This is the title of a parenting book that is currently ranked number eight of all books sold on Amazon. Previously, it has been ranked at number one. The book is all of 32 pages long. Each page has a short, witty verse which overlays some creative and appealing artwork built on the book’s theme: frustrated attempts to get a toddler to sleep. This attractive little book is written from the perspective of a sleep-deprived parent, desperately longing for his young daughter to finally nod off.
This book is a best seller because it touches on several universal themes of parenting: the impossibility of controlling the behavior of toddlers; more specifically, dealing with toddlers who will not go to sleep; and, of course, the behavior of parents who can’t control their children. It has something with which every parent can connect. And, oh yes, it has one more modern universal – it is boldly and unashamedly profane. I would say it’s language is shockingly profane, but in Western culture that is no longer the case. Consistent with much modern literature, vulgar, blasphemous, coarse language leaps off each page.
Before I forget—the title of this book is actually two words longer than “go to sleep.” It actually reads “Go the — to sleep.” But then, you may have figured that out for yourself.
You see, this book is about parents who have made children the center of their universe. These parents purchase the latest fashions for their toddlers. They make sure that each toy is not only safe and eco-friendly, but intellectually stimulating as well. Only the most healthful foods are prepared for this child. A college fund was started before the baby was even conceived. Everything possible has been done for the child, including a firm commitment not to spank. Spanking in any form is, of course, blatant child abuse, and the toddler has recognized that “truth” practically from birth. She knows that her world is hers to control.
In this context, the approach to a child that would never be tolerated is to tell a child straight up that every person is born a sinner, deserving to be punished by the God who made him and holds him accountable. Toddlers are far too young to hear about a Savior. That must wait until they are mature enough to make personal decisions about issues of faith and religion—say when they are 45. So now, do you see the scene that is set? A bleary-eyed parent who has done everything imaginable for his daughter is held hostage each night by that same toddler-turned-terrorist. This parent has no God to cry out to for strength and wisdom. If there is a prayer to be made it is said to whatever deity may be passing by, in hopes he or she will wave a magic wand and make the little tyrant pass out. So what is the sleepless parent left to do, but give in to frustration? The language in the little book will be mostly spoken only in the mind. But given the huge popularity of the book, it is safe to say that the author of has struck a chord with hundreds of thousands of sleepy parents.
When I first saw the book, I was outraged at its bold and profane presentation. I reasoned that I would never say, or even think, such things about my children. As I have thought more about the book, the outrage has been replaced with a growing sadness. As I understand it, this book is about man trying to do things his own way. It is about intelligent, but proud, people being humbled by a self-centered three-year-old. The book is yet another indication of our culture presuming to move beyond the God Who Is. It is a poignant reminder that there are folks who are lost and in need of the gospel.
I would suggest that this book represents a huge evangelistic opportunity. Children were never intended to be installed as rulers of the universe, and it is actually cruel to treat them as if they were. You can correctly assume that many parents face the dilemma posed by this little book. Why not strike up a conversation with a sleepy parent of toddlers? Let him or her know that there is One who will rule their world with grace and peace. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.” The stark reality is that if they don’t come to Christ, they will not be blessed. Then, instead of being a blessing to their parents they may become the source of agony and frustration. Do not withhold the blessings and grace of being a parent who lives for Christ. There are many sleep-deprived parents who need to hear that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Tell them.
14 thoughts on “Go to Sleep!”
Very timely, as we came to this blog just now looking for advice on how to help our toddlers sleep. We would sincerely appreciate your input on how to help our children sleep, from a biblical perspective. Here’s our situation:
1. We have a 3 1/2 yr. old son and a 5 yr. old son sleeping in separate beds in the same room together.
2. For THREE months we have been trying to get them to go to sleep at night. We have a set bedtime routine – reading, praying, singing. They have a timer set for a few minutes to talk together b/f lights out and silence.
When they disobey we spank them – consistently.
