Bad Parents and “Go the F*ck to Sleep”
Go the F*ck to Sleep is the latest all-the-rage “children’s” book. It’s aGoodnight Moon-esque text where a parent begs their child to please, for the love of all that is holy, go the fuck to sleep (here’s Samuel L. Jacksonreading it). It’s crass, and the tone is one of sheer frustration (“hell no you can’t go to the bathroom. You know where you can go? The fuck to sleep”); it’s also hilarious. I’m not a parent, but I have been a live-in care-taker for a small child, and “sure, fine, whatever, I’ll bring you some milk, who the fuck cares, you’re not going to sleep” is not unfamiliar. Parents across the interwebs seem to enjoy the book, because parenting can be really really really frustrating, and even though you love your kid, sometimes you just want them to go the fuck to sleep. Please. Oh my god please.
But if you feel that way, you are probably a self-pitying, rage-filled sexless yuppie.
One wonders if this hostility toward the child, who is naturally and rightfully manipulative, is just a tiny bit misplaced. If we are raising a generation that sees the whole world as an expanse of devoted maids and butlers, if we ourselves are overly beholden or enslaved to our children’s anxieties and desires, isn’t it our own fault? Likewise, if we can’t manage to hire a baby sitter and get out of the house, if we have made of the conventional nuclear family structure something stifling, airless, it can’t really be the fault of a 4-year-old, resourceful and mischievous as he may be. We are, after all, to blame for our own self-sacrifice, and if we are being honest and precise, it’s not exactly self-sacrifice, tinged as it is with vanity, with pride in our good behavior, with a certain showiness in our parenting, with self-congratulation.
The book, in all its cleverness and artfulness and ingenuity, raises certain other questions: Are they having sex, these slouchy rageful parents? Not enough, perhaps. When the father turns back to the waking child’s bedroom, we look out at the comfy, sexless, vaguely depressive scene of his wife sprawled asleep on the couch under an ugly old blanket. No wonder the slouchy dad is full of rage. No wonder all those slouchy dads and moms who just want to watch a movie and eat some microwave popcorn find this book so funny, so transporting; no wonder it makes them feel, as the publicity materials suggest, “less alone.” But if those sweet-faced children, so gorgeously drawn by Ricardo Cortés, could talk back would they say: “Put on a fucking dress. Have a fucking drink. Stop hovering over us. Live your own goddamned life.”
So I agree, actually, with the critiques of yuppie helicopter-parenting, and I’m really skeptical of the modern parental ideal that requires you (at least if you’re a woman) to put your children first, always, before yourself and before your partner, and to re-focus your passion on your kids (often at the expense of your sex life, or any effort to have a sex life). I’m skeptical of the idea that the nuclear family is the best model for life-long happiness, and that once you have a baby you should direct all of your efforts toward that baby or else you’re a selfish person and your child will be eternally fucked up. I’m skeptical of the idea that children should be the center of a mother’s universe, and that women should define themselves first in relationship to their children, and that a night out or a full-time job or a refusal to do more than 50% of the care work (if you have a partner) should be in any way guilt-inducing. I’m skeptical of the idea that women who have identities outside of (or in addition to) being a mom are not as nurturing or as loving as women who center their lives in parenthood. I’m skeptical of the idea that parenthood brings (or should bring) ultimate fulfillment. I loved this very controversial Ayelet Waldman essay about loving her husband more than her children, and I think that sounds like a great marriage and a healthy family dynamic.
But I also think maybe someone is reading a little too much into the book (and considering that “someone” is Katie Roiphe, well). Little kids don’t fucking sleep enough, and they also want Goodnight Moon read to them 37 times before they go to bed, and then they want to say goodnight to every object in the house, and then they want a glass of water, and then they want to pee, and then they want to say goodnight again, and then and then and then just go the fuck to sleep already. Sometimes, frustration at a child is not actually being misdirected from all other aspects of your miserable life. Sometimes, children are just frustrating — just like pretty much anyone you love intensely, from your partner to your best friend to your dog. Children are also not particularly receptive to the usual negotiating tools, like logic and rational argument and even appeal to emotion. Children are pretty much wholly self-centered, especially the smaller ones whose tiny brains are not yet developed enough to understand concepts like “Moms need sleep too” and “Mom is a distinct individual whose sole purpose in life is not, in fact, to meet every single need that you have.” That is the worst. Whining may also be the world’s most annoying sound. And I’m pretty sure that wanting your kid to just shut up and sleep transcends class, country, religion, region and race, and isn’t just a yuppie parent thing.
So, yeah. Sometimes yuppie helicopter parents focus way too much on serving every single need that they perceive their child to possibly have at the expense of their own identities and lives, and it probably makes a lot of people miserable. And sometimes telling a kid to go the fuck to sleep is just telling a kid to go the fuck to sleep. And you probably aren’t even saying it out loud, because I’m pretty sure yuppie parents don’t say “fuck” to their children.