The Go the F**k to Sleep Approach to Parenting
By now, at least 10 people have emailed me the link to Lori Gottlieb’s controversial Atlantic article, “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy.” The piece is about our generation’s over-parenting tendencies, told through the eyes of a therapist, herself a new mother. In it, Gottlieb wonders if her 20-something patients seek therapy because their parents spent too much time protecting them from difficult feelings when they were young. Here’s the thrust:
“We were running ourselves ragged in a Herculean effort to do right by our kids — yet what seemed like grown-up versions of them were sitting in our offices, saying they felt empty, confused, and anxious. Back in graduate school, the clinical focus had always been on how the lack of parental attunement affects the child. It never occurred to any of us to ask, what if the parents are too attuned? What happens to those kids?”
Meanwhile, in an article called “Why So Angry, Dad?” over at Slate.com, Katie Roiphe recently took on the crass spoof on children’s bedtime books, Go the F**k to Sleep, by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortés. Go the F**k to Sleep was another email people keep sending me, and though I laughed on the first page, for me, the joke wore thin pretty quickly, the way a Saturday Night Live skit does when it goes on too long.
In her Slate piece, Roiphe uses the book’s popularity to indict an entire generation of parents. She writes:
“Are our enlightened, engaged, sensitive parenting practices driving a certain segment of the population insane? … There is a nastiness in Go the F**k to Sleep, an undercurrent of resentment that is comic … only to parents who are pretty radically subjugating themselves to a certain kind of kid-centered drabness, and judging from the book’s runaway success, that would be a lot of parents.”
She goes on to suggest that the picture of the dad in relaxed-fit jeans and the one of the mom under an old blanket suggest that the parents aren’t having sex, and they should hire a babysitter and get out once in a while. (To which I thought, “Thank God for English majors!” — of which I was one. That is some awesome parsing.)
Needless to say, most readers of the piece went ballistic, accusing Roiphe of not having children (she does) and/or not caring about them very much.
All of which left me thinking how maddening it can be to be a parent these days, with so much public back-and-forth about what proper parenting looks like. How attuned is too attuned? How relaxed-fit is too relaxed-fit? Is there no end to the way we parents can critique one another? Sometimes I long to fast-forward to grandmother-dom, safely into my seventies and out of the cross-hairs of all this judgment.
And yet, at the end of the day, I don’t really care what Lori Gottlieb, Katie Roiphe, or Adam Mansbach think. Maybe my jeans are a little frumpy. And I probably do over-engage in my kids’ lives at times. (OK, a lot of times.) But like most parents, I do what I think is right in each moment. My grand theory on parenting, if I even have one, changes every day.
So, when my inbox is stuffed with writers holding forth on how our generation of parents is failing in so many ways, I start to tune it all out. Until someone can show me some proof that what they’re saying is the way to parenting nirvana, I’ll turn back to the first lines of Dr. Spock’s seminal parenting guide, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, first published in 1945. There, on page one, the father of all parenting advice wrote: “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”