3. We have a routine wake time in the a.m. w/in about 15 mins.
4. We might have 3-4 nights of consistent obedience to “go to sleep,” but then it stops and we go back to days/sometimes weeks of nightly disobedience and spanks.
5. We memorize Scripture w/them. With the 5yr. old my husband includes this in ongoing discussions about trustworthiness, about responsibility. This son is particularly tempted at times to disobey when he thinks no one is looking. He does this less and less, but for some reason the bedtime temptation ensnares him.
5. We’re wondering whether some type of additional incentive might help? Marking the nights of obedience on their calendar and rewarding after a set period of time? This would not be in place of spanking, but in addition. It’s almost as if they are in a habit of disobeying in this way; we want to break this habit and replace it (permanently) with cheerful obedience.
We’d appreciate your input.
Great questions! I am attending our denomination’s annual meeting the next two days, so I will post an answer this Friday.
I may be able to offer a bit of advice. We have a 3 year old and a 2 year old. They are not sleeping in the same room, but we had an extremely hard time with our 3 year old and now the 2 year old has started! I think the key is always the gospel. We talk to them before we go to bed about their sinful hearts and their need for a savior. We then pray together and plead with God for grace and self control for the children. Then we explain to them that disobedience and lack of self control will result in discipline. When we have a good night, we are always careful to pray with them and thank God for the grace. When we have a bad night, we are consistent with the discipline and always pray again for grace after the discipline. It took months with our 3 year old, but thanks be to God, he does quite well now! I personally would be careful with incentives. We don’t want to teach our children that there must be an incentive to obey. The incentive is Ephesians 6:3 “That it may go well with you and you may live long in the land.” There is a great book by Tedd Tripp “Shepherding Your Child’s Heart” with great principles to be applied to this and any other issue. Most importantly, persevere and look to the Cross for grace! Grace and Peace.
-Brandon Burgin, Charlotte, NC
I’m father to three children – 13, 10 and 2! Our first two are natural born to us and our third was adopted. From day one we made sure that we believed and acted out that the children were not the centre of the family – God was and then Dad & Mum. The older two slept in their own bed from day one and by the 8th week thanks to Parent Control Feeding (PCF) they were sleeping through the night. We generally never had difficulty getting them to sleep although with our second, our only son he used to be a little more disturbed.
With our third however the story was entirely and crazily different. Due to her history when she began to enjoy our affection, she got addicted to it and wanted it big time. Especially from her mother who she is super attached to. So for a year and a half she shared our bed! Foreign to us and difficult too but a sacrifice we made because of her background.
She is strong willed and would take upto an hour to sleep; we just rode the storm out but through patience rather than discipline. She get’s serious discipline and repeated spanks through the day on many other counts but not this one. Finally a few weeks ago we ‘envisioned’ her about being grown up and needing to sleep with the older siblings. God gave us a breakthrough and so she’s out of our bed. Depending on how the day has gone and the activity she’ll fall asleep in a few minutes or upto an hour if there’s still energy to burn. I lie down with her most nights as she nods of after having followed something of your routine but then listening to a podcast as she nods off. It works for us, we are relaxed and I usually get loads of input at the end of the day thanks to all that I listen to.
Hope that helps.
Discussions on parenting are the most fraught with peril – even more so than discussions on politics or theology. People have very strong opinions.
But my two cents here, Laney, is that if they’re just talking, I’d let them talk at night in the dark, unless you start having a consistent problem with VERY tired boys the next day (although theoretically if that happens, the problem should to some extent resolve itself the following night when one or both of them have no energy for chatting).
It’s pretty common for kids to be talkative at that time of day. Our almost-3-yr-old talks to HIMSELF alone in his room for almost an hour. When I was a kid, I shared a room with a brother 7 years younger than me, and although we’d talk sometimes at night, if the other person goes to sleep, you usually follow not long after.
As for spanking, obviously people have different thresholds, but I’d want to make sure it’s being reserved for times of serious willful rebellion, defiance or dangerous behavior. I’d be a little hesitant about spanking for what seems to me a ‘lesser’ offense of talking in the dark to one’s sibling.
