Last night, as Ben Blair and I were going from bedroom to bedroom, turning off lights and tucking in kids, it occurred to me that the only room where we still sing a lullaby is June & Betty’s. Each of our children was sung to nightly for years and years, but the ritual has faded for all but the youngest two.

The lullaby we use is one that was sung to me by my own mother, and as I was going through the melody last night, I wondered if there were other parents around the world singing the same song. I realized I’d sung the song thousands of times but I’d never thought to look up the source. What I found was predictable but interesting. Both the tune and words I inherited are different than the ones I could hear in online samples. And of course, we decided we like our version best of all. It’s so familiar to us it’s practically tattooed on our souls. : )

The lullaby we sing is called Tender Shepherd. I’m not brave enough to sing you the tune we use, but the lyrics we prefer are:

Tender shepherd.
Tender shepherd.
Watching over all his sheep.
One in the meadow.
Two in the garden.
Three in the nursery, fast asleep.

Repeated until eyes are droopy…  If we need backup lullabies, we pull from our favorite church songs, usually this one.

I was thinking about it, and I can’t figure out when we stopped singing to the older kids. I don’t remember making a conscious decision about it, or acknowledging this was one of the last times I’d be singing a lullaby to Oscar or Olive or Mimi or Ralph. I assume it happened slowly. The thoughts made me a feel tender-hearted as I wondered how many nights of lullaby singing were in my future.

I’d love to hear: Does your family have a preferred lullaby? And if you’ve stopped singing, what age were your kids?

P.S. — Image here. Plus, newborn Baby June, fast asleep.

122 thoughts on “Lullabies”

  1. I have stopped singing to my kids who are now 17, 14 and 11, but I sang an entire list of lullabies and songs to them for years and years. They included an old Burl Ives song called “I wish I was an apple on a tree,” “Blue Bonnets, Blue Bonnets,” “May the Long Time Sun,” “Hush Little Baby, Don’t You Cry,” and more! Thank you for bringing back these sweet memories.

  2. Singing lullabies is one of my favorite mama jobs. Each of my children has their own personal favorite…some are songs from my own childhood; others I’ve made up on my own just for them. Those are the most special. My son is 5 and still likes his nightly playlist. My daughter, who turns 12 next month, has mostly outgrown her lullabies…but sometimes when she’s had an extra tough day she’ll ask me to sing for her. And I am all too happy to do so…knowing my “little” girl is still in there somewhere!

    1. That is where I learned it! I sing that and “You are My Sunshine” to my kids every night. (And “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” though they sing it on their own now.)

      1. It is from Peter Pan! I still sing my children the lullaby Peter Pan himself sings near the end of the play…”Distant Melody.”

  3. My 5 kids are ages 9, 6, 5, 4, and 5 months. I usually sing to them each night still. The 9 year old doesn’t ask for it, but since he shares a room with his brother he gets sung to by default :) I usually sing one of the songs they are working on for the Primary Program or they often have requests which include – I will Follow God’s Plan, Jesus is my Shepherd, and my four year old asks for “the bird one” aka
    My heavenly Father loves me

  4. Seems like a perfect Olive Us episode, big kids singing to the two little ones, that way we still get to hear your version too ;)

  5. Although I don’t have children of my own, I have been a nanny for many years. It seems a lullaby grows straight out of my heart for each precious child. First, I find myself humming the tune as I take care of them. And then one day when they are fussy, I sing it and it helps to calm them. Soon it is ‘our song’, something soothing and refreshing to wake up to, to go to sleep to, to help smooth our day. Kaylob had “You Are My Sunshine”; Connor’s was “Daisy, Daisy”; Bethany had “Hush Little Baby”; it was a tradition that started early for me since my own little brother who is six years my junior, had “Twinkle Twinkle” as our song. Thanks for bringing back such lovely memories Gabrielle!

      1. That’s how I feel. The lullaby just comes to me, and it’s a different one for each child. Our daughter has “I am a Child of God” (“Teach Me to Walk in His Light” is a backup for us, too), but our baby, I will admit, I haven’t found the perfect one for.

