‘Go the F–k to Sleep’: What’s It Really About?

By now, you’ve probably heard of the latest publishing world sensation, a slim title with a seemingly kid-focused cover and the not-for-kids title Go the F–k to Sleep. The book, written by Adam Mansbach and illustrated by Ricardo Cortés, mimics the cadences and rhythms of a children’s book, mixing heartwarming and sleep-inducing images–”The wind whispers soft through the grass, hon. / The field mice, they make not a peep”–with the vented frustration of a parent hoping against hope that his or her little one will finally settle down: “It’s been thirty-eight minutes already. / Jesus Christ, what the f–k? Go to sleep.”

Funny, right? I thought so. My wife thought so. The thousands of people who made this book #1 on Amazon even before it was published must think so.

But Katie Roiphe doesn’t think it’s funny. Writing in Slate, she points to what she sees as “a certain nastiness” in the book, an “anger or hostility [that] is aimed at children.” It is, to her eyes, the tale of parents who’ve wrapped their lives so tightly around their children that they can see nothing else beyond the nursery walls and long, fruitlessly, for some TV time with their spouses. To these parents “full of rage,” Roiphe puts her closing bit of advice in the mouth of the book’s fictional kids: “If those sweet-faced children, so gorgeously drawn by Ricardo Cortés, could talk back would they say: ‘Put on a f—ing dress. Have a f—ing drink. Stop hovering over us. Live your own goddamned life.’”

But where Roiphe sees the rage of repressed dreams, I see something else entirely.

To me, Go the F–k to Sleep‘s hilariousness lies in its pitch-perfect dramatization of the powerlessness we adults have in the face of a kid who just won’t sleep. Whether it’s a newborn whose wails won’t cease or a toddler whose bladder has mysteriously become a fire hose, no amount of education, affluence, charisma, or any other trait will get that kid to go the f–k to sleep. We can sing, we can recite nursery rhymes, we can even try ignoring them, but they alone hold the keys to that kingdom.

And am I filled with rage by the fact that their sleeplessness interrupts my evening of Law & Order? At times, sure, I will cop to losing my cool with the 4-year-old who just wants one more kiss, one more trip to the bathroom, one more drink. But that rage is hardly the existential anger at a life mistakenly dedicated to kids over self. If Roiphe’s world is one where every evening is spent in a cocktail dress discussing Sartre over expensive cocktails, more power to her. I’d love to go out more than I do, but that failure is not because my kids won’t go to bed.

Nor is the father who sits by his sleepless child’s crib or bed waiting for his child to calm down “hovering.”  Getting our kids to bed is up there with the most essential of parental duties, and having a nanny take care of my kids during the too-long workday, I choose not to outsource this one. But that doesn’t mean I love every minute of it, or that I’d rather be doing yet another pee run instead of finally having my dinner or watching those reruns or finally getting a full night of sleep. Hence, my knowing laughter at Go the F–k to Sleep.

No, the subtext of Go the F–k to Sleep is not the rage of too-involved parents resenting their choices. It’s the helplessness of the otherwise competent when they’ve been bested, yet again, by the small, still-forming products of their own genes. And that is f–king hilarious.

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  1. by Karen Nichols

    On June 23, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    I totally agree with this article and think that book is utterly hilarious. I am a parent of almost 3 year old twin girls and an almost 1 year old boy and I have totally been there…and I mean like last night. I’m not full of rage and not overly obsessed with my children but from time to time I do wish they would Go the F___ to Sleep! And you’ve said it perfectly b/c no matter what you do the kids always seem to win. This book is funny and if it kills the stress of my day than I laugh and don’t over analyse it. Its supposed to be humorous!

  2. by Jill Cordes

    On June 23, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    Perfectly put Michael. I got so obsessed this week when she slept in until 7:30 (it’s often 5:45 or 6) that I was hellbent on cracking the code. I decided it had to be her pajamas. They have footsies, which I decided must make her feel more secure. And they are a zen like yellow. I used them 2 more nights in a row, thinking they were “magic pj’s”. But this morning, she was up at 6:30. Sigh.

  3. by Liz McLennan

    On June 24, 2011 at 8:08 am

    My husband and I laughed our fool heads off when the book came in the mail. It was a surprise gift from a girlfriend and I love her even more now, for thinking of us and for knowing that we’d laugh.

    Because we recognized the sense of utter hopelessness that is putting a determined child to sleep. Those days are past us now (I hope) but I’ll never forget entire evenings of trading off, sitting in our son’s room, WILLING him to fall asleep.

    It’s a funny book. Irreverent. Potty-mouthed. And so freakin’ funny. If some folks can’t see the humour in it and see only hostility, well, I feel a bit sorry for them. Life’s short – so’s childhood. There are lots of things to laugh about and this book is one of ‘em.

  4. by Becky

    On June 24, 2011 at 10:53 am

    If getting annoyed with our children from time to time makes us bad parents, then the world is doomed. Bedtime is my least favorite time of day and I love that there is a book out there that embodies how I feel humorously. It makes me glad that I’m not the only one who doesn’t love the endless requests and sits there wanting the kid to go the f–k to sleep! This Roiphe woman must either be blessed with kids who conk out immediately, or doesn’t have kids at all. Or she was blessed with unending patience, or she doesn’t care about her kids at all. None of those things are realistic!

  5. by Tarina

    On June 30, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Exactly. There’s always some nay-sayer out there who will put down every bit of humor out there at our “precious children’s expense” — because apparently there are parents out there who have never in their lives just wanted their ****ing kids to go the **** to sleep so they could take a ****ing shower. They never had a long day filled with “MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM”, or inconsolable crying because you just washed their favorite bear that looked like it could actually spawn some new version of Anthrax. There will always be someone saying the new version of Mario brothers is teaching children to worship the devil, or that your 8 year old listening to rock music will make him a drug addict by 10, or that teaching your double-digits-young boy to fire a rifle at a range is going to create another Columbine. To all of them, I say you parent your children, I will parent mine, and we can both “go the **** to sleep” at night just fine.

  6. by ME

    On June 30, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    I think people go WAY Overboard. Its supposed to be comedy people. Its not aimed at the children, and I really dont see many people actually Reading this to their children. Even the best of parent can get frustrated with the 20th trip to the bathroom, the 26th drink of water, the “my blanket fell off”, and i cant find my stuffed bear.

    We are educated and have definitely said the phrase in my head after the 20th trip upstairs to get our child back into bed. We certainly dont have “rage” or even irritation towards our child, its just the sheer exhaustion of going up time and time again. For us its not that it gets in the way of tv. Its trying to have a conversation with eachother while we get the house picked up, lunches made, dishes done and laundry folded.

    That being said, I am sure there are parents who actually speak to their child like that and thats where it is an issue. The book is just poking fun at the exhaustion of being a parent.

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