Reading Advice to Parents about Children’s Sleep: The Political Psychology of a Self-Help Genre

A new piece in Critical Inquiry may interest AHP readers: “Reading Advice to Parents about Children’s Sleep: The Political Psychology of a Self-Help Genre” by Cressida J. Heyes. Abstract:

The genre of advice to parents about children’s sleep proliferated between the mid-1980s and the beginning of the twenty-first century. This article reads that genre against itself, as symptomatic of larger political trends—the end of the privilege of the normative mid-century nuclear family and the advent of neoliberal ideology and political economy. Specifically, it argues that this wave of advice reflects an ambivalence about the autonomous individual within neoliberalism versus the need for attachment and the dependence of kinship. Returning to Jessica Benjamin’s object-relations feminism, it shows how the oscillation between methods of sleep training that stress independent sleeping against those that align with attachment parenting reveal the same subject-object relations of power (with concomitant gender roles) that Benjamin outlined as central to domination. By embedding this analysis in its contemporary material conditions of class, race, and gender, the article argues that sleep practices try—and must necessarily fail—to create workers and family members who are both entirely autonomous and mutually supportive. It combines examination of the psychodynamics of family relationships as mutually informed by neoliberal rationality and an established critique of the politics of intensive mothering, with recognition of a post-2008 anxiety distinctive of millennial parenting, to show how children’s sleep has become a part of (gendered) work—a technology of the self—that carries the burden of forming the future citizen worker.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.