I guess what I’m getting at is that maybe the rule itself needs to be relaxed (in a “fathers do not exasperate your children” sort of mindset). Clearly, children should obey their parents, but we can help them obey by making rules that are not too stringent.
Obviously, the concern becomes how do you backtrack slightly and allow them to talk after you’ve already initiated a rule about silence, without undermining your authority? Perhaps you could institute a new softer rule, “Daddy and I have decided that you may talk at night, but you have to stay in your beds.”
Anyway, I may be overstepping a boundary here. As I said, people tend to have pretty strong opinions on parenting, and it’s not my intent to offend, but I hope that can give you some food for thought.
“Go away” is essentially the message of Mansbach’s book.
“Let the children come to me” is the alternative message of Jesus Christ. I like the contrast you brought out between the two.
Great article. Thanks for addressing this book with gospel clarity and opportunity!
Unless your boys are insomniacs, they *are* going to sleep each night! They are accomplishing exactly what you desire of them. What must be settled is the -how- they are going to sleep. It sounds as if you want them to go to bed, talk a prescribed amount of time and then be silent until sleep overcomes them.
We tried this with our two girls. They are 2 years apart as well, and shared a room (have since birth and still do at 17 and 19!) Husband and I decided the goal was sleep. And that happened every night without fail.
Our requirements became: quiet talking, stay in bed, no extra toys or books in bed with you (sleepy time critters were ok)and rise in the morning with a cheerful disposition and on time!
Bed times were peaceful for all of us…we wanted them to have moments of just ‘sister-time’…sharing thoughts in the dark with their sister…precious times for both. They grew up healthy with no bedtime issues. They are the best of friends, something I believe was forged during those night time sharings. (nap time during the day they were in separate rooms–just fyi! :o)
Somewhere, eons ago, I read that you can make them go to bed, but not make them go to sleep. A true adage. We are each born with a bent form God. My husband is asleep as soon as he hits the pillow. Some nights I’m out like a light and others I’m wide awake for a while. Why would I expect my children to be different?
We choose to extend grace at night. Our desire for them was sleep. It came faithfully. The issue was how it came…we allowed *quiet* sharing until they fell asleep.
i’m a new father of 8 month old twin girls. intentional sleep deprivation is torture. unintentional sleep deprivation is torturous. every christian ive ever spoken to, myself included, has been at their wit’s end with their infant’s sleep habits. a few sleep great, most dont. everyone, except perhaps the author of the review, knows the storm of emotions raging within at 3 am in the morning on day 66 of little jimmy not sleeping through the night.
thats why the book is selling so well. most of us know these incredible emotional swings of early parenthood. the book points this out and makes light of it by pairing profanity with a bedtime story. it taps into the raw emotions resulting from sleeplessness while pushing parents to chuckle at themselves and take themselves less seriously.
its a reminder that everyone has felt this way. which is why its important to me to reply to this post. because it seems to suggest that christians wont have these emotions; or that ‘good’ christians can just offer up a little prayer to jesus and go on happily through the night. they’ll never get angry at their child, they’ll never be short with their spouse. they shouldn’t suffer, they should be above that. sin is easy to deal with.
and on the other hand, people who buy and read this book are so obviously idolators! they desperately want their children to be successful (christians dont). they try everything they can to protect them from harm (christians dont). they think they should be able to manage life well and control things (christians dont). they wonder what will happen if they never sleep again–how will they do their jobs? (christians dont) they get incredibly angry when they are inconvenienced or put through pain (christians dont). they can laugh at themselves and realize that sometimes they overreact (some christians cant).
people need jesus! but they dont primarily need to hear ‘in the middle of the night you should be able to rely on jesus and perform well.’ they need to hear this: ‘in the middle of the night you come face to face with the monster in you. the fact that you can feel this way about your newborn child proves the desperate state of your heart. you are not kind or patient or faithful or good. look at you! jesus had to die for you, you have no hope outside of him.’ thats what both non-christians and christians need to hear. its the gospel.
christian parents need to be able to admit and confess their sin that becomes so utterly apparent with the arrival of their first child. its not ‘those people out there who don’t have jesus’ who are such bad parents and sinners. its all of us. if non-christians dont hear from us how desperate we also are in the middle of the night, how easily we fail, they arent gong to listen to anything we say about jesus. and i wouldn’t blame them.
im not going to buy the book. but if someone buys if for me i’ll read it. once. and laugh. and i’ll be reminded that christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom i am the worst.
