Go the F— to Sleep – funny or not?


A new book for parents (definitely not for children!), ‘Go the F— to Sleep’ has been lauded as a ‘publishing sensation’.

A parody of a lullaby-based children’s book laced with the ‘Eff’ word, this delightfully illustrated book by Adam Mansbach, a Rutgers University creative writing teacher, was inspired by Mansburg’s struggle to put his two-year-old daughter to bed. The rhymes are sugary sweet, just like a typical children’s bedtime book – except for the ‘eff’ word  laced throughout them: ”The cubs and the lions are snoring,/Wrapped in a big snuggly heap./How come you can do all this other great shit/But you can’t lie the f— down and sleep?”

‘Go the F— to Sleep’ was released in the US before it arrived ‘down under’ this week. I (almost literally) peed myself laughing at the ‘proofs’. I posted them on my facebook page and it seemed to really strike a chord with parents – they laughed ; they expressed their own frustrations about toddler sleep times – and they bonded.

This bonding was something like a recognition that they weren’t alone on the front line – an acknowledgement that parenting, especially when you are exhausted after meeting a toddler’s needs all day, can be a tough gig.  It seemed a revelation to many that there were others who felt not only frustrated but totally exasperated when they were just craving for some downtime at the end of a busy day – and their child’s reluctance to conveniently go the ‘eff’ to sleep was pushing them over the edge.

Among the camaraderie, there was a father with now grown up children who expressed concern that the sentiments expressed in the book were abusive – that such a book could encourage parents to actually verbally abuse their littlies.  He came over quite pious and I wondered whether the fact that he had grown up kids may have helped to mellow his memories (that he had NEVER felt like swearing at his kids) or whether he was a wowser with no sense of humour in the first place, so probably bored his kids to sleep.

Then came some famous actors reading the book aloud on Youtube – with expression that made it sound even more hilarious. Our own Noni Hazlehurst who is loved and adored and no doubt a lover of children (she has two of her own who were apparently ‘non sleepers’) is the latest actor creating controversy by reading the book aloud.

I can empathise strongly with Noni – as a mum of now grown up kids, I too remember the emotions I went through as the mother of a couple of kids (out of five) who I would now call ‘low sleep requirement’ infants.  Who could forget the torment of a baby who gave up ALL daytime sleeps at SIX MONTHS?!  This baby only needed eight hours sleep in any 24 hour period. While his two year old brother took his two hour afternoon nap (now that was enough to inspire mummy smugness!), I would draw the curtains, snuggle into bed with the baby and breastfeed, as though it was the middle of the night. My sweet baby would have a lovely breastfeed then rear his head and lurch towards the edge of the bed – wanting to be on the floor. He was already crawling. Despite the advice that he needed more sleep because ‘babies grow in their sleep’ (they actually do produce growth hormone while they sleep), this baby was was above the ninetieth percentile for height and weight and he was always smiling

I felt terribly alone. I also felt that I must be faulty to have caused such a ‘problem’. If only I had known that to my baby, there was no problem – rather, the sleep problem was mine! I needed help and support and perhaps a bloody good laugh –with other parents of kids who didn’t need as much sleep as the textbook said they should or there would be dire consequences to their development! By the way, this ‘baby’  is now a very successful six foot something version of his happy, sociable baby self.

I have had a bloody good laugh at this new book and I have shared it because I do think it’s hilarious and I don’t believe it will encourage parents to actually verbally abuse their children. However, I also think it can serve a greater purpose (am I getting too heavy here?) by opening discussion around toddlers and sleep as well as how we acknowledge and respect the rights and needs of small children.

In my work, I meet many parents who are given harsh advice around infant sleep, especially parents of toddlers – from shutting and even locking doors on children at bedtime (especially if they dare to call out or, heaven forbid, sneak out of their beds to seek comfort in their parents’ bed), to removing the bedroom light bulb (as well as shutting the door). Although parents contact me because this advice doesn’t feel right to them,  I feel sad that so many responsive parents worry that their littlies are ‘having them on’ or ‘playing up’ when they need help to settle at bedtime or if they wake and need comfort to resettle during the night.