  6. Our kids are 4 and 2…we always sing You are My Sunshine, I See the Moon, I Will and Somewhere Over the Rainbow :o) We’ll probably stop singing when they stop asking…but I hope that’s not for a while. We all enjoy singing as a family. It’s like a mini pre-bedtime jam session.

  7. How beautiful is your lullaby. I was sung was a kid too, up until I was around 7. I sing to my daughter too, for naps and bedtime. I sing all the Spanish lullabies my mom and grandmother sang to us. There are so pretty progressive ones, but the traditional ones are lovely too. In the Spanish speaking world we have a strong tradition of singing to our kids that’s soon eroding with modern parenting.

  8. Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. One sleepless night when my first was restless and I was frustrated, it was all that came to me. She settled down and it has been our song ever since. She is 7. Her brother somehow got a medly of Twinkle little star and the itsy bitsy spider. I wonder what sone our incubating one will want.
    Plus, thanks a lot… I’m crying at everything with these pregnancy hormones!!!

  9. I’m 18 and don’t have kids of my own, but my mom always sang “Country Roads” by John Denver and “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane” (which I think was a Peter, Paul, and Mary song) when we little. She stopped singing it when she stopped tucking us in at night (I think I was around 12), but recently my sister and I asked her to sing it to us again.

  10. I don’t sing traditional lullabies to my girls, and we definitely have a rotating schedule of songs. But, the usual ones my girls request (who are 4, 3 yrs) are:

    1. “When the Starts Go Blue” by Ryan Adams
    2. “A Child’s Prayer” LDS children’s songbook
    3. “A City Called Heaven” old spiritual (this version is of a chorale and obviously can’t do that all myself, i just love this version!)

  11. We sing that lullaby too, its the Peter Pan lullaby and was sung to me as a kid as well! We also like “Love is on Your Side” by Eve Selis. We’ve got a 6, 5 and 2 year old and luckily all three still like a little song before bed. I’ll be sad when the tradition fades away.

  12. There’s a couple songs I sing regularly to my baby girl – she’s almost 3 years old and I’ve been singing to her since she was an infant. Every night she picks one or two songs for me to sing to her. Usually it’s “Rock-a-bye-baby” and “Hush, Little Baby.” I sing the one right after the other as I rock her. These are the songs she always picks when she’s sick.
    Sometimes she’ll ask me to sing her Edelweiss. This is one of the earliest songs I ever sang to her. I have very dark hair and my daughter got her daddy’s light golden hair. She’s my beautiful white flower. I change the lyrics to this song at the end to say “bless my baby forever” instead of “bless my homeland forever.”
    Sometimes she’ll ask me to sing her “Baby Mine” – when I get to the part that says “dry your eyes” she always lifts up the bottom of her pj shirt to wipe her eyes (even if she isn’t even crying).
    I’m pregnant now and our new little baby will be joining us hopefully around the end of December. I’m hopeful that the night time lullaby with my little girl won’t end when the new baby joins our family. But I have to admit that I’ve been clinging to my daughter a little tighter each night as I anticipate the lullaby sessions might not last forever.

      1. My Mom also sang Edelweiss to us as a lullaby. she said she didn’t know any other lullabies when she became a mother and that one ended up being the one that she sang to us. I walked down the aisle to it at my wedding and now sing Edelwiess along with ‘Jesus loves Me’ every night before bed

  13. We have a whole roster of bedtime songs, and my girls each choose one and I choose the last. But the one we actually call “lullaby” is the one my mom sang to me as a child. I don’t know the actual name, but by 6 year old sometimes refers to it as “Over in Kilarney” and my 4 year old calls it “trura lua,” both of which are lyrics in the song. Sometimes I am impatient for a shorter routine (once you count in stories, etc.), but the thought of moving on from nighttime singing makes me wistful, indeed!

