Like most writers who trade in the everyday annoyances of parenting, my reaction to the runaway success of the adult storybook Go The F**k to Sleep has been mixed. Like, one part “How awesome is this?” and 87 parts self-flagellation for not thinking of this incredibly obvious genius idea myself. I had a good 8 years on this guy. How could I not have made it happen?
Whatever percentage is leftover (who has time for math? I have children to ignore) has been busily analyzing the answer to that question. The truth of the matter is, if I, or any other mother had written this book, it probably would have taken a very, very different trajectory. This is what I was thinking of this morning, as I was pretending to be taking a long time in the bathroom for biological reasons and really just reading New York Magazine. Then strangely enough, I opened up my computer to find that the eloquent Amy Sohn had already written up my hypothesis.
Amy’s theories are somewhat more nuanced than my own (possibly because my train of thought was interrupted by my children’s disrespect for their mother’s fabricated needs for privacy). Her observations reflect the different filters we use for mothers and fathers, the range of acceptable, and what a mother’s version of this book release might have looked like:
I began to wonder what would have happened if I really had written that book. What if a mom had beaten a dad to the punchline and published a book called Go the Fuck to Sleep? As much as I want to believe that “Funny is funny” and it would have been a runaway success regardless, I can’t help but think that things might have gone down differently.
A mom who even thinks the word “fuck” around her kid? A mom who can’t get her child to sleep or is unwilling to co-sleep to do it? A mom who isn’t more lovable than caustic, always and forever? I can’t help but think the Internet masses on parenting sites like this would have a field day with it, raking me over the coals for the same sentiment that is so funny when expressed by a dad.
— If you hate being a mom so much, why did you have a child in the first place?
— Clearly your daughter can’t rest because you work.
— You have an anger management problem and you’re giving your kid ADHD.
— You need Zoloft.
— I pray that you bring no more children into the world because it will spare another individual the years of therapy he will need to get over the trauma of having been raised by such a selfish and insensitive person.
And, of course: That book is so lame, I could have written it.
Fathers who complain about their kids are cute. At least they’re helping out, right? They can’t be expected to step out of their comfort zone without letting off a little steam.
Mothers who complain about their kids are seen as, well, complainers. You’re the one who wanted to be a mother. Mothers are supposed to know what they’re getting into. You made your bed, now sit next to it, all night long, every night, for the next ten years. And appreciate it while you’re at it. After all, it won’t be long before you’re just an abandoned shell of a woman pining for those precious moments at your baby’s bedside.
The virtues of motherhood—patience, generosity, affection, warmth—all directly clash with the message of this book, which is, fundamentally: child, stop f**king up my life. Mothers are supposed to be gratified by their children, and that gratification is supposed to float them over the waves of childhood’s inevitable irritating nuances.
Except that doesn’t really happen. Not usually, anyway. Sure, some mothers are endowed with saintly gifts of patience. The rest of us just go around feeling guilty. Or blaming ourselves for our inability to deal. Sohn points out that much of the rebellious mommy genre is of the “Mommy needs a drink” variety. Better to self medicate than take it out on the kids. I’m sure some would (and will) say that our expectation of women to be patient and gentle is based in biology. But we are also products of culture, women who have grown up to value our autonomy as much as the men we have bred with. So why don’t we have as much freedom to feel bad when it’s compromised?
Read Amy Sohn’s essay here.