As one concerned mother has written to me, “I think that children are the least visible minority group in our society who suffer massive prejudice from adults who abuse their privilege. This book (Go the Eff to Sleep)  legitimises that power position of adults over children perpetuating beliefs such as the line re the child “lying” about being thirsty. This book sends the message that a child’s experience of difficulty getting to sleep is not worth our empathy.”

While a good laugh without judgment of our failings and fears (that we have created ‘problems’) might allay our feelings of isolation and give us some relief from our frustrations around the awesome responsibility of parenting, it is worth considering that babies and children are people too. Going to sleep is a complex process for babies and toddlers –and even older children and adults at time (doesn’t a cuddle help you relax and fall asleep more easily?). Also, that little ones have genuine needs –day and night. We can’t just put a baby in a cupboard when we no longer want to play the parenting game, no matter how inconvenient it might be for us.

Recently I was breathalysed in my pyjamas whilst driving to pick up teenagers –  my kid wouldn’t get into the car with a driver who had been drinking so he called me. While the police making me blow into that straw laughed at me, I joked that although I looked like a woman who had been drinking (I hadn’t even put on a dressing gown), I hadn’t had a drop but I was considering bringing them a bunch of kids to test on my way back. Despite the jokes, I knew my child was safe because he trusted me to be there for him, even when it wasn’t convenient and I would rather be snug in my bed.

This is why, even when we feel like screaming “go the eff to sleep!” we need to remember that the bonds we weave when our kids are little form lifelong connections that will keep them safe as they grow. We also need to appreciate that attachment is a 24 hour process that doesn’t switch off when the clock (or whatever book we read) says it’s bedtime for our babies.  We also need to consider what messages we are giving babies and children about ‘being there’ for them – day and night! And, while we might think dark thoughts at times, we also need to make sure these are just that – thoughts that we would never act on.

Pinky McKay, International Board certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), runs a private practice in Melbourne specializing in gentle parenting techniques. A sought after keynote speaker and best-selling author with 4 titles published by Penguin, including her recent book Parenting By Heart, she’s an expert source for media appearing regularly on major network TV and quoted in various publications. Pinky’s books, parenting resources and her free newsletter ‘Gentle Beginnings’ can be found on her website www.pinkymckay.com.au .

bedtime story; controlled crying; night time parentinggo the F--- to sleep; Pinky McKay; baby not sleeping; baby sleep problems; toddler won't sleep; toddler sleep problems; help your baby sleep; help your toddler sleep; bedtime rituals
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  • Amy

    I was commenting to my husband last night, after the fifth (of six) time that our nearly-one-year-old woke us up that there should be a sequel to the book – ‘STAY The F— Asleep!’

    I hardly think that a book is going to make people more inclined toward being abusive towards their children. We all get frustrated, we all lie there at night as the baby cries over the monitor for the millionth time and just want to cry ourselves, but it’s a book. Don’t the self-righteous naysayers have anything better to do? (How about write a book themselves?!)

  • Andrea

    what a Great blog Pinky, your story about your son and the bond that stays even into the teenage years made me a bit teary! My babies are still young and those years terrify me, it’s lovely to read that they still rely on mum in when they are not little. You are such an inspirational mum!

  • Nerida

    Thanks, Pinky, for your lovely balanced approach. The language in the book doesn’t appeal to me personally but I can empathise with the sentiment. While I am fortunate that my five-month-old daughter is generally a good sleeper at night, she doesn’t drop off as easily during the day or stay asleep for long. But she is new to the world and I’m happy to help her by rocking and singing. Your message that babies and children are people who have genuine needs and should be respected is such an important one. I enjoy being there for my baby 24/7 and hopefully we can enjoy a great relationship into the future.

  • YvetteDownunder

    Like you Pinky, the majority of people I have shared this wonderful book with get the joke. The small minority who find it offensive or somehow threatening really do not represent the vast majority who appreciate the chance to laugh.

