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. My niece and sister moved in with me when my niece was about 16 months old. For reasons her mom never understood, if she was fussy, upset or tired – signing Barney’s “I love you” would calm her in moments. While part of me truly cringes when I hear that song, another part of me can’t help but enjoy the memory.

  2. My sons and I were just talking about lullabies over the weekend. They call them ‘comfort songs’ because they like me to sing them ‘even in morning’ – and especially when they’re ill.

    Each has his own ‘soundtrack’, and we’ve written them down so that I won’t forget whose is whose! Topping our charts are ‘Edelweis’, ‘Summertime’, and ‘You Cannot Lose My Love’ – by Sara Groves.

  3. I have many good memories of walking around the kitchen with the lights on the dimmer while James Taylor’s greatest hits played on our cd player with our son. (How sweet it is to be loved by you, You’ve got a friend, Shower the People. I’m getting teary eyed too, thinking about his future wedding and dancing to You’ve got a friend with him at his wedding.)

    With our daughter, I sang Brahms Lullaby (lullaby and Goodnight….) Well, I mostly hummed it until she fell asleep. I think we stopped by the time she was in Kindergarten, because she had learned to read and we’d snuggle and read together before bed.

  4. Last night I watched the new “Once Upon a Christmas” DVD from the December 2011 Mormon Tabernacle Choir annual celebration. One of the guest artists, Nathan Gunn, sang a beautiful Basque Carol I have never heard before: “Sing Lullaby.” He said he chose it especially because it is not only about Christmas, but also about Easter. It has beautiful words – probably not something you want to sing to your children at bedtime, but a nice addition to favorite Christmas music. If you go online to YouTube (I should have checked this out before I commented here), and type in “Nathan Gunn, Sing Lullaby” you might be able to enjoy it also.

    1. PS Nathan Gunn’s version isn’t there, but if you type in “Sing Lullaby” there are several options to hear the words and music. Enjoy.

  5. I was a lullibier (actual word?) for years. My kids are now 15, 13, 11, 9. And sadly the singing has ended. It just kind of faded away for each of them. They stopped asking for them and I guess I stopped doing it automatically. We’ve had silent nights for almost a year. sad.
    As for songs sung…broadway, Les Mis was a favorite! Sound of Music. Popular Ballads. and church songs.

  6. We still sing to our little ones but they’re still pretty small, 5 & almost 2. We sing a medley of church songs + You Are My Sunshine. We do tell various versions of Goldilocks upon request as well. I love it. Such a loving, special time with our little ones.

  7. I had to sing Hush Little Baby (Sylvia Long version) to my son overandoverandoverandover when he was 6 months until about 2. It was the only thing that would calm him down sometimes. With my daughter, I sing You are My Sunshine most of the time. My son is 5 and would rather have long stories than songs, but every once in awhile he requests the lullaby song. My daughter is only 2, so we have a bit longer there. : )

  8. My son’s lullaby was “Twinkle, Twinkle,” including the second verse “when the traveler in the dark, thanks you for your tiny spark . . .” I sang it to him every night.

    One night when he was 2 years old, I left his room after the lullaby and went downstairs to finish up for the night. My husband and soon heard over the baby monitor his sweet chirrupy little voice singing the song to himself, line by line. I about melted!! He’s 5 now and he still loves the song!!

  9. Each of my boys had a special lullaby. The Mockingbird Song for my firstborn. Twinkle, Twinkle for my Littlest Who. For my middle son, it was the lullaby my own parents sang to me. A few years ago, I got curious about where it came from, and discovered it’s a well known French lullaby, Fais Do Do. Maybe you’ve heard it. There’s a lovely version of it by Lisa Loeb here:

    The words my parents sang were English and very simple: Go to sleep, my little one darling, go to sleep, my little one love. Mommy loves you. Daddy loves you. Go to sleep, my little one darling. Go to sleep, my little one love.

