Parents have been debating the appropriateness of the book, You Have To F***ing Eat, written by Adam Mansbach as a follow up to the popular Go the F**k to Sleep. Some people were upset that the use of profanity expressed toward children was harsh and derogatory. Others felt the obvious satire helped over-stretched parents feel heard.
I understand both the dilemma of feeling the intensity of parenting challenges, as well as the feeling that children are being defamed in this series of books in order to bring laughter as relief for stressed parents. I get it. I’ve written articles with titles like “How to not kill your three-year-old,” for similar reasons – namely, bringing brevity to a challenging time - until a psychotherapist colleague sent me a curt message questioning my sanity, and urged me to seek counsel (and then I never heard from her again). Her motives were pure, although the dig at my sanity hurt, but to a great degree she was right; I was blinded by my anger and couldn’t see the inappropriateness of that title.
I also wrote a post called The F-ing Fours, now titled Handling The "Fournado." I understand the intense feelings that come with raising little ones, having a pair of them myself. I also get that sometimes using profanity - which matches the intensity of the experience - can feel cathartic.
When Mansbach’s first book, Go The F*** To Sleep, was first released, I laughed and laughed. Sleep expert Alanna McGinn told me, “As I interact with sleep deprived parents daily, books like this add humour to a frustrating situation at a time when it's needed. And it helps other parents feel like they aren't in this battle alone.” Books with this gallows-type humour can certainly help parents feel validated and give them an opportunity to release tension – all good things.
But are we now moving the humour past the point of children’s behaviour being the “joke” and making kids the joke themselves?
I can see why children’s advocates would feel upset by Manbach’s books. I had the opportunity to speak with one of the people involved in a particular Twitter exchange who shared his concerns that the book could have a negative effect on parents and children: the cover of You Have to F***ing Eat is made to look like a children’s book, which makes fun of the soothing effect book reading has on children; parents who lack understanding and patience might view these books as permission to treat a child harshly; and parents who have experienced humiliation as children might become emotionally triggered by this book.
He also made the point that we wouldn’t write books like this about any other group. In his opinion, singling children out in this shocking form is a distasteful way to make parents laugh. I’m inclined to agree.
Fellow psychotherapist and parenting educator Katie Hurley echoed these concerns while still seeing the humour: “When you're always fighting for those without voices, it's frustrating when boundaries are crossed and everything is a joke. We need to be responsible and think of our kids. The flip side for this particular issue is that it's humour for parents. We are allowed to have TV shows they don't watch and books they don't read.”
The parents on my Facebook page commented mostly in support of the books, citing how valuable the laughter and validation was. Perhaps the issue is that parents are feeling so unseen, unheard and unsupported that this type of humour shakes that free.
My concern, although I did laugh loudly through the first book, is that we will continue to see ones perhaps entitled, Brush Your F’in Teeth, Shut The F*** Up, or Get The F*** Over Here. I know many of us hear such phrases in our heads, our negative self-talk often shouting at us as tempers flare. Releasing this negativity can be done in a less harsh way.
It’s far better to improve our parenting experience and inner voice by coaching ourselves into a much more positive realm. When parents are armed with concrete parenting tools and also a process to help calm the big anger that can come while raising small children, their relationships and parenting experience can feel so much more enjoyable.
Sleeping and eating are particularly frustration-inducing activities for parents. We do these every single day--the repetition sometimes mind-numbing, but more importantly, bedtime and eating time is often where power struggles happen. Parents and young ones can lock horns, neither wanting to back down. If either a parent or child are feeling a loss of control, that (s)he is being forced to do something, all the times that person has ever felt nagged, coerced or that life is unfair get relived. Add in sleep deprivation, and it's not surprising that frustrated parents and children who feel out of control of the situation they are in, explode.
If you would like concrete suggestions for help with picky eating, this fabulous article called 8 things picky eaters wish their parents knew by Maryann Jacobsen, RD was recently posted on Huffpost Parents. I also recommend you follow Sarah Remmer, RD over on her Facebook page.
If you are looking for a book, three that I recommend to help navigate the rough times are:
No-Drama Discipline, the whole-brain way to calm the chaos and nurture your child’s developing mind by Dan Siegel, MD and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD
Beyond Intelligence, secrets for raising happily productive kids by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster
Positive Discipline, the first three years by Jane Nelsen, PhD
What do you think about Mansbach’s books? I’d love to hear your comments either here or over on my Facebook page.