A couple months ago, I saw the cover art for Adam Mansbach’s Go The Fuck To Sleep, and one sample verse. Of course, I burst out laughing. I think the word “perfect” crossed my mind. And I posted about it here, because the concept totally captures that bizarre moment we all know: when the parallel universes of Earnest Parenthood and I’ve-Totally-Fucking-Had-It collide.
The actual book, though, is super-repetitive. It’s a funny joke, but it’s just the one joke. And yet, it’s become a phenomenon. I get it, and I love when art screams out the truth, yet it makes me pause that so many folks seem to experience it as not just as funny but as such a relief, such a release, such an antidote. What is missing in your life if this book fills the gap?
Amy Sohn wrote an interesting essay arguing that no woman could have written GTFTS. No one wants to hear a mom who can’t hack it, is gripe-y or ungrateful – mothers are supposed to pretend it’s all good. There’s a lot to this idea. Mom-on-mom criticism is so common — and so vicious, and prone to go viral — it’s become an online publisher’s dream. (Hey, let’s stop participating in that, ok? There’s no vitality in being, anonymously, online, a sanctimommy or a carping meanie; venting impersonal criticism is a habit of loneliness that keeps you alone.)
Here’s the flip side to that. If lonely parents tear each other down, parents with real life support do something else with their “Go The Fuck To Sleep” moments, something that makes them less likely to need this Book As Antidote.
Here’s an example. About a year ago, my cousin, author Rachel Vail emailed my sister and me, jokingly, a book idea: Boo Fucking Hoo, a compilation of mothers’ snarky responses to kids’ little griefs.
My sister and I shot back our own verses within the hour. There was a suggestion that it be a pop-up book — a large middle finger would burst forth from the book’s pages. We contemplated putting it to song. We branched out into disgruntlement with husbands, careers. Hilarity ensued.
And the next day, we all moved on. Why did we stop? None of us felt even slightly guilty for our obnoxiousness and none of us is a shrinking violet. We stopped because what we’d exchanged was not cathartic venting. It wasn’t a new “edgy” or “irreverent” parenting style. It was real friendship, and everyone should have plenty of it.
With friends, you can admit you don’t always like everything, or know what to do.
You can say you don’t feel like doing it all — without the self-deprecating “Slacker Mom” tag.
You can complain that your kids are annoying without dissing them or making them cartoons, and you can say something great about them without being considered a braggart.
When you invest in deep, real friendships, you can be the full, florid range of real – not sarcastically harsh and not saccharine precious. And in return, you’re loved and supported. So you can move on.
New mothers, especially, need real life connections that let them find their way. And yet it can be hard to find — blogs and listservs are easy, available, and are in some ways like community. But you need to do more than “follow” someone who can say the real things you also feel: you need to seek out real people you can talk to, you can trust, you can love. Those first GTFTS moments you feel can be shocking and unsettling. But when you dare to share those thoughts with people you care for, you get something besides the laugh: love. And that helps you let it go. Then you can enjoy the hilarity of a book like this, but not need prescription strength.