Is It OK To Be a Bad Parent Sometimes (Especially at Bedtime)?
A not-yet published book called Go the F**k to Sleep is currently (at the writing of this post) #2 on Amazon’s rankings. The book, by writer Adam Mansbach, is a satirical send-up of picture book bedtime stories such as Goodnight Moon, with each two-page spread offering color-rich illustrations with a sometimes asleep, sometimes not, big-eyed kid and four lines of verse written in the voice of a very weary parent, in phrases sprinkled with f- and s- bombs and the like.
As Eric Steinman notes on Green Living, the book is “not really a children’s book, but more of an adult pacifier in the fashion and manner of children’s lit.” The New York Times describes the phenom the book has become:
Shortly after Mr. Mansbach gave a first reading in Philadelphia on April 23, the book’s pirated contents swept the Internet. Message boards and Facebook groups shot up like a spontaneous nationwide gathering of Parenthood Anonymous. (“You’re obviously not a parent!” was the most common retort pinged at anyone who dared object to the book’s message.)
The hardcover quickly shot to No. 1 on Amazon. Fox 2000 snapped up the film rights. And the book hasn’t even been released yet. (It will be published on June 14, ahead of its original October publishing date, in response to consumer demand.) The publishers say the authors have been pursued by “Today,” CNN, “CBS Evening News,” and Time and People magazines.
The book seems to have caught a nerve among today’s parents, obsessed with doing everything right to give Brendan his best chance to get into Harvard. Parenting today is too often about being fearful of doing something wrong and impeding Sophia’s chances to go to Stanford, not to mention worrying about making themselves look like (heavenly powers forbid) bad parents. Similar anxieties were apparent in the fascination earlier this year with another “transgressive” parenting book, law professor Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, though her “bad behavior” (throwing away one of her daughter’s stuffed animals for not practicing the piano) can now, it seems, be exonerated as both of her children have made it into the Ivy League.
Go the F**k to Sleep offers today’s parents a little catharsis. Raising children is not (and one suspects never has been) easy; what parent hasn’t wanted (or has) to say some less than sweetie-pie-tinged words to a child, especially over the eternal bedtime struggle? Sometimes a parent just doesn’t feel like being June Cleaver. As the New York Times observes:
Today’s draconian child-rearing guides are still intent on what mothers and fathers really absolutely must do. What makes this latest book seductive is not so much its profanity as its articulation of verboten parental thoughts: We are not supposed to not want to be with our children. We are not supposed to not want to be a parent all the time.
As the mother of a son with disabilities, I’ve become used to appearing to be a bad parent. On too many occasions, Charlie — overwhelmed by crowds and noise and unable to express any of this — has cried, howled, ran off, thrown things, thrown himself on the ground, made loud and curious noises and flung his head at train windows. These days, Charlie is doing much better and we’ve grown used to stares, expressions of disbelief and disgust and mumblings of “what the h*** is wrong with those two for bringing that poor disabled kid out in public when they can’t control him?”
In addition, like many autistic children, Charlie routinely has trouble going to sleep. He is a teenager now and sometimes stays up till 2am for a couple of days in a row. One of us does have to stay up with him, though he has learned to keep himself busy with his iPad. I decided to stay home and not teach summer school this summer precisely because it’s not a great feeling to have to leave for work on the 6:53 am train after you’ve been up till 2:15 am.
Perhaps the lesson is simply that no parent is always a perfect parent and that, despite our culture’s seeming appetite for “model moms” raising Ivy League-quality kids, it’s all right to falter, to “let it all out,” to admit that “yes I am being driven crazy by the fact that you won’t go to bed, you’re full of energy and it’s past midnight!” Certainly it’s better to let out those aggravated feelings by laughing over a silly book (and a picture book, at that).
You just might want to make sure you don’t put Go the F**k to Sleep on the same shelf as Goodnight Moon, lest your little one grab it and promise that, if you read it her or him, she or he will go to sleep. Really!
Photo by frances1972