Laney- I have a slightly different perspective here, but here goes. We have 3 kids, 16, 14 and 12. They are all great kids, but the 12 year old, Josh has always had a hard time shutting off his brain. He thinks about everything, usually worrying about silly stuff. However, it is a big deal to him. He has always been this way and he still stays up until late at night thinking. It isn’t willful disobedience so much as an inability due to immaturity to fully control himself physiologically. What we have found that works with him (and I was very hesitant to do this at first) is when he is heading to bed, along with all the other night time routines he gets 25 mg of benadryl for about 2 weeks. It helps him reset his internal clock and relax enough to shut his brain off. After about 2 weeks we don’t have to do it anymore and we enjoy a long period of no benadryl at night. I will tell you that with Josh, we may have to help him reset when things change, ie: going back to school after summer break, if he has had a difficult sickness that messed up his sleep schedule, if we have had a particularly busy several nights with events out late, etc, etc. I hope this helps and please don’t send any hate mail regarding drugging my kids. This was recommended by his physician and keeps him much healthier in the long run than allowing him to “worry” from 8pm to midnight every night.
For Laney….our two boys are only 16 months apart and shared a room since they were babies. Very recently one son moved downstairs as he is a very light sleeper(they are now 9 and 11).
While the boys were sharing a room, we found the very best solution was to put the younger, more tired child to bed first. We had our bedtime routine, tucked him in, and then spent a wee bit of one on one quiet time with our oldest while his sibling fell asleep.
If the younger child was too wound up and needed some extra help calming down we found it helped to lie in bed and snuggle with him for a little while (no talking allowed) until he started to drift off.
This strategy made bed times stress free and pleasant for everyone (with the added bonus of precious one on one time for them both). With two strong willed boys to contend with, I firmly believe in choosing my battles wisely.
Everything in your fifth paragraph on down is spot-on. I might adjust the penultimate paragraph to address the aspect of obeying the gospel in the middle of the night: as we walk down the hall we must do our utmost to put on the mind of Christ, asking ourselves whether responding to our children during normal sleeping hours is an inconvenience or an opportunity. This is an idea from Paul David Tripp, BTW.
I have four children myself, the youngest being five months. She began to yell like a teradactyl at midnight last night, which isn’t like her. My wife and I weren’t very pleased to be woken, of course. I don’t have a virtuous story to relate regarding this incident, just to say that I have experienced it too, and very recently.
That said, I believe the culture, and most (?) Christians have thrown the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to infant sleep habits. All of my children were sleeping through the night between 10 weeks and 2 months. We’re not super-parents, nor did we put the children down to bed at 8 weeks and intentionally ignore them during sleeping hours from then on.
No, we applied common sense and proceeded on the assumption that children can learn to put themselves back to sleep if they are normal, healthy children. This has worked for all four of our children regardless of temperament. Village wisdom from the ancients, you might call it.
This is coming from a guy whose mother didn’t have a good sleep until I was 18 months old.
Amy (#11), the staggered bedtimes worked well for us as well.
People, people, it’s a bit of dark humor, not a parenting manual. Please tell me we evangelicals haven’t lost ALL our imagination. I don’t care how Spirit-filled or obedient a Christian parent is, some nights of frustration are inevitable if not the norm with small kids in the house. — And the book is clearly not taking itself seriously with all the cultural references of hip, child-centered parents. It’s over the top. Maybe it’s the things we sometimes want to say, or at least think, but know better than to.