  14. We rotate through Stay Awake (from Mary Poppins), my daughter’s favorite, Sylvie (Elizabeth Mitchell’s version), and Rock a Bye, Baby, and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. My daughter has begun to add one about stars she learned at preschool, which is very fun.

  15. My little boys both love “I have a song to sing-o” from The Yeomen of the Guard (almost anything from that score, really), “Til There was You” from The Music Man, and “Neverland” from Peter Pan. Thanks for the reminder about Tender Shepherd! They will love that one.

  16. While I sing them different songs, Frere Jacques always gets sung at night. My parents both spoke French as children (French Canadian families). They never taught my siblings and I the language, and I don’t think my mom ever sang us this song. But I feel like singing a french lullaby is a small way I can help them know about their heritage.

  17. So funny you brought this up because just the other night I was thinking the same thing about my own children. 2/4 get regular singing. We have been trying to mix it up lately & sing a bit with them all. Each one of my kids has liked different songs sung to them. Since we let them choose so little during the day we give them this (kidding). Oldest- “You are my sunshine”, 2nd- “Teach me to walk”, 3rd- “How much is that doggie(or duck or others) in the window” & Last One-“Twinkle Twinkle”/”Rock-a-by Baby”. Got to LOVE it! The best time of the day is bedtime calm down! Usually so sweet. The wild monkey chills out!

  18. We had a regular rotation of several songs. My daughter particularly liked “My Favorite Things” from the Sound of Music, and some silly songs I learned at Girl Scout camp, and the first verse of Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight. I also sing a lullaby my mother used to sing to me, which goes something like:

    Sleep my child,
    let peace attend thee
    All through the night.

    Guardian angels
    God will send thee
    All through the night.

    I think there are other verses to it but I only know that one! We don’t sing every night anymore now that she is coming up on seven. I think it’s because we read longer books so there isn’t as much time.

  19. After thinking a bit I have realized just how much music plays a part of our everyday life. Our children love to sing in the car all the time. I don’t do radio too often. Not because I don’t like it (sans commercials) but becaused I always recognized the importants of good music & it just seems fitting that my kids have exposure to the good stuff too! We love it.

  20. The two I sang where not typical lullabies. This Land is You Land and Baby Beluga.

    I recently learned the whale the song was written about died. Brought me right back to the rocking and singing of that song in a endless loop.

    1. Baby Beluga! It’s June’s absolute favorite. It’s the number one song she requests. Sometimes she’ll let me hold her while I sing it, and she’ll rest her head on my shoulder and it’s heavenly.

  21. I have a horrible singing voice. I have accepted this about myself and never sing in public (I try to even avoid happy birthday). I did sing to my daughter when she was little–summertime (from porgy and bess which my mom always used to sing to me as well) and skylark (which was stuck in my head for the last few days of my pregnancy) and lucy in the sky with diamonds. I actually enjoyed singing to her since I never do it, but when when she was about 18 months she made it clear that the singing was to stop–“no song. more book.” I miss it. but I do read well even if I don’t sing well…

  22. tender shepherd! my favorite. my grandma sang it to my mom, my mom sang it to me, and now i sing it to my kids. such sweet memories. our version is a little different, too. i want to know how you sing it though! my son loves to sing lullabies so we sing that one and about a million other primary songs. his favorite is “my heavenly father loves me.” my daughter, who is 14 months, loves to blab along to “i am a child of god.”

  23. Don’t ask me why, but I sang (or hummed, depending on the time of night-such as late night breast feedings) “Edelweis” to all four of my children.

  24. My mom always used to sing “My Favorite Things” to me, and “Silent Night” to my sister.

    My husband and I don’t have any children of our own (we hope that changes soon), but we are both music folks-our house always seems to have some kind of music/singing happening-so I can’t wait to find out what songs we gravitate to as lullabyes someday.

  25. Gabby, my eyes welled up with tears when I saw what lullaby you sing, because that is the very same one that my mother sang to me and that I now have sung to all three of my babies!

    In June, we were at my mom’s house and she put on the soundtrack to Peter Pan and when Tender Shepherd started to play, you can imagine how it was for me to watch my two big boys singing quietly along as they played with legos on the floor! Here’s to another sweet night of this lullaby where we are in Connecticut and where you are in France!

  26. Ah, singing lullabies, it’s one of my favorite moments of the day. I treasure it. All three of mine (ages 1.5, 3 and 5) share a room so all three still are sung to.

    I sing Baby Mine, which is in part from Dumbo. The first and last verses are always the same, but I make up a different verse each night about each child. It’s usually something funny that makes them laugh.

    Baby Mine, don’t you cry
    Baby Mine, dry your eyes
    Rest your head, close to my heart, never apart
    Baby of Mine

    – then a verse about each child

    Then the verse I made up to close:
    Baby Mine, rest your head
    It’s time to sleep, go to bed
    Dream of the moon, stars and sun,
    We love you, little one.

    1. michelle, your comment made tears come to my eyes, because this is the song i sing to my children all the time! i sang it to my 9 year old when i was pregnant with her, and i sing it to my 6 month old now. but i never thought of adding our own verse, what a good idea!

  27. We are an “eensy weensy spider” family with accompanying back tickles. If I have done that enough times I reach into the catacombs for primary songs :)

  28. My husband sings a song to our 11-month-old daughter that’s been in his family for a long time, “The Wise Old Owl.” But I sing “Soft Kitty” from the Big Bang Theory show! She likes them both. :)

  29. What a sweet lullaby! I’d never heard it before.

    In our family, it’s been different with every child. My current bedtime rituals are with my two youngest. My four-year-old likes me to sing a couple of songs (usually “Twinkle, Twinkle” and his current favorite song from church), and my six-year-old always likes to hear Eugene Fields’ poem “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.” We just do the last stanza:

    Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,
    And Nod is a little head–
    And the wooden shoe that sails the sky
    Is a wee one’s trundle bed.
    So shut your eyes while Mother sings
    Of wonderful sights that be
    And you shall see the beautiful things
    As you rock in the misty sea
    Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three–
    Wynken, Blynken, and Nod

  30. I sing Moon River to my babies. It’s one of my favorite all time songs/Breakfast at Tiffany’s movie. I walked down the aisle to it at our wedding. I also sing Coldplay’s Fix you, because I’m a big fan.

  31. Every night we sing “there’s just something about that name” (they call it Jesus, Jesus). My Mom sang it to me, and now we sing it to our kids. My brother in Florida and other brother in Kenya sing it to their kids too.

  32. mine requested “the wheels on the bus” (well, a version of it i made up) when he was about three, and that has been the only bedtime song he’s wanted for the last 4 years, along with twinkle twinkle little star. i wonder whether that song will be his madeleine…

  33. i sing “baby mine” from dumbo, primary songs, and pretty much all of the lullabies from the innocence mission’s album “now the day is over” which is amazing. it has “moon river,” “edelweiss,” “stay awake,” “what a wonderful world,” and tons of other amazing lullabies.

  34. Enchanting photo. Oh, I can relate and the youngest seems to grow the quickest. I too, miss the ritual which now only happens for novelty… I do still come in the night to kiss ALL of the kids on the cheek … and test their breathing…

  35. Well we used to sing I Am a Child of God to my first…but she hated it. Seriously, HATED it. So we stopped singing it. We later found out than whenever they’d play that song in nursery, she’d burst into tears. We had stopped singing that song to her when she was about 7 months old… but apparently it still haunted her.

    My second has liked a few favorites–the song in The Land Before Time
    to A While New World from Aladdin and finally Help me Rhonda. Although she too is out of the singing before bed phase…. and she’s only 2, no fair!

    Such a sweet post….loved this.

    1. Miggy, my oldest daughter did exactly the same thing with ‘I am a Child of God’! She hated us singing it and didn’t like it in nursery either! I really thought we were raising the only child in the world who didn’t like that song! Her baby brother on the other hand, loves it!

  36. I have a new baby and have been cycling through a few lullabies to figure out which one works the best for us. I asked my Mom what she sang to me as a baby, and wouldn’t you know, it’s exactly what works best for my little baby girl too.

    We sing in the morning when we get up too, “Oh what a beautiful morning” makes my girl smile and giggle like nothing else!

  37. this is a great little post.
    how sweet are the lullabies from a mother to her child?
    i love this!
    you might laugh at me but the lullaby that i sing to my littlest is a song from a barbie movie, of all things!
    you can tell i only have girls, huh?
    anyway, here’s the lyrics… they’re too sweet not to share:

    Sun goes down, and we are here together
    Fireflies, glow like a thousand charms
    Stay with me, and you can dream forever
    Right here in my arms.

    It’s magic, when you are here beside me
    Close your eyes, and let me hold you tight
    Everything, that i could ever need is
    right here in my arms tonight.

  38. We sing a lot throughout the day, so when it’s time to settle down for the night, I rock my little girl (20 months) and she’ll make requests, singing the tunes of each song she wants until I take over. Her favorites are “You Are My Sunshine,” “I Love to See the Temple” and “My Heavenly Father Loves Me.” But lately she’s been wanting The Star Spangled Banner a lot too. So cute to hear a 20 month old little voice punch out the national anthem. :)

  39. I’m a singer, and my daddy sang me Roller Derby Queen by Jim Croce for years. Kind of a raunchy song, really, but I was his tough girl, and with his soft, raspy croon, it sounded much more melodic than it really is ;)

    I have a whole host of favorite “sweet” songs that I hope to sing to my future kids, but your lullaby is the one they sing in Peter Pan (musical, particularly with Cathy Rigby), and hearing that you use it makes me all kinds of giddy :3

    Thank you for sharing!

  40. I sing “Do, do my baby” to my girls over and over while we cuddle. I asked my Mom why she sang it to us as littles and it’s the only lullaby her mother sang to her. My Grandmother didn’t like to sing because she didn’t like how she sounded so that one sweet lullaby was as much as she could muster. It’s great for little kids. My girls both started to sing it to their dolls before they turned 1.5 years old. Singing it brings them immediate comfort and helps them to settle. I cuddle with my 3-year old and sing it to her over and over every night.

  41. These songs are being used for the third generation – Bessie the Heifer, You are my Sunshine, and A Bicycle built for Two. Sing in that order and repeated as necessary. My singing voice is not the best but my granddaughter loves me to sing to her.

  42. I sing “Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)” by the Dixie Chicks to my oldest (4.) And my little one (2) always gets “You are my Sunshine,” only it’s “Tegan is my Sunshine” She sings it with me now, which is SO darn cute. After the usuals, I tend to sing whatever comes to mind. Typically some Tori Amos, Shawn Colvin and/or Alanis. I also love Coldplay and occasionally some Beatles (In My Life.)

  43. 2 Songs from Germany that I am singing for my little girl.
    The first is a traditional German one in a dialect that my mom taught me. I sang it for my baby when she was still inside my belly and later when she was really small.

    Then, when she started to understand words (and she didn’t understand the dialect), I switched to this one, it is only a few decades old by a singer/songwriter who only writes kids songs. And you can replace the name “Anne” with your kid’s name. she loves it.

    Do they sound funny to you? Does anybody have German family parts and knows them?

  44. what a fun post. I also sing the lullaby my mother used to sing to me, but I never thought to find the source. Now I have! It’s “That Little Boy of Mine” by Bonnie Owens (though for me it was girl). I also love Edelweiss dearly.

  45. Every year at my school the little Lower School kids have a concert at Christmas time and the kindergarteners always sing your lullaby.

  46. I always sang/sing two lullabies: one choice song and one special, personal song that didn’t change. My son got “Sweet Baby James” every night, and my daughter gets a version of Madonna’s “Dear Jessie” but using her name (it’s the sweetest little girl song ever). At Christmastime I mix in carols, and in July I sing stuff like “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”! I wish I knew more folk songs to throw into the mix — the comments are giving me all sorts of good ones.

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