    I hope to pass it on to grandbabies someday. :-)

  10. I didnt know any lullabies, still don’t. When my kids, now 7 and 4, we’re weeks old I sang the ABCs, twinkle twinkle little star and a figured out how to spell their full names to the tune of ABCs- sense a theme here ;) they learned how to spell their names this way and my 4 yr old will still ask me to sing her name song.
    My first daughter was collicky, the other song I had for her was one I made up, sung kind of quickly while I tried to swing,rock,dance- what ever I could do to get her to sleep
    “Evan imarhia
    Yes, you are my baby
    Love you very very much
    But you drive me crazy”

  11. I love the French hymn Souviens-Toi, and I hope to sing it to my little babes one day. It’s a beautiful melody, the lyrics speak directly to the child, and the concept of the parent asking the child to remember heaven and describe it to them is beautiful.

  12. I’m expecting my first baby in late January. I already have a list of lullabies to sing to him:

    You Are My Sunshine (Johnny Cash)
    Songbird (Fleetwood Mac)
    Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
    Hush-a-Bye (Peter, Paul, and Mary)
    Early Morning Rain (Peter, Paul, and Mary)
    Baby Mine (Alison Krauss)

  13. Sleep Baby Moses, Sleep
    At the Door of Heaven (the angels are sleeping)
    Follow the Gleam
    Tell Me Why
    Down in the Valley
    The Water is Wide
    Summertime, and then the ones my mom sang to me:
    Toora Loora Loora (it’s an Irish lullabye) & My Old Kentucky Home. Every child should be sung to be his or her parents as much as possible. (Note, your children do not care whether you can carry a tune, which is a relief since I LOVE singing.)

  14. Each child has had their own bedtime song since they were born.

    Emma – MLK (U2)
    Ben – Baby Mine (from Dumbo, Alison Krauss sings my favorite version)
    Josh – Slumber My Darling (found on a Yoyo Ma CD, also sung by AK)
    Lydia – The One Who Knows (Dar Williams)
    Afton – Sweet Afton (Nickel Creek version)

    The only ones who we regularly sing to are our youngest two girls as well…but the older kids still request to be sung to now and then. :)

    I don’t have a good singing voice, but I’ve always thought it would be nice to record myself singing each of their songs for a keepsake.

  15. Ooh I LOVE this topic!

    I am not a mama yet, but my mother sang to me for years and years (and still does often when I see her; she is a singer).

    Two songs in particular that she sang very often for me were:

    James Taylor & Carole King – You’ve Got a Friend
    James Taylor – The Water Is Wide

    And I love, love love lots of beautiful old folks songs, especially Barbara Allen.

    Can’t wait to have my own sweet babes to sing to! Thanks for the lovely post xx

  16. Every night we sing “Goodnight” by Laurie Berkner – snip-it of the lyrics are “I’m a little frog and my daddy loves me… I’m a little frog and my mommy loves me… and when they tuck me in to say goodnight, they say ‘ribbit, ribbit, ribbit, goodnight.'” Then we finish up with “Jesus Loves Me.” I will be sad when we no longer sing to our little one before bed.

  17. What a sweet post. My husband (French) usually sings the darling “J’ai descendu dans mon jardin” (the “Gentil Coquelicot” song) and also the heartbreaking “Les Feuilles Mortes” (Autumn Leaves) that makes me teary every time I hear it. I usually make up a short and funny little song per kid on the fly.

  18. I sing a combination of a lot of the ones already mentioned (Baby Beluga, You Are My Sunshine, etc.). My husband sings “Don’t worry ’bout a thing” by Bob Marley to both of our kids. There is something about him singing that song in a low, hushed voice that makes me feel at peace, even when it is accompanied by a crying baby.

  19. I have a few less traditional ones, since my main criteria for picking lullabies when my kids were really little was finding a soft and slow, pretty song that could pass as a lullaby, and that I already knew most of the words to (I did not learn or remember a lot of lullabies from when I was a kid, so, faced with a baby who needed immediate soothing, I defaulted to what I knew). So, some of our first go-to lullabies were Danny’s Song and House at Pooh Corner by Kenny Loggins, Iowa by Dar Williams, and Blackbird and Hey Jude by the Beatles. Our most common traditional lullabies are All the Pretty Horses, Hush Little Baby (the mockingbird song), and Lullaby and Goodnight (Brahms’s Lullaby).

    My kids (4 and almost 2) seem to go with phases with lullabies–sometimes they want or even demand them, other times they aren’t interested. My daughter went through a phase when she was 2 where she would only go to sleep happily if my husband played the guitar for her. Very sweet and awesome, except he’d sometimes have to work nights for weeks at a time, and nothing I could do would satisfy her at all in his absence.

  20. Edelweiss is our fave. I notice that when I sing it to the littlest one, kids come out of the woodwork and stand by her door for a listen. They sometimes join in, too, and ask for it at their bedtimes.

  21. I sing whatever they ask me to right now. My 8 year old doesn’t typically ask me to sing to him anymore. That has changed in the last 6 months. My girls want me to sing whatever Primary song they are learning at the moment or Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
    I sing a variety of songs to my baby – primary songs, lullabyes that I know he loves (Hourglass by Mindy Gledhill) and other songs that I love – Smile, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Rainbow Connection….

  22. I love the questions you ask of your readers – It always brings back such wonderful memories! I sung to both of my boys, and like you, I don’t when I stopped. (Though even now, at 21, my oldest son asks me “to tuck him in” rarely, but still…) When he was little, he would touch a finger to my lips and say “sing me”. Even writing this, it makes me tear up! I sang Mocking Bird to him and “Lullaby and Goodnight to my younger one. sigh – I do miss those days :) Thank you for giving me that moment

  23. I started off singing James Taylor, because it was what I knew all of the words to! One of his songs, Close Your Eyes, is Milo’s lullaby. He calls it “the morning song” which makes me smile, and requests it as the last lullaby every night. I’d like to have a different lullaby for Eliot to connect to, but so far haven’t learned one…so the morning song may be it for everyone!

  24. The only song I remember my mom singing–and teaching me to sing–is “White Coral Bells.” I’ve never asked her where it came from, but doing some Googling just now, I’ll bet she got it from camp. She was a Campfire Girl (similar to Girl Scouts). It’s a lovely song, and I’ll definitely sing it to my future children.

  25. My mama sang “Cotton Fields,” a Leadbelly song, to me and now I sing it to my sons. I also rock them in the rocking chair she used to rock me and my siblings in.

  26. Our lullaby story is very sweet and precious to me. I learned a little song in church when I was a teenager. Years later I was looking through my fiancé’s Grandmother’s scrapbook and discovered that she was the author of the little song I loved (I’m from a different state as well as a very different church than she – it was such a starry surprise). Now I sing it to our boys – to hear their little voices repeat the words of their Great-Grandma (and continue to request it) is a highlight of our bedtime routine.

  27. @Lori – I LOVE Sweet Afton by Nickle Creek!! I am definitely adding it to my lullabye list.

    I also love “Out of the Woods” by Nickle Creek. My husband and I suffered through 4 years of infertility before we became pregnant with our little Lukas. The day after Lukas was born, we were moved to a private room at our hospital’s birthing center and my husband went to forage in the cafeteria for food for the new nursing mom. :) I turned on Nickle Creek and danced my first dance with my baby boy to “Out of the Woods” by Nickle Creek. It is one of my happiest memories . . .

  28. There was an old woman tossed up in a basket, seventeen times as high as the moon. And where she was going I couldn’t but ask it, for in her hand, she carried a broom. Old woman, old woman, old woman said I, oh whither, oh wither, oh wither so high? To sweep the cobwebs off the sky. May I go with you? Aye by and by.

    The most beautiful lullaby every written.

