Bedtime book touches a nerve

2011-05-30 00:00

WHEN you receive e-mail from three different people in the space of a few days about the same topic it’s usually significant­.

This little flurry of correspondence trailed a minor eruption that started at the beginning of the month in the United States about a new book. Due to be released in October, the book went viral after a pdf that was sent out to booksellers was forwarded to the rest of the world. It’s that kind of book.

The genius is in the title — Go the F**k to Sleep. In my generation there are probably few parents who don’t relate to that sentiment, even if they would never dream of expressing it like that.

Described as a humorous children­’s book for adults, it was inspired by writer Richard Mans-bach’s attempts to get his two-year-old daughter Vivian to nod off. According to one news report he posted a comment on his Facebook wall that read: “Look out for my forthcoming children’s book, Go the F--- to Sleep.

The response from friends encouraged him to make this a reality — which quickly shot up to number one on Amazon’s bestseller list in pre-orders alone.

This response seems to be global: a quick e-mail to colleagues asking for their war stories and strategies over children’s sleep elicited heartfelt, rueful replies. “What else would drive a full-grown adult to leopard crawl across their own bedroom?” growled one. Cars and drugs were both mentioned a few times as remedies that worked. A father­ recalled driving a child to Hilton and back from town. One dark night they got lost in the mist and the journey took an hour instead of the expected 15 minutes.

A mother used up “litres of fuel” driving around at night as well as the top of the washing machine at full cycle. She also, she admitted, resorted to Stopayne at times. Another once fed her wide awake son whiskey, while a writer said his mother was advised by the family doctor to feed her sleepless daughter­ “a spoonful of sugar soaked in gin”.

But if the book has struck a chord, the question has to be why? I wonder if the previous generation of parents would have had the same connecting moment around this matter? I can remember the door being firmly closed at bedtime when I was a child and uncompromising darkness being the final response to our protests. And when it came time for me to put my own child to sleep, my tired reports and complaints to my mother elicited, instead of sympathy, the comment that I was “making a rod for your own back”. Being too soft in other words.

Macy Halford, writing in the New Yorker, observes that “when faced with a kid who refuses to go to sleep, we get annoyed, like all parents before­ us, but, rather than just abandoning the child to the dark and telling it that it can go to sleep or stay awake as it likes, but it is staying in the bed until morning (remember Proust at the opening of Swann’s Way?), we sit there with it, reading to it and singing to it and distracting it with swirling night lights until it decides it feels like going to sleep, all the while thinking to ourselves, Go the f*** to sleep, kid”.

The result, which this book acknowledges and is why it strikes a chord, is “rage! So repressed it has to be sublimated into a children’s book!”

Sometimes all this rage, frustration and sleep deprivation drives us to measures like the much-debated controlled crying method, which a psychologist friend refers to as “controlled cruelty­”. This approach­, which tackles head-on parents’ aversion to the sound of crying, advises that you leave baby to cry for ever longer periods after putting her down until she learns to soothe herself. This, I found, requires­ ear plugs and a strong will.

A gentler approach, and the one I settled for when child number two came along, was a bigger bed and a laissez-faire attitude to sharing it with her and her sister. We all slept much better.

A wise colleague emphasised the need for flexibility, observing that “overall, it helps not to stress too much about it, don’t be anal about bedtime”.

Like all the other tricky phases of childhood (and parenthood), this too will pass.


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