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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

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.

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18 Responses to “Why Are Parents Responding So Strongly to Go the F— to Sleep?”

  1. Rob says:

    Someone said Judi Dench, which is brilliant. Me, I’d give five minutes of YouTube listening time to pretty much any famous woman who wanted to read it. But do you go ridiculously on-the-nose (Courtney Love, Tina Fey) or do you go hilariously out-of-character (Tilda Swinton, Blythe Danner)?

    I could see this leading to a “Vagina Monologues”-type group reading event for charity, where people pay to hear the most likely and unlikely people reading it. Or an “It Gets Better” YouTube meme where everyone who needs a career boost or mild redefinition of their persona would do it. Of course, Christopher Walken doing it would be pretty much the endgame.

  2. Kim Voynar says:

    On the guy front, Rob, how about Clint Eastwood? Tommy Lee Jones? Chris Rock? For the women, I love the idea of Tilda Swinton. Or Gwyneth Paltrow. Or Oprah. Great idea on the charity readings too!

  3. Stacey Harrison says:

    Julie Andrews.

  4. Kim Voynar says:

    Stacey, when I was a kid I had nightmares about Mary Poppins. That’s brilliant.

  5. brandy says:

    Kim, I love this book, and as you know, I’m a religious person who doesn’t use or approve much profane language. But I have three kids, and nothing makes me want to curse a blue streak more than one that will. not. go. to. sleep. So, I adore the book because it expresses what I would probably never say – to my kids anyway, I’m sure I’ve said it to my hubby – but have definitely thought before.

    I read a Philadelphia Daily News interview with Adam Mansbach, and I think he really encapsulated why his book has struck such a resonant chord: Because for all the message boards, parenting groups, etc., we’ve made talking about the normal frustrations of parenting taboo. As you write, we’re all about portraying a sense of perfection, and it shatters the illusion – not just the illusion that we have achieved perfection but the illusion that such a thing is even possible – when we voice that it’s just plain maddening when our children do completely normal but uncooperative and irritating things.

    “As much as there’s a conversation about parenting in this culture, it’s very much about appearances,” Mansbach said. Exactly.

    BTW, I would love to hear Helen Mirren read this book! Anyone with a good, strong British accent would be great, actually. Why does cursing sound so much better if you do it with a British accent?


  6. Lisa says:

    Emma Thompson would be divine.

  7. jenrulz says:

    Best video ever. I want to buy this for my son. Love Samuel L. Keep it going!!!

    Jen Mom of 3

  8. Mamacita says:

    Alan Rickman, in full Snape mode. I’d pay double for that version.

    I’d pay TRIPLE if Rickman and Emma Thompson took turns with the verses.

    I’m not telling anyone what I’d pay if Walken did it. I’d have to see what my house’s market value is, first.

  9. Mamacita says:

    P.S. I still miss Catawampus.

  10. Sue says:

    Sorry, I don’t get it and why it’s funny. My husband and I both adore profane language, and use it regularly. We had 3 kid’s under the age of 3 at one time, many years ago. When my oldest son was a toddler, he helped his dad do construction work for the day. My husband said “F off” at one point that day. Then we had the horrible experience of our cute 2 year old boy yelling, “gug off!” at everyone for about a week. He even stood on top of a ladder and said it! We swore never to swear around our kid’s ever again after that experience. Maybe a great book for adults, but not for kid’s. And Sam L Jackson? Really? Creepy! Maybe Morgan Freeman or Julie Andrews to lend it some class (but too classy, so wouldn’t), or Jack Black to give it some humor (he still wouldn’t). Get the kid’s to bed in a normal way, with nice thoughts and language, then go bitch to your spouse that the little f’er didn’t want to go to bed. And really, as a mom of 3 all very close in age, I had my babes sleeping ten hours a night within 2 months of their birth, and I even had twins! I did it the right way, instead of resorting to swearing at my babes.

  11. Jamie says:

    Sue, I’m afraid you might’ve missed the point: this is not a Children’s book! No decent parent would actually read this book to their child. That’s why it’s hilarious: it gives a voice to that parental inner narrative that’s actually happening while reading (and reading, and reading…and fetching water…and scratching backs, singing, cuddling, and on and on…and…on) actual bedtime stories to your child.

    I second the vote for Julie Andrews and would also love to hear Betty White!

  12. Kim Voynar says:

    Sue, uh … what Jamie said. This isn’t a book intended to be read TO children. The cursing in the book reflects the inner voice of an exhausted parent.

    And the last bit of your comment: “And really, as a mom of 3 all very close in age, I had my babes sleeping ten hours a night within 2 months of their birth, and I even had twins! I did it the right way, instead of resorting to swearing at my babes.”

    … is EXACTLY the kind of thing I was talking about when I wrote about judgmental parents (especially women) who are so invested in feeling they’re doing it “right.” I mean, hooray for you that your kids were sleeping ten hours a night. That’s not the experience a lot of parents have, and it has nothing to do with doing it “right” or not. There was a time when I had four kids aged six and under. My boys always have gone to sleep easily and still do. My girls — aged 25, 14 and 9 now, did not as infants — and still do not — EVER go to sleep easily. They are wired with my night-owl energy. My 9YO, even when she is falling asleep, is in near constant motion. Every kid is different, and some babies require more nurturing and holding and rocking and back-patting than others.

    Did your “right way” include letting babies “cry it out” to “train” them to go to sleep alone? If this was a parenting blog, I know a lot of attachment parents who would be all over that and attacking you by saying that if your babies were sleeping ten hours a night by two months, you were doing something “wrong.”

    The wisdom of 25 years of parenting experience has taught me that, for the most part, children reared within the broad range of “normal” parenting skills (excluding, of course, abuse or neglect) will come out all right in the end, regardless of whether they are trained to go to sleep on their own, or parented to sleep.

    Fortunately, this isn’t a parenting blog where people need to label other people as “wrong” and themselves as “right” for how their children sleep, or pat themselves on the back for being better than other parents. You aren’t “right,” and you aren’t “wrong.” You’re just a parent who happened to have one kind of experience getting your kids to sleep, while other parents have had their own.

    And the book is still funny as hell.

  13. Kim Voynar says:

    Ah, Mamacita, thanks. I miss Catawampus too, sometimes. Glad to know there are folks who remember that blog fondly.

  14. Graeme says:

    I vote Christopher Walken. That would be sweet. If not Walken, Tom Waits. Women: Betty White, Sarah Silverman, or Marion Cotillard.

  15. mplo says:

    This book, which is clearly an adults’ book, sounds like a neat satire of what parents must frequently go through while trying to get their young kids to go to sleep, and, as some posters have pointed out, the inner voice of an exhausted parent who’s had a really tough time of it.

  16. Alison says:

    Here’s one of Australia best loved children’s TV presenters giving a reading. Noni Hazlehurst was everyone’s favourite Playschool presenter around 20 years ago. She used to read stories for children on the show so she is the perfect choice downunder!

  17. Di says:

    I think Pink should read it, or Helen Mirren.

  18. family says:

    Wow, marvelous blog format! How lengthy have you ever been blogging for? you made blogging glance easy. The entire look of your site is excellent, as well as the content material!

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon