Growing Up With Music
Growing up, music was important to my family. My siblings and I were forced into piano lessons, which we took for a varying number of years. But we also independently chose violin, guitar, clarinet, flute, and harp. Not that any of us claim any proficiency anymore. But, before we even began lessons with these various instruments, sometimes learning two of them at a time, we had our mother singing to us every single night.
None of us remember, but our mom has always told us that she used to sing us to sleep every night when we were very young. We lovingly joke with her that she’s tone deaf and spent much of our lives fondly complaining of how terrible her car singing was. And she probably is tone deaf, but that still doesn’t stop her. And it didn’t stop us from wanting her to sing to us when we were very small children. As she said, she would sing until we either fell asleep or asked her to stop.
There was always music in our home. Someone was singing. Someone was practicing an instrument. Someone was playing music on the radio or Dad had a record or CD playing. Sometimes we gathered in the formal living room so my brother and dad could practice playing the guitar and harmonica, respectively, while my mom, sister, and I sang along.
Becoming a Singing Mom
When I became a mom, even before then, there was no question in my mind that I was going to sing to my kids. I was going to sing until they yelled “stop.” Music is important to my husband and me. My husband has always wanted to learn to play the piano and my harp is a constant source of interest for the kids, who also have a keyboard they like to pound on.
I started singing to both of my kids while I was only 16 weeks pregnant with them. Yes, that early. At 16 weeks, their ears were formed enough for them to hear my voice. I’m not a big talker and talking to my belly felt weird. So, I sang to them. I had read somewhere that babies not only recognize mom’s voice right away after birth, but they are also capable to recognizing the songs mom sang. Birth can be difficult and I wanted my kids, and me, to have something to calm them, something they could hold onto as being familiar as they’re forced to figure out the big, wide world.
To my son, I sang several songs, from “Twinkle, Twinkle” to “The Farmer in the Dell” and “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” I sang enough songs that it took me 10 minutes every single night to get through them all. To my daughter, I sang three Celtic-ish songs (I say ish because one of them is based on “Skye Boat Song,” but is actually the theme song for the Outlander TV series [which I don’t watch as I hate the books, but my mom is a huge fan and I thought the music was pretty]).
Originally, I only meant to sing while pregnant and maybe during the newborn weeks. I actually intended to read them to sleep, which only happened with my son. I wanted my kids to know my voice even though I’m not much of a talker. But, after my son was born and I started singing the same darn songs I had during pregnancy, I noticed he seemed to recognize them. He would calm down and would fall asleep when I sang them at night. The most amazing thing, though, was the song I would hum whenever I was anxious while pregnant. I would hum “Maids of Mourne Shore” to calm myself. The first time my son seemed to be in any pain, I hummed it to him and he almost immediately calmed down. The power of music.
So, I sang to my son every night. Sang him to sleep and then sang to him as a segue from reading Curious George with the lights on to reading a different book of my choosing with the lights off. He’s 4.5 and still asks for “Twinkle, Twinkle” or the alphabet song every night. He settles easier when he’s sung to. When I can’t do it, daddy will sing to him. He doesn’t seem to be much of a singer himself despite loving being sung to, but I sing the theme to Fancy Nancy to his sister and now he sings it with me.
I’m doing the same with my daughter. Those 3 songs I sang to her while pregnant with her? She’s 1.5 and I still sing them to her. I sing her to sleep. Her bedtime routine involves a mix of children’s songs, Disney songs, and the ABC’s before we even go into the bedroom for the night. Then I sing the 3 songs, read to her, and sing again as she drifts off to sleep. And when she’s particularly fussy in the middle of the night, I sing her back to sleep and she’ll sleep much better.
Millennials Don’t Sing Lullabies?
So, over 800 words later, what’s the point of this? Certainly not to just ramble about singing to my kids and talk about their bedtime routines. Oh, no. It’s about something I read that completely caught me off guard.
I read an article about how millennial parents are less likely to sing lullabies to their kids. Less than 40% of the polled group sang to their kids and most of those who did were more likely to be over 45. You can read about it here, here, and here. Of course, as a busy mom who was trained to read research articles, I should have found the actual study before writing this post, but, as a busy mom, I’m simply too busy, and forgetful. So, of course, the polled group might not even be representative of millenials, but it certainly caught my attention and, as a lullaby singing mom, I couldn’t not write about it.
I don’t have many mom friends and take zero part in mom groups, online or otherwise. It never occurred to me that parents my age were possibly less likely to sing to their kids. It surprises me quite a bit because First5California plays ads telling parents to read, sing, and talk to their kids every day. It doesn’t even say anything about singing lullabies. I sing whatever I know to them. Sometimes I attempt Broadway songs, very badly. I often wish I could sing like Idina Menzel because I’d love to properly sing “Defying Gravity.” But my kids are fine with whatever my throat can eek out, so I guess I’m okay.
As a 31 year old mom of 2 kids under 5, I sing to my kids every day. I sing and witness firsthand how my daughter is likely to calm and relax to go to sleep (when she was younger, she absolutely refused to nap unless I sang “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” which was literally the only thing she would nap to). I saw how it would calm my son when he was hurting. I can now enjoy sort of singing with him now that he’s almost 5. My daughter loves music to much that she’ll bounce and dance to just about anything, and she gets upset when I don’t sing when she expects it.
Singing at Bedtime
But I really love singing at bedtime. During sleep we process the information we’ve accumulated throughout the day (side note: this is why pulling all-nighters studying for the big test is not a good idea. The brain needs time to process). By making songs one of the last things my kids hear before falling asleep, I’m hoping that their brains are processing the language and the cadence found in songs and books.
Children’s songs have a long history. They comment on the times, like “Ring Around the Rosies.” They give glimpses into past parenting strategies, like “Rock A Bye Baby.” But they are also strong sources of not just cadence, but rhyme and repetition. It can get annoying to sing the same words over and over and over during “The Ants Go Matching” and trying to remember what rhymes with seven (though I like to get creative and often stray from the actual words. Maybe one day I’ll share my sleep deprived version of “This Old Man,” who ended up in prison for playing with a kid named Kevin at the zoo). But it’s important for young, developing brains. It helps teach rhyme and provides ample opportunities for learning through the repetition. Of course, I could read Dr. Seuss with his myriad rhyming schemes and endless repetition, but I was introduced to his books when I was closer to 10 than 5 and (still) find his books silly and occasionally stupid with made up words. I’ll have my kids learn proper words before they have to figure out what is and isn’t a real word.
And as they grow older and more capable of coordinating gestures and movements, I intend on pairing the children’s songs with the movements I learned as a child. Not only are they a wonderful way to reinforce words and actions and encourage coordination, but they provide much needed movement for an otherwise increasingly sedentary generation (what with the rise of technology and more and more inane kid videos).
Music can soothe the soul, and I witness it daily with both of my kids. I’m surprised that nighttime lullabies seem to be dying out, but perhaps parents are singing during the day. All I know is, I’m not going to stop singing at bedtime until my kids ask me to. It’s awesome to watch them smile, relax, and eventually fall asleep knowing Mom and Dad are sending them off to sleep with sweet lullabies, whether or not they’re actual lullabies, and hopefully reinforcing the importance of language, cadence, rhyme, and repetition. Even now my 4 year old will pretend to sleep in the middle of the day and ask for a lullaby. I kind of hope this never ends, though neither kid will probably want me to sing them to sleep in 10 years.
I’d like to know: do you sing lullabies to your kids?