    I would also laugh at similar books titled “Where the f*ck did you put my keys?” “No you can’t have a F*cking lollipop” and all the other moments that make us wish we had bought a goldfish rather than have a child.

    It is the most wonderful chance to share the agony, with a laugh. A friend used to sing lullabies to her sleepless child, only the words were not quite original. Life is like that sometimes.

    I gave a copy of this book to each of my now-adult children and they laughed and laughed – and hopefully, when my grandchildren arrive, they will remember they are not alone and will get the book off the shelf and smile.

    I also shared the video of beloved Noni Hazelhurst reading the book and they watched it with friends – they, the generation who grew up with Noni on Playschool, got the joke. As Noni would have wished to to.

  • Junebug

    I just can’t bring myself to change my mind even though Pinky disagrees with me. It’s a fundamental of psychology that thoughts inform our beliefs and behaviours. To send the message that thinking verbal abuse is okay is the foundation of accepting it as a value and practice. Telling the bullied victim that it’s “just a joke” and they have no sense of humour if they don’t cop it, is an excuse for abuse.

  • Evelyn

    I love your blog Pinky! I love the idea that being an “attachment parent” doesn’t mean that you never have negative thoughts about your children, or that you magically have the capacity to give endless amounts of empathy and love. Interestingly my friends who most seemed to laugh at this book were those who are also on the “gentle parenting” path- we all take our kids seriously, but when we get together to unwind we can “tell it like it is” and admit (and get empathy for) the times when it is hard. I think because so many of us have spent hours and hours doing the hard yards responding to our kids night-time needs we could really get the sense of frustration portrayed in the book- whereas maybe someone who had done controlled crying from on early age and expected their kid to sleep 12 hours a night would not get that. The book also reminded me of the many pointless hours I have spent trying to get my (now almost 3 year old) to sleep- some time in the last year I realised that if it wasn’t going to happen, it wasn’t going to happen, and the best thing to do was just to let him get up and deal with it. And definitely to go with the flow in relation to his sleep patterns, even if it didn’t seem like a normal toddler routine (so this time last year he was going to bed at 11pm after a pretty late arvo nap, and we spent a lot of time going out on train rides or to the city or aquarium at night, just for some fun ways to pass the time!)So for me part of what I got from the book was remembering what it was like to get so caught up in whether my child would or wouldn’t sleep, and sometimes it is helpful to step outside of that and realise, it’s not neccessarily the end of the world (as you said, your 6 month old non-sleeper really didn’t seem to suffer) The swearing and stuff at the kid, I took as being “when you’re that sleep deprived and frustrated, you think these crazy thoughts and start blaming the child, but that doesn’t mean you are right to do that, it’s a sign of how crazy you are getting” I remember times when me or my partner would come out of the bedroom and say to the other parent something like “he’s being a dickhead just to piss me off!” and then the other one would just laugh at what a ridiculous idea that was (that a baby or toddler could do that), and then we would both end up laughing realising how silly our thoughts were getting.
    My favorite part of the book is when the child jumps off the bed, throws open the door and runs laughing down the hallway. Ha ha, there are so many times that has happened here!

  • Megan

    Junebug- I do sympathise with you, but is it not also a fundamental of psychology that frustrations should be voiced and redirected rather than pent up? I don’t know any parents who don’t occasionally feel like screaming their heads off at their little ones. This book is bang on for me- I’ve definitely thought these words while my daughter struggles against her sleepiness and forces her eyes open *again* and I’ve even been known to scream them into a pillow every now and then when I’m really losing the plot. Having my frustrations expressed in this very clever way has helped me vent them through laughter and made them noticeably easier to bear. I really doubt it will have any major effect on how parents interact with their children, beyond helping them to relax a bit around a very stressful part of the day. It is unfortunate that it perpetuates the notion that children are manipulative and their needs can be dismissed when it’s inconvenient, but really it’s a drop in the ocean of misinformation like that. Besides, even if you *know* that your child is expressing a genuine need for connection it can be hard not to feel bullied and manipulated at times and this is another frustration that I think is important to voice and recognise (and then hopefully reframe as understanding rather than reinforcing the negative stereotypes).

