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 .