually make potentially abusive parents feel they have a license to hurt their child physically, or even to say to a toddler, “Go the fuck to sleep,” if they weren’t already the kind of parent inclined to say such a thing? I doubt that very much, just as I doubt that parents are likely to read this book to their kids at bedtime … because it’s not a children’s book. It’s an adult book mimicking a children’s book to give voice to the frustrations of legions of parents.
I think it’s brilliant, myself. You, of course, are free to disagree, and to share your opinion with the group. And by the way, which females do YOU want to hear reading Go the Fuck to Sleep? My votes are for Sarah Silverman, Rachel Maddow, Cher … and Helen Mirren.
Which is easier, writing or directing a film? Those are two totally different things. Writing is slightly easier because you can do it in bed.
~ Ben Wheatley To The BBC
You can neither make beautiful, great movies without risk as you can make babies without sex. Risk is part of the artistic process. That’s why I like performance, because performance is walking a high wire.
~ Francis Coppola