I admit, it's funny. And there's another thing I like about Adam Mansbach's Go the F**k to Sleep: It exposes the underbelly of parenting -- that dark, secret part of us that needs a little time to ourselves when we can do grown up things -- or maybe just crawl into our own bed for some desperately needed sleep.
In the book, the author uses expletives to convince his child to release him from endless cuddles or drinks of water. Who among us hasn't visited moments (for some, every night) when our longing to escape the clutches of a sleepy child has prompted the type of sentiments Mansbach uses in his take on a children's bedtime story?
So much of parenting is done behind closed doors. We rate ourselves against the behavior of imaginary parents, falling prey to insecurities that have us convinced we're the worst of the bunch. Surely Danny's mommy and daddy never lose their patience at bedtime. They always appear so calm, so on top of things.
But, the fact is every parent reaches a breaking point, nearly weeping when, after believing little Trudy has finally dropped off to sleep, she grabs our arm as we try to make our escape, starting yet another round of, "Don't go!!!"
Raising kids is exhausting. Children are relentlessly demanding, needy and egocentric. They love us in their own precious way, but they don't really care if we're tired, or if we'd rather spend time with our spouse or a good book.
Mansbach has highlighted our need to talk openly about how tough it can be to raise children, especially at the end of a long day. Most of the parents I see for counseling are running on empty, getting significantly less sleep than bodies require. Sleep rejuvenates, nourishes and restores us not only physically, but emotionally. Chronically exhausted parents are more stressed, impatient and likely to explode and/or become abusive toward their child.
We simply need sleep to function well. If you've gotten to the point where you're thinking (or saying) "Go the f**k to sleep," it's time to create some clear bedtime rituals.
Mind you, it takes time and commitment to establish end-of-day routines that work with children. Kids love our company, and don't like being alone when they fall asleep. It's human nature to snuggle with other humans when we sleep. And, frankly, a child left alone in the dark often doesn't know what to do with his active mind, which means without your calming presence, he might end up lying there for hours, triggering those endless rounds of "Mommy, I'm scared/need to go the bathroom/have a tummy ache..."
When parents are clear about how they want bedtime to go, it's easier to implement a realistic strategy. Depending on the child's age and temperament, that might mean two stories, a 10-minute cuddle and a lava lamp to occupy an active mind while the child drifts off to sleep. Or, it could be that after your goodnight kisses, your youngster can use a headlamp to look at books until she's drowsy. Still, other children may end up sleeping in their parent's room.
I'm not defining how bedtime should look -- that's for each parent to decide. I'm simply suggesting that if a parent is committed to a plan, most children will relax into it. It's when we change our minds from one night to the next, or deliver ultimatums that we have no intention of enforcing, that children push, and the nightly craziness persists.
Mansbach opened up an important conversation about parents' need for grown up time, and for a good night's sleep of their own. Some say the book is funny, and others call it downright crass. Mostly, I'm concerned about how easily it could fall into the hands of a child; no little one should stumble across this book, geared for adults with a particular brand of humor.
But if his book is helping moms and dads feel less guilty about being imperfect, that's a good thing. Parents who feel like failures tend to take their frustrations out on their children, perpetuating a vicious cycle of anger and drama.
We all reach a point when we long for "Goodnight" to mean, "I'll see you in the morning." Bedtime rituals can go a long way toward helping reduce long, drawn out nighttime drama. So can getting our own healthy dose of sleep, exercise and grown up time. But, if all else fails, just fast forward to imagine the day when your little one is off on her own life adventure. You might just find yourself wanting to read one more bedtime story, or to hang on for a little more snuggling.
Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.