  29. Even though we are in New Zealand, my eldest daughter preferred Edelweiss for a long time. “Hush, Little Baby,” was another favourite. I’ve noticed my 3.5-year-old already opts to listen to an audio book over being sung to.

  30. Lullabies, what a wonderful post, Gabrielle. Singing them is such a pure expression of love. It’s so touching to read what everyone is singing to their little ones. We’re a twinkle, twinkle little star family. But some nights, I sing the chorus in Danny’s song by Kenny Loggins. It’s a favorite of mine.

  31. My kids are getting older too, but a multi generation family favorite goes like this:

    “Little birdie in the tree, in the tree, in the tree,
    little birdie in the tree sing a song for (child’s name)
    Sing aobut the flowers on the garden wall, sing about the birdies in the tree top tall, little birdie in the tree in the tree in the tree, sing a song for (childs name)

  32. That’s our song too! When my son was born three years ago, I started singing to him as he fell asleep from the time he was brand new. I didn’t even really think about what I was singing, I just began to sing Tender Shepherd. It is what my mother sang to us every night growing up and must have been deeply programmed into me. We also sing Silent Night a LOT. It started during the holidays and just continued as my son kept requesting it. Luckily it is my favorite Christmas song, so I don’t mind hearing it – and singing it – year-round!

  33. Every night we sing my daughter two little songs that I made up when she was a baby. The words are really simple and the tunes are somethng I’m sure I’ve heard before but I can’t remember where. We also often sing our variation of this song: We do the names of people in our family instead of just the letter names, and then we do a theme each night, like big words (where we do the biggest words we can think of), or things around the house. Star Wars, stinky smells, and other funny ones have also made their way into the rotation. Jesus Loves Me and Jesus Loves the Little Children are often sung, as well as regular ABC’s, or the Super Why version of ABC’s.

    My mom always sang Brahms lullaby to me growing up and I also love singing that to my daughter. My Dad wrote a song for me before I was born, and I was delighted to find that it fits for my daughter as well so I love to sing that to her. Finally, for her second birthday I wrote her a song of her own and I love to sing that to her. I find I can hardly sing these last two songs without tearing up because they are so special to me. Music is powerful and emotional and I’m so glad I have these songs to share with my daughter.

  34. I sing my daughter a classic Finnish lullaby (“Nukkumatti” [The Sandman]) that my mother sang to me and her mother sang to her. We also have a “family version” that differs from the one printed in songbooks. After two-and-a-half years of singing it every night, I can’t imagine not singing it. I can’t remember how old I was when my mother stopped singing to me… when I sing it, I can still hear my mother’s voice and picture the way I imagined the blue car going to the sleepy blue land with the blue tree looked. I have been thinking, lately, that I’d like to record me singing it to my daughter, since it is a precious family heirloom, otherwise intangible.

  35. Gabby, you have inspired me to keep this tradition alive! We have four kids 7 and under, and all too often we rush through bedtime because we are tiiiiired. But before too long they will be “too old” for lullabies, and our hearts will long for those simple sweet times. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Oh and I can’t help but add one more comment….don’t you think, deep down, all children (even adult ones!?) love to be sung to!? What a comforting ritual that stays with them always.

  36. I have sung the song “Edelweis” from “The Sound of Music” to all three of my girls. Naturally, it started with my first daughter, but I changed the words to personalize it for her and to set to music how much I adore and cherish her:

    “Willa-bean, nice and clean,
    you are my pretty baby.
    You’re so sweet, tiny feet ,
    I can’t believe you’re my baby.
    I love you more than you’ll ever know,
    ever know my baby.
    Willa-bean, nice and clean,
    I am so glad you’re my baby.”

    Then, in +/- 2-year increments hence, when Adelaide and Lucia were born, I morphed the words for them too. So each girls gets her own version every night. When they first saw “The Sound of Music”, two of them immediately stopped and looked at me, wide-eyed and said, “Mom, that’s my song!”

    I love this song, as did my maternal grandmother, who couldn’t bear to hear it without crying.

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