Correction in post #12:
“…between 8 weeks and 3 months.” I’ve always been rubbish with numbers.
Thanks everyone – helpful considerations. Our primary method right now is wearing them out in the evenings – bike riding, baseball games, etc. The eldest is similar to the responder’s son whose brain won’t turn off…at 10:30 at night he’s often still awake in bed, thinking and talking to himself. Lately, we’ve altered his sleep schedule slightly, allowing him less sleep overall that he might sleep at night. This, along with expending evening energy outdoors seems to be helping.
Cindy – we want our boys to enjoy their brother time, too. It just seems they are too inmature to do this w/o more detailed boundaries, at least at their present ages. And, we have a daughter, too. She is MUCH more inclined to hear and keep the boundaries than the boys. Overall, we believe boys enjoy finding exactly where the boundaries rub gray…and then they sail as fast as they can right over them. My husband says this is partly why men are so addicted to pornography. Is it or isn’t it sex? He says men like gray…it’s easier to justify sin this way. We might be wrong, but we find the boys need as much black and white as possible, w/o overloading them w/rules. It’s a tough balance, but we see good fruit in so many other areas of our boys’ lives.
Amy – we’re right there w/you with putting the younger to bed earlier. He needs more sleep than his bro. If exhausting them doesn’t work in the long run, we’ll do this.
Incentives – I have to apologize here b/c this part is going to be a bit lengthy. We don’t incentive-motivate our kids as a general rule, especially for obedience. But we do think there is room for children to be motivated by incentives. God gives us lots of incentive to love him and keep his commandments, and these are not all internal, intangible incentives. Who of us doesn’t want a crown of glory? Who of us doesn’t want eternal life? The Proverbs are replete with “now” incentives for wise-living…a prudent wife, prosperity (how many of us go to the office every day w/o any intention of receiving a pay check?), generations of faithful children. Jesus’ whole ministry is earthy, physically oriented. Believe in him and He gives you eyesight. Believe in Him and he’ll cast out a legion of demons. Believe in Him and he’ll give you living water. He is the Bread of Life. These are all tangibles that go to the godly. I think the question is not whether we use incentives for our children over the years, but what is the place of them? And on this, I’d love your feedback.
Along these lines, we once needed to help our eldest son break a pattern of middle-of-the night-wakefulness. We had just moved into a new house/new city, life was chaotic for a bit, and he began waking nightly as a result. It wasn’t an obedience issue, but it was becoming a habit. My husband had a princely idea. He talked w/our son, prayed with him regularly about this, shared Scripture with him, AND they marked the nights on the calendar day by day, week by week, every night he slept through the night. It was a tangible “incentive” and at the end of so many nights he and Daddy went out for ice cream. Did we teach him to lean on an incentive as a crutch? No. He doesn’t expect ice cream every time he sleeps through the night (and he sleeps THROUGH the night every night!). Instead, I think it was a merciful means my husband employed to help our son through a transition that was proving difficult for him. This is the same kind of habit-breaking calendar-marking I was talking about in my first blog response. We don’t want our children to be incentive-based obeyers (per se, although all of us are, to some degree), but we do want to have a whole arsenal of creative ways of helping them break a habit that is hurtful to them.
Also, I don’t want to give the impression we’ve mindlessly or exasperatingly set up an extra battle at night over minutia. I realize it’s hard to envision the situation w/o detailed context. We’ve disciplined here b/c of clear repeated willfulness, not merely their brotherly “talking.” Truly, their late night talking had become such a habit, and was resulting in such extremely long nights (think of a 3yr. old up at 10:30!), that their sleeplessness resulted in repeated illness. This might be hard to fathom for those of you with good, easy sleepers, but this was our humble situation. We found we needed to set boundaries that were more black and white for them, for their own health and well-being.
So the boundary is still black-and-white, but we’re wearing them out physically in the summer heat b/f hand! It’s funny how different seasons of children’s lives require different strategies. Not different principles, but different strategies.
Keep the help coming!
Thanks to all! Blessings to all,