  • Maree

    I agree that I think a lot of parents who have a ‘gentle’ approach to parenting seem to find this book, and are usually the ones sharing it around and sharing a laugh. I personally believe that while this book may have a lot of swearing in it (I swear like a trooper, but found some of the swear words were pushing on unnecessary), I think leaving them to cry would be a lot more detrimental to their health. It is not like I scream these words at my child out loud. I have thought to myself “Oh for f*cks sake just go to f*cking sleep!!!!” and while you feel bad for it, it is a lot better than not attending to your child, and/or taking your frustration out on them. This book does not say that he is actually saying this to his child. While I agree if someone was saying all this stuff to their child and being as angry as it can be made out in the book, it wouldn’t be good for the child, I don’t believe that this is what the book is about.
    I think this will be a gift for a lot of new parents for me 🙂

  • Julia

    Noni was interviewed by the Age here: http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/books/noni-hazlehurst-reads-expletiveridden-childrens-book-20110713-1hd2s.html

    She says she thinks she probably should have sought help, but didn’t.

    ‘I thought because of Play School that I should be able to cope, because I was able to cope with so many other things.’

    The popularity of this book shows to me the desperate need of many parents to express their frustrations. Many new parents are not having their own needs met and if this language helps to normalise their experience then it is a great thing.

    I’m struggling right now with my 16 month old dropping her day sleep altogether. I can definitely relate to the sentiment of the book! When on earth am I meant to cook dinner now!??

  • Connie

    I love your story about driving to pick up your teenager in your pyjamas. Congratuations on a wonderfully attached relationship. Pinky, your advice has been wonderful as I nursed my babies (now aged 8yrs and 4 yrs). My 8 yr old was a pram/sling baby and nursed exclusively for the first 18 mths of her life. Not to be outdone, her younger sister was a 100% sling baby and nursed exclusively for the first 3 yrs 3 mths of her life. We co-slept with them both. They now share a room and are the closest of sisters and are well-adjusted, easy-to-discipline children. They do not follow popular opinion like sheep but stand their own ground with their values. Both the schools and us as parents have noticed this. They are very selective with their choice of close friends but have many mates at school. I can definitely attest to the benefits of attachment parenting (we were advised to “cry-it-out with our first and this hurt both our child and us as parents, so much, especially to see a baby mistrust her mother. Thankfully we managed to repair that damage.) It DID feel like I was tired and worn out but your mantra of “this too shall pass” has only been too accurate. I now work full time and hubby is a house-hubby, enjoying his time with the children. I could myself privileged to have had your advice in the early years of our childrens’ lives.

  • Anna

    I thought it was funny. I’ve never told my baby to go the F to sleep, and neither did the narrator in the book, but I’ve had moments where that is what I’ve felt like saying.

    I started following Elizabeth Pantley’s No Cry Sleep Solution with my baby from about 2 months and she sleeps beautifully most of the time thanks to all the good advice (she’s 12 months). It was interesting to see how many bedtime mistakes the narrator of Go The F to Sleep makes though in light of my reading and experience. I wondered how much of the narrator’s frunstration was brought on themselves through lack of consistency and gentleness around bedtimes…

  • jessica

    While I get the joke (and am not at all offended by the language) I tend to share Junebug’s concerns. While most (all?) parents get extremely frustrated with various aspects of their children at times culturally reinforcing the conflict seems to potentially do more harm than good.

    I’m thinking about times when I experience frustrating moments in my marriage — it is really, really helpful to call a specific friend or two who can give me empathy and perspective. It is not at all helpful to go out with a “group of girls” and spend the evening bitching about our husbands. When I do the former I wind up feeling validated and ready to take steps to improve the situation. When the latter has occurred I tend to come home even less connected to my spouse than before.

    I think that those of us who raise concerns about the book feel as if it more like the second example – at lease on a macro-scale. Maybe those who feel differently are seeing it as the more intimate sharing between the friend or two that sent them the link?