The Lullaby as a family heirloom

I’m talking about your every day, run of the mill, possibly out of tune (but it doesn’t matter) lullabies. They don’t have to be anything fancy, and they may be the same songs that many other families sang and cherished as their own. But there is something very meaningful and sentimental about these songs. I love the way a lullaby can be passed down from generation to generation like a family heirloom. 

I have very strong memories and a subconscious emotional reaction to the lullaby my mom sang me when I was a baby/young child, and I sing the same lullaby to my own baby now at every nap time and every bedtime. 

My dad sang to me too, but he sang a lot of different songs, and he played his guitar for me, and he played relaxing CDs for me. I have emotional reactions to some of the songs he used to sing as well, but they were something different than The Lullaby that my mom used. From a psychological perspective, a Lullaby is used (intentionally or unintentionally) to condition a sleep response. It is used repeatedly at sleep times to cue that it’s time to sleep, and eventually hearing that particular lullaby will make the child feel sleepy. I have to think that such a deeply conditioned song would stick around in one’s memory and continue to evoke an emotional response later in life. Interestingly, it may also trigger a sleep response in me – I yawn my way through it when I sing to my baby the lullaby my mom sang to me as a baby. 

Avery now reacts instantly to our lullaby. She relaxes, closes her eyes, and her arms stop flailing as she rests her hand on me while she nurses to sleep. 

In case anyone’s wondering, my family heirloom lullaby is All The Pretty Horses. Side note: old lullabies like that tend to have subtly disturbing lyrics. A quick Wikipedia search of this lullaby suggests that the song was originally sung by Africans slaves who couldn’t care for their babies because they had to care for their masters, and some versions make reference to buzzards pecking out their eyes. We don’t sing that verse…. 

What lullaby has a special place in your memory? Do you have a family heirloom lullaby? 

14 thoughts on “The Lullaby as a family heirloom”

  1. Singing to my baby is one of the things im most looking forward to! My mom sang to me, i sang to my younger siblings. Mostly oldies (mostly Buddy Holly). I think ive spent *too much* time thinking of what songs to sing to her lol

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  2. It’s amazing how songs can evoke such emotional responses. My grandma and mom always sang You Are My Sunshine to me and I caught myself singing it to them in the beginning with out even realizing I was doing it to soothe them. Now I always sing it when I’m carrying them up to bed for the night.

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  3. I don’t sing a lullaby, no words, but its got a tune. My mom hum’d to me, i remember my grand ma humming it to my brother.. and I hum it now for my kids..
    Its calming tune and reminds me of a simpler time. Your post just made me think of my mom and tear up, I am going to call her now 😉

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  4. This is something I THOUGHT I would be good at but turn out to be terrible at… I can never think of anything to sing, so I either make up nonsense songs are sing Jingle Bells. I’m the worst! The alphabet makes a lot of appearances too…

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  5. Huh, I haven’t been doing lullabies, but I do sing to her when she wakes up (Good Morning Tucson by JoCo, which has… interesting lyrics) and during various activities. I don’t know why I never considered lullabies.

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  6. There are two for me, and when Charlotte was a newborn, I couldn’t get all the way through either one of them without crying. You Are My Sunshine is what my mom used to sing to me, and Que Sera Sera is what my grandmother used to sing to me. I can still remember sitting next to my grandma while she played it on her piano. She couldn’t read music very well, but she could play any song totally by ear. She was amazing. I haven’t sung Que Sera to Charlotte in a while, but we sing You Are My Sunshine every night when I put her in her crib, and now she sings along.

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  7. I love this. I haven’t been singing lullabies, though I don’t really know why. I guess in my mind I’ve been thinking it’s better to be quiet when she’s trying to fall asleep, than to sing which may get her excited and keep her up? Maybe I’ll try to start singing to her though, because this is really sweet 🙂

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    1. I think every baby is different in terms of what gets them to sleep. I’ve seen some sleep experts recommend adding a lullaby to the bedtime routine, but others don’t. Keep doing what works for you! But if she’ll fall asleep to a lullaby it is pretty sweet.

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